Conceptualizing continuity and change: The composite-standard model of path dependence

  • Boas T
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Political scientists studying institutional development face the challenge of accounting for both continuity and change over time. Models of path dependence based on increasing returns, inspired by the example of the QWERTY typewriter keyboard, have played an important role in the analysis of institutional continuity, but they have been criticized for their inability to accommodate change. In this arti- cle I present an alternative model of path dependence inspired by the example of the Internet, a technology that has changed fundamentally since its invention. The composite-standard model of path dependence illustrates how complex political institutions subject to increasing returns can evolve gradually over time through a changing mix of lower-level component parts. By incorporating mechanisms of institutional change, such as conversion and layering, within an increasing returns- based theoretical framework, the composite-standard model highlights new inter- connections among these previously distinct processes and offers new insights into the nature of long-term political change.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Historical institutionalism
  • Increasing returns
  • Internet
  • Path dependence

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  • Taylor C. Boas

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