Thursday, April 26, 2012

Just call it history?

Robert Kelly writes:
Is the ‘institutional turn’ in the social sciences just a fancy way of saying we look at patterns over time, and is that just a fancy way of saying ‘history’? I don’t mean to be trite; I know I’m not a good methodologist as my reviewers always tell me. But I don’t really see why we don’t just call ‘historical institutionalism’ ‘history.’ Path dependence, temporality, sequencing – that’s all stuff historians have been doing for awhile, no?
Well, I'd say yes, but many historians don't like to be very explicit about what they're doing, unlike IR types, who can't get an article accepted unless it has at least 5 pages of theoretical throat-clearing (10 pages would be better).

Also, a small comment on path dependence. I have a feeling some people think it means "things go along on a fairly steady course until some big event comes along and shakes things up, whereupon a new course emerges and things go along steadily in that vein until ... etc." That's not what path dependence means. Pierson in his 2000 APSR article and subsequent book (Politics in Time [here]) is very clear that small events can be as important as big ones; what matters is where an event comes in a sequence (the earlier the more influential), not how "big" the event is.

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