7 - Designing Institutions in East European Transitions  pp. 199-226

Designing Institutions in East European Transitions

By Claus Offe

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This chapter is divided in two main sections. The first section serves conceptual purposes. I lay out a dualist concept of institutions and contrast it to related concepts such as organization, norm, ritual, and convention. How do we recognize an institution, in the proper sociological sense, if we see it? The second part looks at institutions in a longitudinal perspective. What happens to them over time, how can we explain what happens, and how can we conceivably intentionally determine what happens to institutions and, as a consequence, to those living in or under these institutions?

“Institution” is a key conceptual tool in the social sciences. Sociology, political science, economics, but also the disciplines of history, anthropology, and law can hardly work without it. Moreover, the creation of institutions, or the building of new and “better” social, political, and economic institutions is generally considered to be the central practical problem that societies confront as they emerge from their thoroughly discredited past, such as postauthoritarian and, in particular, postcommunist societies.

The Dual Nature of Institutions

Let me start with the proposition, widely shared in the sociological but not so in the economic literature on the subject, that institutions embody normative intuitions or principles of those who live in or under the institutions in question. The relationship between institutions and social norms is, however, not unilateral, but reciprocal and cyclical. Social actors generate, support, and enact institutions, and these institutions, in turn, generate social agents capable of observing social norms.