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Politics in Time

Politics in Time: History, Institutions, and Social Analysis

Paul Pierson
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Politics in Time
    Book Description:

    This groundbreaking book represents the most systematic examination to date of the often-invoked but rarely examined declaration that "history matters." Most contemporary social scientists unconsciously take a "snapshot" view of the social world. Yet the meaning of social events or processes is frequently distorted when they are ripped from their temporal context. Paul Pierson argues that placing politics in time--constructing "moving pictures" rather than snapshots--can vastly enrich our understanding of complex social dynamics, and greatly improve the theories and methods that we use to explain them.

    Politics in Timeopens a new window on the temporal aspects of the social world. It explores a range of important features and implications of evolving social processes: the variety of processes that unfold over significant periods of time, the circumstances under which such different processes are likely to occur, and above all, the significance of these temporal dimensions of social life for our understanding of important political and social outcomes. Ranging widely across the social sciences, Pierson's analysis reveals the high price social science pays when it becomes ahistorical. And it provides a wealth of ideas for restoring our sense of historical process. By placing politics back in time, Pierson's book is destined to have a resounding and enduring impact on the work of scholars and students in fields from political science, history, and sociology to economics and policy analysis.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4108-0
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. 1-16)

    We can begin with an analogy. Imagine that your friend invites you to the trendiest new restaurant in town, charmingly named “The Modern Social Scientist.” As an added bonus, he informs you that he knows the chef well, and that you will have a chance to tour the kitchen. When you arrive, the chef explains that the kitchen is divided into two parts. On the left, she has all the ingredients (which to your puzzlement she refers to as “variables”). These ingredients, she insists, are the freshest available and carefully selected. On the right is an extraordinary profusion of measuring...

    (pp. 17-53)

    Imagine a very large urn containing two balls, one black, one red.¹ You remove one ball, and then return it to the urn along with an additional ball of the same color. You repeat this process until the urn fills up. What can we say about the eventual distribution of colored balls in the urn? Or about a series of trials in which we fill the urn and then start over again one hundred times?

    In each individual trial we have no idea what the eventual ratio of red to black balls will be; it could be 99.9 percent red,...

    (pp. 54-78)

    Arguments in the social sciences sometimes take the following form: “the temporal ordering of events or processes has a significant impact on outcomes.” These are instances in which we wish to know not just what the “value” of some variable is, but the time at which that value occurred. We want to know not justwhat, butwhen.

    In practice, prominent scholars have long stressed that temporal ordering may be a critical element of explanation. There are in fact quite distinct (although sometimes hazily specified) claims about the role of sequencing at work in different analyses. I offer some suggestions...

  8. Chapter Three LONG-TERM PROCESSES
    (pp. 79-102)

    A core theme of the past two chapters has been the need, as historian Ferdinand Braudel famously put it, to remain attentive to thelongue durée.Many important social processes take a long time—sometimes an extremely long time—to unfold. This is a problematic fact for contemporary social science, particularly in areas of inquiry where individual strategic action has become the central vantage point for framing questions and answers about social life. Especially in economics and political science, the time horizons of most analysts have become increasingly restricted. Both in what we seek to explain and in our search...

    (pp. 103-132)

    Institutions now stand at the heart of much theorizing and explanation in the social sciences. Analysts working from a variety of perspectives have produced compelling work, emphasizing and explicating the tremendous significance of institutional arrangements for political and social outcomes (Hall and Taylor 1996). By contrast, we have made far less progress in treating institutions as themselves important objects of explanation. The origins of institutions, as well as the sources of institutional change, remain opaque. As David Kreps has observed, the sophisticated economic literature on the effects of institutions “leaves open the question, where did the institutions come from? ....

    (pp. 133-166)

    The arguments presented in Chapter Four suggested the need to shift our focus from explaining moments of institutional choice to understanding processes of institutional development. Indeed, the need to do so is increasingly recognized in the social sciences, although efforts in that direction remain halting. In the first two sections of this chapter I review the efforts of historical and sociological institutionalists to explain institutional change. I then draw on the preceding chapters to outline a distinct approach to the subject of institutional development.

    Much of the literature I review has focused on why and how particular sets of actors...

    (pp. 167-178)

    My goals in this book have been to identify and explore a range of frequently occurring causal processes that exhibit strong temporal dimensions. Sensitivity to these temporal dimensions can help social scientists bring their practices more in line with the way the social world actually works. As in the passage from Gøsta Carlsson, I have suggested that much that is important about the social world is likely to remain concealed if our inquiries are grounded, as they too often are, in efforts to examine only a moment in time. If we think, instead, of how social processes unfold over time...

    (pp. 179-194)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 195-196)