Explaining Institutional Change: Ambiguity, Agency, and Power

This book was made possible by funding from the Buffett Institute and co-edited by faculty affiliate James Mahoney.

The print edition, released in January 2010, was published by Cambridge University Press. An online edition is also available. 


This book contributes to emerging debates in political science and sociology on institutional change. Its introductory essay proposes a new framework for analyzing incremental change that is grounded in a power-distributional view of institutions and that emphasizes ongoing struggles within but also over prevailing institutional arrangements. Five empirical essays then bring the general theory to life by evaluating its causal propositions in the context of sustained analyses of specific instances of incremental change. These essays range widely across substantive topics and across times and places, including cases from the United States, Africa, Latin America, and Asia. The book closes with a chapter reflecting on the possibilities for productive exchange in the analysis of change among scholars associated with different theoretical approaches to institutions.


  1. A theory of gradual institutional change James Mahoney and Kathleen Thelen
  2. Infiltrating the state: the evolution of health care reforms in Brazil, 1964–88 by Tulia G. Falleti
  3. The contradictory potential of institutions: the rise and decline of land documentation in Kenya by Ato Kwamena Onoma
  4. Policymaking as political constraint: institutional development in the US social security program by Alan M. Jacobs
  5. Altering authoritarianism: institutional complexity and autocratic agency in Indonesia by Dan Slater
  6. Rethinking rules: creativity and constraint in the house of representatives by Adam Sheingate
  7. Historical institutionalism in rationalist and sociological perspective by Peter A. Hall