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Why Institutions Matter in Post-Conflict States

The central theoretical assumption in this book is that institutions matter and are crucial to shaping the behaviour of actors – they constrain or enable certain actions, shape actors' identities and thus their interests. In this sense, the issue of ethnic accommodation of political elites is seen from an institutional perspective, following March and Olsen's influential definition of institutions as 'collections of interrelated rules and routines that define appropriate actions in terms of relations between roles and situations'.5 Defined thus, institutions are more than just tools which actors have at their disposal to promote and pursue their interests and engage in interaction with other actors. They are also learning spaces where actors socialise and compete, and most importantly, are exposed to sets of norms about appropriate behaviour in different situations. That in turn defines actors' interests in those situations and limits the pool of policy options they can choose to pursue. Institutions therefore also shape actors' identities, as via daily interaction with other actors through mutually agreed rules and roles, actors adapt their view of the world and their place in it, their interest and priorities, and so their social identities (including ethnic identity) are subject to continuous reconstruction.6

Thus defined, institutions inevitably constrain actors' behaviour. Therefore, the institutional structure in each of Bosnia and Macedonia constrains the actions of political elites, by defining the appropriate sets of behaviour in different situations and interactions, and by limiting the choices actors can legitimately make within the institutional set-up. Nonetheless, it is important to stress that, while institutions may constrain actors' behaviour, they do not entirely pre-determine it. Within the institutional set-up, actors retain a certain space for manoeuvre and are free to pursue their interests and make decisions. Even more importantly, the actors' actions feed back into the institutional structure that constrains them. Actors interact with the institutional structure and eventually either reproduce or change some aspects of it. Actors and structures are therefore linked and both embody social action.7 Thus even though institutions are more stable than the more volatile behaviour of actors, they also tend to change over time; sometimes, as Valerie Bunce notes, institutions change to perform entirely different or even opposing functions to the initial ones

5 John G. March and Johan P. Olsen, Re-discovering Institutions (New York: The Free Press, 1989), p. 160.

6 Based on constructivist definitions of social identity as fluid and re-constructed, see for instance: Thomas Risse, 'Social Constructivism and European Integration', in European Integration Theories, ed. T. Diez and A. Wiener (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), pp. 165–7.

7 Anthony Giddens, The Constitution of Society (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984). intended.8 However, although not immutable, institutional structure has lasting effects and often the rules and routines it establishes tend to survive even after institutional reform or demise, because actors continue to adhere to learned roles and norms. Such institutional legacies are especially relevant in states with weak institutions that have experienced a recent major institutional change, such as the two analysed in this book. Nor have Bosnia or Macedonia yet consolidated their new sets of democratic and power-sharing institutions.

The scope of the concept of institutions, as defined above, is therefore wide enough to include both formal and informal institutions, as both types have a significant impact on the behaviour of actors. When discussing institutions, this book refers both to formal power-sharing arrangements and to less formal, extraconstitutional practices and routines of interaction between political elites, which also fall within the institutional structure as defined above.

Studying the effects of institutions on political actors' behaviour is even more necessary in the post-conflict context. Most post-conflict agreements and negotiated solutions include deliberate institutional mechanisms aimed at allowing peaceful political competition, equal access to political power and state resources, and preservation of groups' cultural and ethnic identity. All of these are intended to prevent conflict recurring. While there is a tendency to look at post-conflict politics from a historical approach, as a continuation or overcoming of long-standing ethnic antagonisms and war-time goals, such explanations neglect the institutional incentives and constraints that shape political actors' everyday behaviour and ultimately affect the stability of the negotiated political and institutional regime. This book does not therefore examine political elites' behaviour as exclusively determined by ethnic identity – the interests elites pursue often do not coincide with those of their ethnic group. The institutions within which they operate also provide opportunities and room for manoeuvre, allowing behaviour varying from accommodation to resistance. Adopting a wider institutionalist approach to the study of political actors' interaction allows for more comprehensive explanations for ethnic accommodation – explanations that take account of social structures, institutional constraints and the agency of elites.

However, neither institutions nor ethnicity fully determine elites' behaviour. Human behaviour is too complex and the product of too many different incentives and drives to be exhaustively accounted for. This is an inherent limitation of the analysis in the forthcoming chapters. Another limitation is the possibility of contingent outcomes that cannot be easily accommodated in the explanatory framework. However, there is nonetheless merit in providing a parsimonious and theoretically well-informed explanation that will contribute to a better understanding of the behaviour of political elites, even if falling short of a fully predictive model of that behaviour.

8 Valerie Bunce, Subversive Institutions: The Design and Destruction of Socialism

and the State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 143.


 
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