“Culture, Institutions and Social Equilibria: A Framework,” with Daron Acemoglu (2024). Working Paper

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Culture, Institutions, and Social Equilibria: A Framework


This paper proposes a new framework for studying the interplay between culture and institutions. We interpret culture as a ”repertoire”, consisting of (cultural) attributes and allowing rich cultural responses to political changes. Combinations of attributes produce cultural configurations, which provide social meaning, coordination and political justification. Our framework has several distinctive features. First, it adopts a “systems approach” to culture: the meaning and function of attributes are determined within the whole configuration and political equilibrium. Second, it emphasizes discontinuous or “saltational” changes in culture—rather than gradual, evolutionary changes—as attributes are reconnected and acquire new meanings in response to evolving circumstances and as outcomes in ongoing “cultural struggles”. Third, our framework puts the spotlight on how fluidly different cultures can respond to conditions, depending on the nature of their attributes and constraints on their connections. Finally, it enriches the study of the co-determination of political and cultural outcomes.