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Introduction to Symposium on Critical Junctures and Historical Legacies – Building Blocks and Methodological Challenges: A Framework for Studying Critical Junctures

  • Author(s): Collier, David
  • Munck, Gerardo L
  • et al.

This article presents a framework for studying critical junctures, understood as major episodes of institutional innovation that generate an enduring legacy. Scholars routinely focus on episodes of innovation that occur in contrasting ways across cases, which in turn yields distinct trajectories of change and produces different legacies. These contrasts readily lend themselves to analysis based on the comparative method, generally combined with process tracing. For the analysis of single cases, comparison is typically focused on explicit or implicit counterfactual alternatives that might have produced different trajectories of change. The critical juncture framework is seen as offering a set of hypotheses that may or may not fit a given historical situation, and whose actual fit must be demonstrated with great care.

This framework builds on Lipset and Rokkan’s (1967) classic study of cleavage structures and party systems, as well as Collier and Collier’s (1991) Shaping the Political Arena. It goes beyond these two studies by probing further the analytic dilemmas that arise at each step, as well as reviewing scholarly debates over how to study critical junctures. The discussion centers on three building blocks: the critical juncture itself, the antecedent conditions and cleavage or shock that precede it, and the legacy of the critical juncture. For each step, attention focuses on analytic pitfalls that may be encountered, as well as scholarly debates on how the successive steps should be evaluated. Throughout, the overall concern is with methodological challenges in assessing critical juncture hypotheses. Key points are illustrated by examples from Collier and Collier (1991), as well as from nine essays in the “Symposium on Critical Junctures and Historical Legacies” (Collier and Munck, eds., Qualitative and Multi- Method Research 15, no 1, 2017, pp. 1-47), for which this article serves as the introduction.

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