Journal of Evolutionary Economics

, Volume 29, Issue 5, pp 1483–1506 | Cite as

Power, ideas and culture in the ‘longue durée’ of institutional evolution: theory and application on the revolutions of property rights in Russia

  • Carsten Herrmann-PillathEmail author
Regular Article


North et al. (2009) have presented a new theory of economic institutions which explains property rights in ‘limited access orders’ as outcome of intra-elite political conflict. Property rights are explained as a means of governing violence in society via the distribution of rents among elites. However, this theory does not establish systematic linkages to North’s earlier theoretical contributions on the role of informal institutions and cognition in explaining institutions. I suggest that a synthesis can be built by referring to central notions in Foucault’s work on power, the state, and knowledge, especially, the concepts of biopolitics and of governmentality as a pattern of informal institutions. The paper sketches this synthesis and applies the theory on the evolution of property rights in Russia from Catherine the Great to Putin.


North Foucault Russia Property Governmentality Biopolitics State capacity Limited access orders 

JEL classification

B52 N43 N44 P26 



My analysis of the Russian developments (without the theoretical framework) was first presented at the Berlin meeting of the German Association of East European Studies devoted to the centenary of the Russian revolution of 1917, published as ‘Modernisierungsblockaden: Utopische Eigentumsrevolutionen in Russland, 1917-2017’ in: Osteuropa 68. Jg., 6–8/2017, pp. 133–143 and now translated into Russian, published in ‘Teleskop No 1, 2018’ by the Institute of Economics at the Russian Academy of Sciences. I received a lot of inspiration from the Volker Weichsel’s editorial comments and discussions with the panel and the audience, especially Alexander Libman and Roland Götz. The expanded version including the theoretical framework was presented at the annual meeting of the Evolutionary Economics group in Marburg in 2017, where the discussant, Gerhard Wegner, provided me with important insights. Four anonymous reviewers of JEE presented very productive criticism that motivated major improvements, yet remaining faults are my responsibility.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Max Weber Centre for Advanced Cultural and Social StudiesErfurt UniversityErfurtGermany

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