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Symposium on Critical Junctures and Historical Legacies


This symposium brings together ten essays that explore hypotheses about 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, the 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.

The symposium 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. The introduction by the coeditors provides an overall framework for studying critical junctures and the essays apply this framework, while at same time moving the discussion in new directions. The substantive domains explored include state-formation, party systems, neoliberal transformation, religion, law, economic growth, and colonial rebellion. Most essays focus on Latin America, while two discuss Europe and the United States; some analyze developments since the 1980s, whereas others reach back to the 19th century. Given that a critical juncture hypothesis inherently focuses on trajectories of change that extend over a substantial period of time, a key issue debated in the symposium is the amount of historical perspective required to establish that a critical juncture has in fact occurred. Contributors to the symposium, in addition to the coeditors, are Sidney Tarrow, Kenneth M. Roberts, Robert R. Kaufman, Taylor C. Boas, Timothy R. Scully, Jorge I. Dominguez, Sebastian L. Mazzuca, Andrew C. Gould, and Thad Dunning.

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