2. Institutional analysis paradigm
Concept and object of the neoinstitutionalism
Nature of political process
Norms and values
Advantages and disadvantages of neoinstitutionalist approach
Institutionalism is a general paradigm of social sciences (politics, international relations, economics, sociology, administrative sciences), which sees institutions as playing a key role in the functioning of society. Recently institutional analysis was adopted as a tool for studying the governance of the European Union. The adoption of this approach reflects the general trend of employing the theories of comparative politics to the analysis of the EU. The attention is shifting away from the attempts to predict the final end of European integration process towards the analysis of day-to-day decision-making processes.
This position paper is modestly aimed at presenting a new institutionalist approach. Thus object and main concepts of neoinstitutional analysis are introduced and briefly illustrated. Position paper also seeks to identify possible advantages and shortcomings of employing new institutionalist perspective to the study of the EU.
It is worth noting, that the conception of new institutionalist approach presented here relies heavily on the insights of Simon Bulmer, who is one of the representatives of new institutionalist analysis.
Institutional analysis paradigm.
The concept and object of the new institutionalism
As the term of “new institutionalism” already suggests, this is an approach, which is based on the premise that “institutions matter”. Institutions matter in the decision-making process because they provide a ready-made environment within which the discussions and policy implementation take place. And this environment is not a mere neutral arena where political forces interact, but it enjoys a considerable degree of autonomy:
Institutions structure access of political forces to political process. Institutions do not provide equal access for influencing the policy process. (i.e. CM privileges national governments. White paper on EU governance states: systemic Commission’s dialogue with regional and local governments is still lacking).
Institutions themselves initiate or block policy change. (i.e. Commission initiates policy. EU legislation is dependent upon its proposals.)
Institutional configuration and policy instruments predispose the certain types of activity and limit scope for others. (i.e. EC pillar has a regulative character while the 2nd and 3rd pillars have coordinating character.)
Holding that institutional arrangements shape the outcome of decision-making process, it becomes inevitable to concentrate on them asking how different institutional configurations impact upon governance and decision-making capacity? (i.e. Complex system of EU governance contributes to the lack of overall policy coherence. White paper provides suggestions how to simplify, clarify institutional arrangements to achieve more consistent and efficient policies.)
Having clarified the “institutional” part of the concept, the next question naturally is: what is specifically new about the approach? The best way to answer this question is compare the “old” versus the “new”.
Institutions have been central to the discipline of political science in its inception. “Old institutionalism” studied government as a set of formal institutions, legally defined roles and positions. It was behavioural revolution, which shifted attention away from institutions towards actors, behaviour and processes. Neo-institutionalists seek to re-emphasize the “forgotten” centrality of political institutions and the polity. However there are important differences between the old and new institutionalisms.
Neoinstitutionalism study institutions in much wider perspective. Institutions are seen as persistent and connected sets of rules – both formal and informal – that prescribe behavioural roles, constraints and shape expectations. (While old institutionalists were interested only in legal, constitutional, formal structures ignoring the role of the informal structures.)
The other great novelty of new institutionalism is its concern with norms, values and cultures, embedded within institutions.
Here it is important to note, that neoinstitutionalism is first of all an umbrella term for many variants of institutionalism: rational choice, historical insitutionalism, organization theory, etc. In such a way it is possible to discern a “thin” end of neoinstitutionalism that cares little about normative dimensions (like rational choice institutionalism) and a “thick” end, which is particularly sensitive to cultural and normative aspects of the decision-making process.
As analysis of all the variants of institutionalism is beyond the scope of this position paper, the rest of it will be devoted to historical institutionalism.
The nature of political process