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Cultural Beliefs and the Organization of Society: A Historical and Theoretical Reflection on Collectivist and Individualist Societies

Avner Greif
Journal of Political Economy
Vol. 102, No. 5 (Oct., 1994), pp. 912-950
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2138652
Page Count: 39
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Cultural Beliefs and the Organization of Society: A Historical and Theoretical Reflection on Collectivist and Individualist Societies
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Abstract

Lacking an appropriate theoretical framework, economists and economic historians have paid little attention to the relations between culture and institutional structure. This limits the ability to address a question that seems to be at the heart of developmental failures: Why do societies fail to adopt the institutional structure of more economically successful ones? This paper integrates game-theoretical and sociological concepts to conduct a comparative historical analysis of the relations between culture and institutional structure. It examines cultural factors that have led two premodern societies--one from the Muslim world and the other from the Latin world--to evolve along distinct trajectories of institutional structure. It indicates the theoretical importance of culture in determining institutional structures, in leading to their path dependence, and in forestalling successful intersociety adoption of institutions. Since the distinct institutional structures found in the late medieval period resemble those differentiating contemporary developing and developed economies, the paper suggests the historical importance of distinct cultures in economic development.

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