International Handbook on Informal Governance
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International Handbook on Informal Governance

Edited by Thomas Christiansen and Christine Neuhold

Acknowledging that governance relies not only on formal rules and institutions but to a significant degree also on informal practices and arrangements, this unique Handbook examines and analyses a wide variety of theoretical, conceptual and normative perspectives on informal governance.
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Chapter 5: Informal Institutions and Comparative Politics: A Research Agenda

Gretchen Helmke and Steven Levitsky


† 1 Gretchen Helmke and Steven Levitsky* INTRODUCTION Over the last two decades, institutional analysis has become a central focus in comparative politics. Fueled by a wave of institutional change in the developing and postcommunist worlds, scholars from diverse research traditions have studied how constitutional design, electoral systems, and other formal institutional arrangements affect political and economic outcomes.1 These studies have produced important theoretical advances. Nevertheless, a growing body of research on Latin America,2 postcommunist Eurasia,3 Africa,4 and Asia5 suggests that many ‘rules of the game’ that structure political life are informal – created, communicated, and enforced outside of officially sanctioned channels.6 Examples abound. For decades, Mexican presidents were selected not according to rules in the Constitution, the electoral law, or party statutes, but rather via the dedazo (‘big finger’) – an unwritten code that gave the sitting president the right to choose his successor, specified the candidate pool, and prohibited potential candidates from openly seeking the job.7 In Japan, the ‘strict but unwritten rules’ of Amakudari (‘descent from heaven’), through which retiring state bureaucrats are awarded top positions in private corporations, have survived decades of administrative reform.8 In Central Asia, clan-based norms have ‘become the rules of the game’, while the constitutional structures created after the collapse of the Soviet Union are ‘increasingly .  .  . inconsequential’.9 And in much of the developing and post-communist world, patterns of clientelism, corruption, and patrimonialism coexist with (and often subvert) new democratic, market, and state institutions.10 Attention to informal institutions is by no means new...

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