CiteWeb id: 20160000036

CiteWeb score: 849

The use of the term institution has become widespread in the social sciences in recent years, reflecting the growth in institutional economics and the use of the institution concept in several other disciplines, including philosophy, sociology, politics, and geography. The term has a long history of usage in the social sciences, dating back at least to Giambattista Vico in his Scienza Nuova of 1725. However, even today, there is no unanimity in the definition of this concept. Furthermore, endless disputes over the definitions of key terms such as institution and organization have led some writers to give up matters of definition and to propose getting down somehow to practical matters instead. But it is not possible to carry out any empirical or theoretical analysis of how institutions or organizations work without having some adequate conception of what an institution or an organization is. This paper proposes that those that give up are acting in haste; potentially consensual definitions of these terms are possible, once we overcome a few obstacles and difficulties in the way. It is also important to avoid some biases in the study of institutions, where institutions and characteristics of a particular type are overgeneralized to the set of institutions as a whole. This paper outlines some dangers with regard to an excessive relative stress on self-organization and agent-insensitive institutions. This paper draws on insights from several academic disciplines and is organized in six sections. The first three sections are devoted to the definition and understanding of institutions in general terms. The first section explores the meaning of key terms such as institution, convention, and rule. The second discusses some general issues concerning how institutions function and how they interact with individual agents, their habits,