Contemporary theory of institutions in perspective

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This paper proposes an answer to the question: ‘What constitutes an adequate explanation to any generic institution?’ I argue that if we adhere to a ‘rational choice’ approach to the study of institutions, to explain an institution we must identify a set of actors, able to impose their will on enough of the relevant players, and an event that this coalition anticipates and in which it expects to be better off with the institution than without it. The first two sections contain tentative definitions and state basic requirements from any attempt to explain any institution. Sections 3 and 4 discuss recent attempts to explain different institutions in two interrelated subfields of contemporary social science - the spatial theory of electoral competition (3), and non-cooperative game theory (4). I conclude with an outline of a positive approach to a deductive theory of institutions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)379-402
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Theoretical Politics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1991


  • constitutions
  • institutions
  • non-cooperative game theory
  • norms


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