Social Action and Institution Building in Three Houses of the Australian Parliament

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This book pushes the boundaries of the new institutionalism as defined by March and Olsen (1984). The new institutionalism developed from the rallying cry “institutions matter.” They matter because they determine the kinds of political behavior that are supported and the pattern of outcomes that can be expected to arise from that behavior. Orthodox institutionalism had been concerned with the political structures that become instituted and persist over time. The new institutionalism included matters arising from the sociology of institutions including the roles that political actors play and the norms of behavior that they recognize and to which they readily submit themselves. According to March and Olsen, these normative elements become part of the institutional structure.

The analysis in this book takes up the possibilities inherent in the new institutionalism to apply social theory. First, it applies a traditional structural functionalist perspective to develop role types that describe parliamentary action. Then it validates those role types empirically. Having done this, the analysis applies more recent developments in social theory. In particular, it applies the structuration theory of Anthony Giddens to examine how the enactment of roles brings into being particular structures. These structures are not continuous features of parliamentary life but recur over and over again as the situations to which they respond arise. These structures give shape and meaning to parliamentary committees. The committees are reshaped, not in the conscious and planned manner of the institutional sculptor, bur rather as the parliamentarians put their preferred parliamentary roles into action. This analysis pushes the sociological analysis of parliament that was introduced by March and Olsen to its logical conclusion, which is that members of an institution shape and reshape their institutions as they use them.

This is the first time that structuration theory has been explicitly applied to any parliament, and the first time that social analysis has been used as a means to understand the conduct of Australian houses of parliament.


“ ... In-depth investigations into parliamentary life, such as this book, have an instructive role to play in testing the rhetoric about what makes a good parliament against research into how these institutions operate in reality. This book is thus a timely examination of the people and processes. It provides a welcome balance to the popular conception of Australian Parliaments as being only dominated by the executive, with individual members being comprehensively directed under tight party discipline ...” – (from the Preface) Professor John Halligan, University of Canberra

“ ... What is most impressive about Dr. Jones’ work is his skillful integration of conceptual frameworks derived from two very different disciplinary sources: sociological theory and modern ‘new institutionalist’ political science. The outcome is a work that illuminates the dynamics of Australian parliamentary committee systems while it simultaneously enhances our understanding of the ways in which institutions develop.” – John Power, Professor Emeritus, University of Melbourne

“This book gives new insights into the subtleties in the role of parliamentarian through an in-depth examination of how parliamentarians work as committee members. By bringing several major theoretical concepts together to bear on the behavior of parliamentarians as committee members, this book has a vital place in the scholarly analysis of Australian parliaments and legislatures more generally. These insights have considerable potential for informing key aspects of the design and operation of parliamentary committees ...” – Professor Ken Coghill, Monash University

Table of Contents

List of Tables; List of Figures
Preface by John Halligan
1. Introduction
2. The Observatory for Institution Building
3. Conceptualizing the Social Influence of Backbenchers
4. Questions of Methodology
5. The Institutional Influence on Behaviour
6. Emergent Roles of Members
7. Institutional Pressures and Role Formation
8. Strategies and Committee Significance
9. Case Studies of the Nine Committees
10. Individual Role and Collective Behaviour
11. Shaping the Institution
Appendix 1: Interview Schedule
Appendix 2: A Description of the Factional Structure Within the Major Parties at the Time of This Study
Bibliography; Index

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