Theory and Society

, Volume 36, Issue 2, pp 161-186

First online:

Overcoming path dependency: path generation in open systems

  • Marie-Laure DjelicAffiliated withManagement Department, ESSEC Business School Email author 
  • , Sigrid QuackAffiliated withInternationalization and Organization, Social Science Research Center Berlin

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Studies on societal path dependencies tend to focus on mechanisms that anchor and stabilize national trajectories while paying less attention to transnational interactions and multilevel governance. This paper explores processes of path transformation in societies that are presumed to have the characteristics of open systems. Two pairs of case studies are presented and compared. The first illustrates institutional change through collision, when a national path meets with another. The second describes the emergence of transnational institutional paths and the impact of that process on national institutions and their (potential) transformation. The results indicate that path transformation often stems from a gradual succession and combination of incremental steps and junctures – change is gradual but consequential. They also point to increasing co-evolutionary interaction between national path transformation and transnational path creation. This implies a need for analytical tools that are adapted to the analysis of multi-level, nested processes of institutionalization and de-institutionalization. The paper suggests that the concept of path generation allows for a better specification of the conditions for change in existing societal paths and for the emergence of new paths in the case of open systems than the concept of path dependency.