Path dependence extends from a perspective within political science in that initial decisions and conditions almost irreversibly affect subsequent decisions or occurrences which ultimately produces a outcome which can be estimated. Exact operational definitions differ between sources and have yet to be solidified, but a good suggestion which captures the basic idea is offered by Margaret Levi in her essay “A Model, a Method, and a Map: Rational Choice in Comparative and Historical Analysis” (1997):
“Path dependence has to mean, if it is to mean anything, that once a country or region has started down a track, the costs of reversal are very high. There will be other choice points, but the entrenchments of certain institutional arrangements obstruct an easy reversal of the initial choice.”
This form of theorizing emerges from a perspective on political science as a study across time, as opposed to its traditional format of analyzing “snap-shots” in time. It shares essential principles with behavioral economics (in fact it is a concept developed in economics), holding the belief that the behavior and fate of a political unit can be estimated with some rough degree of accuracy.
Greener, Ian. 2005. “The Potential of Path Dependence in Political Studies.” Politics 25(1): 62-72.
Abstract: “This article explores the difficulties with both the theoretical content and application of the concept of ‘path dependence’ in political studies, but suggests that, by combining it with insights from morphogenetic social theory, we can provide a coherent framework for its use. After providing a brief survey of the literature on path dependence, it presents a summary of the most significant criticisms made of the approach. The article then moves on to examine morphogenetic social theory and its potential to meet these criticisms before concluding by characterising the elements of a path-dependent system incorporating insights from both new institutionalism and morphogenetic social theory.” – Wiley, Interscience
- Pierson, Paul. 2000. “Increasing Returns, Path Dependence, and the Study of Politics.” The American Political Science Review 94(2): 251-267.
Abstract: It appears increasingly the case that social scientists describe the political process as “path dependent.” However, it also appears increasingly the case that such a concept is employed without a proper measure of care and careful elaboration. This article understands “path dependency” as a social process grounded in the dynamic of increasing returns. By considering recent economic literature and extending found concepts to the field of politics, the article demonstrates that increasing returns processes are likely to be prevalent, and that good analytical foundations exist for exploring their causes and consequences.
Is path dependency a usable paradigm? Can it help explain the collapse of
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* Paul Pierson �Increasing returns, path dependence and the study of politics,�
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Peter Rutland The Russian revolution of 1991 and the dissolution of the USSR