Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 05/2012

"Informelle Politik" und "informelle Institutionen": Konzeptionelle Grundlagen, analytische Zugänge und Herausforderungen für das Studium autoritärer und anderer politischer Herrschaftssysteme

Patrick Köllner

April 2012

German Institute of Global and Area Studies


“Informal Politics” and “Informal Institutions”: Conceptual Foundations, Analytical Foci and Challenges for the Study of Authoritarian and Other Political Regimes

Understanding and explaining the shape and functioning of systems of political rule requires a focus on their informal elements, which exist alongside and interact with formal elements. And indeed, political science and area studies have long been concerned with various aspects of “informal politics” and “informal institutions”. Based on a survey of relevant literature, I show that the empirically‐rich work focusing on the “non‐OECD world” has applied the term “informal politics” in different ways, leading to conceptual ambiguity. Moreover, the term informal politics, as used in the literature, tends to lack in terms of conceptual differentiation. In contrast, the conceptual and broader analytical foundations of the study of informal institutions have become more advanced in recent times. Here, I particularly highlight work on different “genetic” types of informal institutions – tradition‐ and transition‐based informal institutions – and on the possible relations between informal and formal institutions. Finally, I suggest that a focus on political regimes is particularly useful for analyzing, from an institutional perspective, the shape and functioning of autocracies (and other systems of political rule). However, the very opacity of such systems of rule as well as practical research obstacles will continue to bedevil the study of informal institutions in autocracies.