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Can Path Dependence Explain Institutional Change? Two Approaches Applied to Welfare State Reform


  • Ebbinghaus, Bernhard


Path dependence as a concept in institutional theories has become increasingly popular in economics and other social sciences. The key idea is that in a sequence of events, the latter events are not (completely) independent from those that occurred in the past. Yet, common usage of the concept often subsumes two markedly different models and approaches to understand historical sequencing. The two main processes of the past shaping the future – diffusion and developmental pathways – must be distinguished analytically. This paper juxtaposes (1) the unplanned 'trodden path' that takes shape through the subsequent repeated use by other individuals of that spontaneously chosen path, and (2) the ?branching pathways? or juncture at which one of the available alternative pathways must be chosen in order to continue a journey. Furthermore, the typical approaches and their explanatory purchase are discussed in reference to explanations of institutional change. The paper shows that the first path dependence theorem is too deterministic and inflexible, whereas the second approach is sufficiently supple to analyze various forms of institutional change.

Suggested Citation

  • Ebbinghaus, Bernhard, 2005. "Can Path Dependence Explain Institutional Change? Two Approaches Applied to Welfare State Reform," MPIfG Discussion Paper 05/2, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies.
  • Handle: RePEc:zbw:mpifgd:052

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Ebbinghaus, Bernhard & Hassel, Anke, 1999. "Striking deals: Concertation in the reform of continental European welfare states," MPIfG Discussion Paper 99/3, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies.
    2. Liebowitz, S J & Margolis, Stephen E, 1990. "The Fable of the Keys," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 33(1), pages 1-25, April.
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    Cited by:

    1. Paul Teague, 2009. "Path Dependency and Comparative Industrial Relations: The Case of Conflict Resolution Systems in Ireland and Sweden," British Journal of Industrial Relations, London School of Economics, vol. 47(3), pages 499-520, September.
    2. Ron Boschma, 2015. "Towards an Evolutionary Perspective on Regional Resilience," Regional Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 49(5), pages 733-751, May.
    3. Johannes Huinink & Martin Kohli & Jens Ehrhardt, 2015. "Explaining fertility: The potential for integrative approaches," Demographic Research, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany, vol. 33(4), pages 93-112, July.
    4. Alexandra Lindenthal & Martin Koch, 2013. "The Bretton Woods Institutions and the Environment: Organizational Learning within the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF)," Administrative Sciences, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 3(4), pages 1-36, October.
    5. Zhang, Yongjing, 2011. "The successor's dilemma in China's single party political system," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 27(4), pages 674-680.
    6. Powell, Justin J. W. & Solga, Heike, 2008. "Internationalization of vocational and higher education systems: A comparative-institutional approach," Discussion Papers, Research Unit: Skill Formation and Labor Markets SP I 2008-501, Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB).
    7. Alessia Berni & Mariavittoria Cicellin & Stefano Consiglio & Luigi Moschera, 2012. "The evolution of the Italian Temporary Work Agency field: A path dependence perspective," Discussion Papers 10_2012, CRISEI, University of Naples "Parthenope", Italy.
    8. Sebastian Kohl, 2016. "Urban History Matters: Explaining the German--American Homeownership Gap," Housing Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 31(6), pages 694-713, September.
    9. Blanck, Jonna M. & Edelstein, Benjamin & Powell, Justin J.W., 2013. "Von der schulischen Segregation zur inklusiven Bildung? Die Wirkung der UN-Konvention über die Rechte von Menschen mit Behinderungen auf Bildungsreformen in Bayern und Schleswig-Holstein," Discussion Papers, Research Unit: Skill Formation and Labor Markets SP I 2013-504, Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB).
    10. Gottschall, Karin & Shire, Karen A., 2007. "Understanding employment systems from a gender perspective: pitfalls and potentials of new comparative analytical frameworks," Working papers of the ZeS 06/2007, University of Bremen, Centre for Social Policy Research (ZeS).
    11. Trif, Aurora, 2005. "Collective bargaining practices in Eastern Europe: Case study evidence from Romania," MPIfG Working Paper 05/9, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies.
    12. Ulybina, Olga, 2014. "Russian forests: The path of reform," Forest Policy and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 38(C), pages 143-150.

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