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Moving beyond ‘institutions matter’: some reflections on how the ‘rules of the game’ evolve and change

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This paper is a modest attempt to engage with the theories and debates on institutions, (especially on institutional change) offered by the different traditions working within the institutionalist perspective, to assess how helpful they are in unravelling the complex set of issues and questions raised above. I discuss four particularly relevant dimensions of an institutionalist perspective, in order to unbundle the concept of institutions and institutional change, as expressed through the abstract ideas of the structure and the dynamics of 'rules of the game'. In the first section, I briefly discuss the first three issues, which are: (a) multiplicity and multi-layering of institutions; (b) institutional arrangement; and (c) institutional appropriateness. In the following section, the issue of institutional change is examined in some detail. Three broad traditions or strands of the institutionalist perspective, namely, (i) Rational Choice Institutionalism, (ii) Historical Institutionalism, and (c) Sociological Institutionalism, are explored here, to understand how strategic actions, conflicts around asymmetrical power structure in polity and society, and engagements with the cultural systems of meaning that pervade all aspects of life and society - respectively the key themes or the conceptual constructs of these traditions - help us to understand better why 'rules of the game' evolve and change. The reflections draw attention to the fact that, though offering a few useful ideas on institutional development in their own ways, none of them pays adequate attention to the role of ideas and agency, and the multi-directional causal relationships between them and institutions, which I argue are critical to enriching the explanatory scope and depth of an institutionalist mode of inquiry. In the concluding section, I offer brief comments to further highlight this problem and offer a few thoughts on some possible alternative conceptual constructs that may help to resolve the dilemmas in which these traditions are engulfed, and highlight the need of developing and testing them through empirical research into cases of institutional change.

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