Power in Institutions and Institutional Analysis

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Power in Institutions and Institutional Analysis

Coordinators: Prakash Kashwan, Gustavo Garcia Lopez, Eric Coleman, & Insa Theesfeld

Institutional analysis has contributed path-breaking insights to our understanding of the conditions that enable groups of individuals to overcome social dilemmas. The institutional theories developed at the Workshop have been critiqued at times for not being attentive enough to the issues of power. While power is not completely absent in the Workshop’s institutional theories or analytic approaches, the key question is about the conceptualization of power. Arguably, the analytic assumption of the Workshop’s approach, which is shared by many of the new institutionalists, is that power is equated to the bargaining power between individuals. What we have to think about, then, is what the focus on bargaining power reveals and what it obscures. What don’t we see as a result of the way that power is conceptualized and incorporated more implicitly, rather than explicitly?

Participants in this working group turn to theories of power to think about how we might explicitly conceptualize power in the institutional theories and methods developed at the Workshop. Specifically, we aim to develop our understanding of power in two related areas: theoretically grounded conceptualizations of power and its relation to institutions, and operationalization and measurement of power in collective-action situations.

Regarding the conceptual dimension, some of the main questions this group seeks to address are: How do power asymmetries affect the deliberation, design, and enforcement of institutions across different contexts? For instance, how might incorporation of power help us sharpen our understanding of the complexities surrounding the concepts that are at the very foundation of institutional analysis, e.g., choice and choice sets, incentives, reciprocity, trust, monitoring and enforcement, and compliance? How do the effects of ‘power over’ and ‘power to’ interact, and what factors, such as polycentric institutions and social movements, influence the predominance of one versus the other in a particular collective action situation? What do we learn by conceptualizing ‘power’ as a ‘resource’ individuals and groups of individuals might leverage to pursue varied goals? On the other hand, we think it is important to conceive of ways in which constructive power can be deployed to overcome the undesirable aspects of power. Might ‘trust’ and ‘social capital’ work as the forces that lead to undermining of power relations and progressive realization of relatively egalitarian outcomes? Regarding operationalization, some of the main questions are: In what ways can we formally classify and observe different dimensions of power? And how might field research and analytical approaches be bolstered to account for the effects of power in realms as diverse as collective action and coercive regulation? Are different concepts derived from fundamentally different sets of epistemological and ontological perspectives, and hence, essentially incommensurable?

These questions, we believe, are important not only for our theories of institutional origins and change but also for understanding and addressing real world problems around the world. This working group is intended to facilitate collaborative research and scholarship among a network of scholars interested in the questions at the intersection of institutions and power.

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