Historical Institutionalism and the Study of Law

Rogers M. Smith

in The Oxford Handbook of Law and Politics

Published in print August 2008 | ISBN: 9780199208425
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks of Political Science

Historical Institutionalism and the Study of Law


In 1984, James March and Johan Olsen published a landmark article, “The New Institutionalism: Organizational Factors in Political Life,” which saw in political science “a resurgence of concern with institutions.” March and Olsen did not cite any works focused on law, but they suggested the relevance of new institutionalist approaches to legal scholarship by arguing that “Constitutions, laws, contracts, and customary rules of politics...develop within the context of political institutions.” They also stressed the significance of “normative structures” defining “duties, obligations, roles and rules,” and how “consistency and inconsistency in beliefs affect...political meaning” and the creation of “social order.” Subsequently, they endorsed jurisprudential views holding that judges, like other institutional actors, actively gave “meaning to the values they espouse” in politically consequential ways. This article discusses the emergence of historical institutionalism, historical institutionalism as a theoretical perspective, and the current state of future prospects for historical institutionalism and public law.

Keywords: James March; Johan Olsen; historical institutionalism; law; politics; public law; judges; political science

Article.  5744 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; Politics and Law

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