, Volume 36, Issue 1, pp 111-141

Path-Dependent Explanations of Regime Change: Central America in Comparative Perspective

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This article explores the application of ideas about path dependence to the study of national political regime change. It first reviews the central components of pathdependent explanation, including the concepts of critical juncture and legacy. This mode of explanation is then employed in the analysis of diverging regime trajectories in Central America during the 19th and 20th centuries. The article argues that the 19th-century liberal reform period was a critical juncture that locked the Central American countries onto divergent paths of long-term development, culminanting in sharply contrasting regime outcomes. A final section puts the argument about Central America in a broader comparative perspective by considering other pathdependent explanations of regime change.

James Mahoney is assistant professor of sociology at Brown University. He is the author ofThe Legacies of Liberalism: Path Dependence and Political Regimes in Central America (2001). His current research focuses on long-run development and the legacy of Spanish colonialism in Latin America.
For helpful comments and criticisms on an earlier draft, I would like to thank David Collier, Gerardo L. Munck, and the anonymous referees.