Continuity Agents, Institutionally-Embedded Political Conflicts, and the Contingent Evolvement of Gradual Change Processes: Evidence from "Jammed" Welfare State Reforms in Israel

Saturday, June 25, 2016: 4:15 PM-5:45 PM
189 Dwinelle (Dwinelle Hall)
Ronen Mandelkern, The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, Jerusalem, Israel; The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Israel
Michal Koreh, University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel
The analytical contribution of theories of gradual institutional change which point towards the non-punctuated equilibrium modes of institutional evolution cannot be overestimated. This paper expands the theoretical framework of gradual institutional analysis by bringing to the fore "continuity agents" and their interaction with change agents in generating different institutional paths. Our framework conforms to prevailing analyses of gradual change in which institutional evolution depends on the interaction between vibrant agency and prevailing institutions. We argue, however, that the explanatory role of agency has to be acknowledged not just in relation to change agents but also in relation to continuity agents.

Bringing continuity agents to the fore implies that gradual change processes, such as layering and conversion, are likely to be contested, and hence will not necessarily have transformative results. We suggest that the specific outcomes of these modes of change and the paths they may take, largely depend on the ability of each of the competing sides to utilize prevailing institutional arrangements, recruit the support of other political agents and build with them coalitions. Consequently, gradual change may be stalled or reversed, and need not necessarily generate full-blown institutional transformations.

We demonstrate the analytical power of this theorization by empirically analyzing two case studies of welfare reforms in Israel. These reforms, which were initiated and gradually implemented by the Israeli Ministry of Finance and its collaborators, have never fully materialized. One reform was stalled and the other was fully reversed. By process-tracing both cases we reveal the role played by institutionally-embedded political struggles – between change and continuity agents – in shaping the path that each of these reforms has taken.