Institutionalism, in the social sciences, an approach that emphasizes the role of institutions.
The study of institutions has a long pedigree. It draws insights from previous work in a wide array of disciplines, including economics, political science, sociology, anthropology, and psychology. The reappearance of interest in institutions in the early 1980s followed a familiar pattern: it was a reaction to dominant strands of thought that neglected institutions, historical context, and process in favour of general theorizing. Accordingly, institutionalism is frequently characterized by the attention it gives to history. The institutionalism that emerged in the 1980s is called new institutionalism (NI), but it is less “new” than it is a restatement of previous scholarship. The following discussion traces the development of institutionalism from the 19th century to the emergence of NI in the last decades of the 20th century.