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Krasner: Approaches to the state

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Krasner. 1984. Approaches to the state: Alternative conceptions and historical dynamics. Comparative Politics 16 (January).

From handout

The state matters, declares Stephen Krasner in this review piece. The state "can be treated as an actor in its own right" and not merely "a reflection of societal characteristics or preferences." Whether viewed as a government, ruling class, normative order, or (most commonly) administrative apparatus, the state has an independent effect on policy outcomes, a causal relationship missed by applicants of a more pluralistic method. The new statist research can be distinguished from pluralism in five ways:

1)Politics is a problem of rule and control rather than allocation.

2)The state is an independent actor.

3)Institutional constraints matter � "Political outcomes cannot be adequately understood as simply the resolution of a vector of forces emanating from a variety of different groups."

4)History matters � institutions chosen can perpetuate themselves. We might have path dependency.

5)There are "disjunctures and stress within any given political system" because the sticky institutional rules may be more appropriate for the society in which they were implemented rather than the present day.

Following an elaboration of his critique of pluralism, Krasner suggests two primary mechanisms through which states have their effects. Where the state is an exogenous variable, we can understand policy outcomes by treating state preferences as an independent variable; Nordlinger, for example, offers a typology for how political leaders can maximize policy autonomy. The state can also matter for its own sake, as Geertz's study of symbolism in Bali suggests; the state serves both as an object of competition as an end in itself and as a focal point for a polity's identity.

Political institutions shape policy outcomes (and hence the environment such policies create), but the environment can also shape political institutions. In this way, the state can be seen as an intervening variable. Political institutions are sticky; implemented in a moment of crisis to deal with the social needs of a given time and place, their capacity to reduce transaction costs and generate shared expectations allows them to perpetuate themselves. Over time, an incongruence can evolve between implemented political institutions and the (evolving) society they are intended to serve. Crises are required to diffuse this increasing tension. Given that political institutions serve as a normative example to other parts of the world (such as education or welfare), these institutions will have a tendency to spread as well. Hence, Krasner sees punctuated equilibrium at work; institutions are implemented and spread, perpetuate themselves, and then are cast aside in a moment of crises; the new institutions perpetuate themselves for a time, as the cycle repeats itself.