Seido wa ikani Shinka suruka (How Institutions Evolve - The political economy of skills in Germany, Britain, the United States and Japan)
398 pages, A5 format, softcover
The author, Kathleen Thelen, is an internationally renowned political scientist who is currently affiliated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The book was written against a backdrop of increasing usage of quantitative approaches in political science, as exemplified by the application of game theory. Thelen was critical of such approaches, arguing that they tend to explain institutional formation based on the function served by present-day institutions. In contrast, Thelen attempted to capture the entire lifecycle of institutions—from their formation to their continuation, evolution, and dissolution—from the standpoint of political conflicts among the main stakeholders. True to this standpoint, the book, which presents research describing the formation of vocational training systems (particularly internal training systems implemented by companies) that supported rapid post-war economic growth in Germany, Britain, the United States, and Japan, is considered a classic in comparative political economics.
Specifically, the book focuses on master craftsmen in the handicraft industry, skilled workers, as well as employers and nations that use industries that depend on skilled labor (metal and machine industries). The question that arises over the course of examining the dynamically interweaving factors is whether preindustrial systems for training skilled workers were retained through the industrialization process or whether stable internal training systems (implemented by companies) formed as a result of industrialization. Stable training systems were formed in Germany and Japan but not in Britain and the United States. The historical characteristics of these stakeholders as well as the political dynamics at play differed substantially among countries. Those interested are invited to read the book for more details.
Meanwhile, the book’s objective is not simply to compare institutional evolution in these countries. While the book sets the end of the 19th century to the inter-war period as the timeframe of examination for Britain, the United States, and Japan, its analysis of Germany extends to the end of the 20th century. The aim of doing so is to elucidate institutional evolution in greater detail by tracing the development of institutions in a single country over a longer span. Although it appears at first glance that, in Germany’s case, the same institutional framework has continued since the end of the 19th century over a surprisingly long period, the analysis reveals that the main actors supporting this framework, the strategies and positioning of the institutions in question, and the social function of these institutions have changed dramatically over time. The true worth of Thelen’s discussion lies not in its identification of aspects that have obviously changed but, rather, in its revelation of historical changes in circumstances that appear at first glance to be constant—i.e., its theoretical targeting of gradual institutional transformation.
In the background of this book is the increasing impact of game theory and other economic approaches on political science. The vocational education systems addressed in this book are increasingly becoming the subject of research in economics and pedagogy. My greatest hope is that this book is read by undergraduate and graduate students in a wide variety of fields and serves as a spark for interdisciplinary discussion and research.
(Written by ISHIHARA Shunji, Professor, Graduate School of Economics / 2022)
How Institutions Evolve: The Political Economy of Skills in Germany, Britain, the United States and Japan (Cambridge University Press, 2004)
Author: Kathleen Thelen
Book Review (for Original Book):
Review by Alvin Almendrala Camba (E-International Relations Jun 2012)
Review by Daniel Friel (Enterprise & Society volume 7 number 1 Mar 2006)
Review by Reviewed by Gary Herrigel (H-Net Reviews Jan 2006)
Review by Thomas N. Maloney (EH.NET Nov 2005)
Review by Gerald Friedman (NDUSTRIAL & LABOR RELATIONS REVIEW volume 59 issue 1 pp. 170-172 Oct 2005)
Review by John L. Campbell (Contemporary Sociology volume 34 number 5 pp. 502-503 Sep 2005)
Review by Junko Kato (Japanese Journal of Political Science 6 (3) pp. 439-440 2005)