The Feminist Potential of Sociological Institutionalism

Fiona Mackay, Georgina Waylen, Surya Monro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


On the face of it, there is considerable potential for productive dialogue between sociological institutionalism (SI) and institutionally oriented feminist political science (FPS). Both approaches employ broad conceptions of the political and its interconnection with the social: Each is concerned with the interaction between actors and institutions, broadly defined; the interplay between formal rules and informal practices, norms, and “ways of doing things”; and the consequent effects of these dynamics. Each approach takes a “value-critical” stance, sharing an understanding that seemingly neutral institutional processes and practices are, in fact, embedded in norms and cognitive frames, and in wider cultural contexts. In this short essay, we argue that SI provides one fruitful source for tools and paradigms beyond conventional political science (Lovenduski 1998; Mackay 2004), tools that may potentially enhance feminist analyses of key questions such as the following: How are institutions and institutional processes gendered? By what processes and mechanisms are institutions (re)produced and, in turn, reflect and reproduce social systems, including gender relations? How do institutions constrain actors and interests? And what is the gendered potential for, and what are the limits of, institutional innovation, reform, and change in pursuit of gender justice?
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)253-262
JournalPolitics & Gender
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2009

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