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Understanding Institutions and Logics of Appropriateness: Introductory Essay


  • Johan P. Olsen


This section (1) presents three landmark articles that are part of a research agenda launched more than twenty years ago. Then, “The New Institutionalism: Organizational Factors in Political Life” invited a reappraisal of how political institutions could be conceptualized, to what degree institutions have independent and endurable implications, the kinds of political phenomena they impact, the mechanisms through which they do so, and the processes through which institutions emerge, are maintained, and change. “The new institutionalism” offers a perspective on how political life is organized, functions and changes in contemporary democracies. The term includes a set of theoretical ideas, assumptions and hypotheses concerning the relations among institutional characteristics, political agency, performance, and institutional change, and the wider social context of politics. In contrast with an older institutionalism that used formal-legal rules as proxies for political action, the new institutionalism is behavioral. Theoretical ideas are required to be consistent with empirical observations. The institutional approach supplements and competes with two other interpretations of democratic politics and government. First, a rational actor perspective which sees political life as organized by exchange among calculating, self-interested actors maximizing their expected utility. Second, a society-centered perspective that sees political institutions and behavior as arising from societal forces, rather than society being governed by politics. One version gives primacy to macro economic, technological, and social change. Another interprets politics as organized by shared world-views in a community of culture, history and fate. (1) "Understanding Institutions and Logics of Appropriateness: Introductory Essay" will appear in James G. March: "Understanding Organizations". Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008

Suggested Citation

  • Johan P. Olsen, 2007. "Understanding Institutions and Logics of Appropriateness: Introductory Essay," ARENA Working Papers 13, ARENA.
  • Handle: RePEc:erp:arenax:p0243

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    Cited by:

    1. Christoph Ossege, 2015. "Driven by Expertise and Insulation? The Autonomy of European Regulatory Agencies," Politics and Governance, Cogitatio Press, vol. 3(1), pages 101-113.

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    institutionalism; institutions; political science;

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