Journal of Institutional Economics

Research Article

Comparing theories of institutional change


a1 Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts, USA

a2 University of Vigo, Vigo, Spain


This article compares a variety of theoretical approaches to conceptualizing institutional change. Our goal is neither to discover the ‘best’ theory, nor to attempt to build a new one. Rather, we wish to compare how the theories we consider agree or differ with respect to the causes, process, and outcomes of institutional change. Some of the theories we discuss emphasize the deliberate creation of institutions through the political process, while others emphasize the spontaneous emergence of institutions through evolutionary processes. Still others combine elements of evolution and design. We differentiate a variety of approaches to conceptualizing the interaction between formal and informal rules. We discuss recent theories based on the ‘Equilibrium View’ of institutions, and theories emphasizing the role of habit, learning, and bounded rationality. We also consider theoretical explanations for institutional inertia and path-dependence.


c1 Email:


We thank Veneta Andonova, the editor, and five anonymous referees for detailed and helpful comments and suggestions.