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1 Framework: Critical Junctures and Historical Legacies Two roads diverged in a wood, and I­ I took the one less travelled by, And that has made all the difference. -Robert Frost, "The Road Not Taken" THE IDEA of crucial choices and their legacies, of which Robert Frost wrote, has long intrigued students of political change. Numerous scholars have fo­ cused on major watersheds in political life, arguing that these transitions es­ tablish certain directions of change and foreclose others in a way that shapes politics for years to come. Such transitions can, following Seymour Martin Lipset and Stein Rokkan, be called "critical junctures."1 The character of critical junctures and the perspective from which they are analyzed vary greatly. Some critical junctures, as in the choice of Robert Frost's wanderer, may entail considerable discretion, whereas with others the presumed choice appears deeply embedded in antecedent conditions. The critical juncture may involve a relatively brief period in which one direction or another is taken or an extended period of reorientation. Some analyses stress underlying societal cleavages or crises that lead up to the critical junc­ ture, whereas others focus primarily on the critical juncture itself. Finally, some critical junctures may be seen as coming close to making "all the dif­ ference," as Frost boldly asserts in his poem. More commonly, the effect of the critical juncture is intertwined with other processes of change. Yet underlying this diversity is a common understanding of change that is a cornerstone of comparative-historical research on development. It suggests what Paul A. David 1 1985 :332) has called a "path dependent" pattern of change, in that outcomes during a crucial transition establish distinct tra­ jectories within which, as he has engagingly put it, "one damn thing follows another." James Gleick 1 1 987:8), in summarizing the version of this perspec­ tive known as "chaos" theory, captures a related feature of critical junctures in stressing the idea of "sensitive dependence on initial conditions." To those who study revolutionary change, it comes as no surprise to sug­ gest that political life exhibits the kind of discontinuities posited in analyses of critical junctures. What should be underlined is the extent to which this focus is widely employed in a diverse spectrum of research not concerned 1 Lipset and Rokkan 1 967:37££.; Rokkan 1 970: 1 12££. 28 S H A P I N G T H E P O L I T I C A L A R E N A exclusively, or even primarily, with revolutionary change. It plays a central role in Max Weber's analysis of the cyclical interplay between periods of con­ tinuity and sharp disjunctures-inspired by charismatic leadership-that re­ shape established social relations.2 In major works of comparative-historical analysis of the 1 960s, it is found in Barrington Moore's argument that within the process of modernization, different patterns of commercialization of ag­ riculture were a historic watershed that set countries on different paths to the modem world; in Louis Hartz's comparisons of the founding of "frag­ ment societies"; and in Alexander Gerschenkron's work on the "great spurt" in the industrialization process.3 This perspective is central to research on the crises, sequence, and timing of development,4 to recent studies of conti­ nuity and change in international and domestic political economy,5 to older work on "institutionalization,"6 to more recent work on the "new institu­ tionalism,"7 and to research on technological change.8 Though the impor­ tance of this perspective is particularly evident in studies based on cross­ national comparisons, it also plays a role in research on long-term patterns of change within individual countries and in studies of electoral realignment in the United States.9 In rational-choice theory, a variant of this perspective is found in "threshold" models of collective behavior.10 Arguments about critical junctures have played an important role in re­ search on labor politics. In their classic Industrialism and Industrial Man, Clark Kerr and his coauthors emphasize the long-term stability of the indus­ trial relations system that was "crystallized by the leading elite at a rela­ tively early stage" ( 1 960:235). In Lipset and Rokkan's ( 1 967) analysis, and to an even greater degree in the subsequent work of Carlos Waisman ( 1 982, 1 987), Gregory Luebbert ( 1986, 1987), and John Stephens ( 1 986), the resolu­ tion of the working class cleavage has a profound effect in shaping national politics. Other studies...


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