Recent status of institutional approach in comparative political analysis

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Pioneering work was done in comparative politics by Herman Finer (Theory and Practice of Modem Governments, 1932) and Carl Friedrich (Constitutional Government and Democracy, 1932). Grounded in liberal Constitutional theory, they studied the formal institutional structures with emphasis on their legal powers and functions.

These works formed part of studies on 'Comparative Government' or 'Foreign Constitutions' and were considered relevant to the elities' effort? In institutional building in various countries.

In newly independent countries, the institutional approach, appearing as it did, to emphasise institution-building, acquired prominence. The main focus of institutional approach (i.e. its subject matter) was (a) law and the constitution, (b) historical study of government and the state in order to understand the manner in which sovereignty, jurisdictions, legal and legislative instruments evolved in their different forms, (c) the manner in which the structures of government functioned (theory and practice) which included the study of distributions of power and how these manifested themselves in relation between nation and state, centre and local government, administration and bureaucracy, legal and constitutional practices and principles. An underlying assumption of the approach was a belief in the uniquely western character of democracy.

This meant that democracy was seen as not only western in its origins but its application elsewhere was imagined and prescribed only in that form. This led, to a largely west centric study i.e. a concentration on countries of Western Europe and North America.

Blondel feels that the decline in the influence of the approach in the 1950s was in part due to its inability to accommodate in its scope of inquiry 'non western (liberal) governments' particularly the predominantly communist countries of Eastern Europe and the newly independent countries of Asia and Latin America.

Thus an approach which prided itself on associating theory with practice found itself unable to modify its framework of inquiry to study facts which did not conform to liberal constitutional democracies. The decline of the institutional approach in the 1950s was due in part also, as seen earlier, to concerns by system theorists to building theories based on inductive generalizations, rather than conclusion derived from facts.

Since the late nineteen sixties and seventies, however, the institutional approach resurfaced in a form which is called 'new institutionalism' and can be seen as having these characteristics: (a) as the term suggests, new institutionalism, retained its focus on the study of theory and practice of institutions. The approach stressed the importance of state and its institutional structures. (P. Evans, D. Rueschemeyer and T. Skocpol eds., Bringing the State Back In, 1985), without providing an overarching framework within which the "institutions may be said to function (as in structural-functional approach).

It focused instead on the manner in which the institutions interrelate, (b) while refraining from making overarching frameworks, the approach did not, however, avoid making generalized conclusions. The preoccupation with the collection of facts also did not diminish. In striving for this combination, i.e., and adherence to fact based study aimed towards making generalized conclusions, however, the institutional approach, was careful (i) to 'draw conclusions only after careful fact-finding efforts have taken place' and, (ii) to make a prudent use of induction so that one 'kept close to these facts even when generalising' (see Jean Blondel, 'Then and Now: Comparative Polities', p. 160); (iii) the thrust of the approach, has by and large been on what is called 'middle-range analysis' where facts about specific institutions are collected to cover a broader area offering greater scope for comparison. These facts are, however, analysed without offering inductive models. Thus, comparative works on the political parties (e.g. GSartori's Parties and Party Systems, 1976; budge and H.Keman, Parties and Democracy, 1990), Pressure groups (F.Castles' pressure Groups and Political Culture, 1967), judiciary (Gschubert,Judicial Behaviour, 1964), legislatures (M.L.Mezey, Comparative Legislatures, 1979; A. Korneberg, Legislatures in Comparative Perspective, 1973; J.Blondel, Comparative Legislatures, 1973; W.H.Agor, Latin American Legislatures, 1971) and the military (S.E. Finer, Man on Horseback, 1962).


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