Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2011

Center/Program

Center for Contract and Economic Organization

Abstract

It is widely recognized that institutions are embedded in social systems and that institutions as well as social systems change over time. Several implications follow: First, institutions cannot be described and analyzed without referring to the system in which they operate; conversely, a system cannot be described without reference to its core institutions. Second, systems foster institutional change and can breed new institutions. Third, institutional change can have systemic implications and may even engender the formation of new systems. In short, the relation between institutions and systems is characterized by complex interactions. A better understanding of the dynamics of institutional change therefore necessitates a synthesis of social system and institutional theories and a re-direction of attention from institutions or systems to interdependencies between them. This paper seeks to develop the building blocks for an integrated theory of social and institutional change. Thematically it focuses on contested property rights. The paper argues that the scope and limits of property rights are determined by the manner in which contests for control can be resolved within a broader system, which may, but does not have to, be that of a nation state. A comparative analysis of transnational property rights cases shall help shed light on the relation between property rights institutions and the system that determines if and how they are realized. These case studies serve as heuristics for generating insights about the dynamics of institutional and systemic change.

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