Structures, Political Cultures and Social Practices
Informal and Formal Institutions in the Former Soviet Union
Institutions are the rules and norms that determine the incentive structures that, in turn, condition human behaviour in the political, social and economic arenas. Douglass North defines institutions as “the rules of the game in a society or, more formally, … the humanly devised constraints that shape human interaction” and “structure incentives in human exchange, whether political, social, or economic” (North, 1990: 3), while for Helmke and Levitsky (2004: 727) institutions are “rules and procedures (both formal and informal) that structure social interaction by constraining and enabling actors’ behavior.” Institutions can be formal or informal: formal institutions are (normally codified) formal rules, laws and procedures “that are created, communicated, and enforced through channels widely accepted as official” (Helmke and Levitsky, 2004: 727). In the political sphere they include rules that regulate how power is to be divided between executive, legislative and judicial branches of power (constitutional laws) or that determine how courts, elections and markets are to be run. Informal institutions, on the other hand, are “socially shared rules, usually unwritten, that are created, communicated, and enforced outside of officially sanctioned channels.” (Helmke and Levitsky, 2004: 727).
Helmke and Levitsky developed a fourfold typology of informal institutions based on two dichotomous variables: (i) whether existing formal institutions are effective or ineffective, and (ii) whether the goals pursued by actors that use a particular informal institution are compatible or in conflict with the expected outcome that would be obtained were the formal rules to be...
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