Institutional Capacity

There exists a voluminous literature on the role of institutions in economic development and sustainable resource use. In social science, the very idea of an institution is described by Gallie (1955) as an "essentially contested" concept. It can be as broad as the definition offered in the Blackwell Encyclopedia of Political Science—"a locus of regularized or crystallized principle of conduct, action, or behavior that governs a crucial area of social life and that endures over time" (Gould 1992:290)—or simply as "stable, valued, recurring patterns of behavior" (Smith 1988:91). Political science, law, and economics tend to focus on institutions as instrumental, rational, goal-oriented activity, usually rooted in self-interest. These disciplines emphasize formal structures of bargaining and negotiation, bound by rights and rules, which determine the allocation of power and responsibility, the basis of accepting or rejecting facts (the social construction of knowledge and ignorance), and procedures for implementation of agreed outcomes. (e.g., Krasner 1983). In contemporary society, the nation-state is usually recognized as the ultimate legitimate authority responsible for these processes and functions.

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