About the Conference

Recent research has found that formal institutions have a weaker impact on political outcomes than is often believed. In many countries, but particularly in developing and post-communist ones, parchment rules are often widely manipulated, circumvented, or ignored in practice, or they change so repeatedly that they cannot effectively guide politicians’ expectations. Moreover, informal institutions often shape political behavior in ways that deviate from the formal rules. This conference explores when, why, and under what conditions formal institutions matter. When do formal rules—or rule changes—have a significant impact on politicians’ behavior? Under what conditions are they unlikely to have such an effect? Participants will write papers that examine the effects of a specific formal institutional change in one or more countries, asking why they did or did not generate a substantive change in actual political practice. We will examine the impact of formal institutional change in three broad areas:

  • The State, Bureaucracy, and Rule of Law. What role does institutional reform play in improving bureaucratic effectiveness, reducing corruption and clientelism, or strengthening the rule of law?
  • Electoral Rules, Parties, and Party Systems. What impact does electoral reform have on politicians’ strategies and on the character of party systems and party-voter linkage?
  • Executive Power and Inter-Branch Relations. How informal institutions mediate the relationship between constitutional arrangements and inter-branch power relations; what non-institutional factors shape the way different presidential and parliamentary systems function in practice?

Papers will explore the role of preexisting informal institutions in blocking, undermining, or facilitating formal institutional reforms, as well as the circumstances that surround the rule change itself, including the sources of pressure for reform (e.g., international vs. domestic); the coalitions supporting and opposing reform; the character of the actors adopting the reform (e.g., new or old, stable or unstable); and the crisis or non-crisis environment in which reforms are adopted. They will also weigh importance of country-specific factors—such as state capacity, rule of law, and the level of institutionalization in the polity as a whole—in shaping the prospects for new rules to produce their intended political effects.