Policy trajectories and legacies

Path dependency revisited

Authored by: Adrian Kay

Routledge Handbook of Public Policy

Print publication date:  November  2012
Online publication date:  December  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415782456
eBook ISBN: 9780203097571
Adobe ISBN: 9781136223259


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The emergence of a ‘new’ institutionalism across the social sciences has coincided with the increased interest in temporality, change and history in social and political analysis. Institutions are structures that endure, have a history and can be used to link temporally events and processes. The concept of path dependency has been used within policy studies and political science almost exclusively within a broad institutionalist framework. It is institutions that are path dependent; as Raadschelders (1998: 569) states: ‘whatever the discipline … contemporary neo-institutional analysis has one feature in common: the notion of path dependency’. The widespread and cross-disciplinary use of path dependency for the analysis of institutional ‘stickiness’ makes the concept an obvious starting point for the examination of policy trajectories and legacies. Indeed, the concept appeals as a label for the simplest of policy dynamics: that past policy decisions act as an institution-like constraint on the options available to current policy-makers; or to use the language of dynamics, past policy decisions act to circumscribe or foreclose parts of policy space.

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