Formal and informal institutions

Authored by: Hans-Joachim Lauth

Routledge Handbook of Comparative Political Institutions

Print publication date:  April  2015
Online publication date:  April  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415630887
eBook ISBN: 9781315731377
Adobe ISBN: 9781317551799


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“Generally, the idea that there is a dividing line between institutions that are entirely ‘formal’ on the one hand and entirely ‘informal’ institutions on the other is false” (Hodgson 2006: 18). Hodgson’s surprising statement is a call for scholars to engage a set of issues. First, there is a need for definitions of formal and informal institutions that allow them to be clearly distinguished from one another (Hayoz 2013). Second, it is important to debate the relationship between formal and informal institutions. In doing so, we should distinguish between different types of informal institutions and their varying complexities. 1 Third, it is important to understand the implications of formal and informal institutions for regime type (autocracy vs. democracy) and vice versa. In this context, the question about the generation, creation, and survival of informal institutions is also addressed. Finally, the chapter discusses methodological approaches towards formal and informal institutions. For this purpose, the chapter reflects on the use of typologies that cover formal institutions and which are widely used in the study of governance systems. The starting point of the following considerations is the finding by Helmke and Levitsky that “informal structures shape the performance of formal institutions in important and often unexpected ways” (2004: 726).

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