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The Same or Not the Same - On the Variety of Mechanisms of Path Dependence

Authors: Jürgen Beyer


In association with path dependence, researchers often talk of institutional “lock-in", thereby indicating that far-reaching path deviation or path departure are to be regarded as exceptional cases. This article submits the alleged general inclination for stability of path-dependent processes to a critical review. The different reasons for path dependence found in the literature indicate that different continuity-ensuring mechanisms are at work when people talk about path dependence (“increasing returns", complementarity, sequences etc.). As these mechanisms are susceptible to fundamental change in different ways and to different degrees, the path dependence concept alone is of only limited explanatory value. It is therefore indispensable to identify the underlying continuity-ensuring mechanism as well if a statement-s empirical value is to go beyond the trivial, always true “history matters".

Keywords: path dependence, increasing returns, historicalinstitutionalism, lock-in.

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