The Study of Critical Junctures: Theory, Narrative, and Counterfactuals in Historical Institutionalism

The causal logic behind many arguments in historical institutionalism emphasizes the enduring impact of choices made during critical junctures in history. These choices close off alternative options and lead to the establishment of institutions that generate self-reinforcing path-dependent processes. Despite the theoretical and practical importance of critical junctures, however, analyses of path dependence often devote little attention to them. The article reconstructs the concept of critical junctures, delimits its range of application, and provides methodological guidance for its use in historical institutional analyses. Contingency is the key characteristic of critical junctures, and counterfactual reasoning and narrative methods are necessary to analyze contingent factors and their impact. Finally, the authors address specific issues relevant to both cross-sectional and longitudinal comparisons of critical junctures.