Mainstream literature in law focuses on formal rules. Yet informal institutions – unwritten rules, practices, and narratives that are created and enforced outside officially sanctioned channels – are just as important.

Some informal institutions, ranging from bureaucratic norms to clientelism and corruption, may facilitate democratic decay or authoritarian consolidation. For example, various “gentlemen’s pacts” between judicial associations may substitute formal rules governing selection and promotion of judges, entrenching patronage, nepotism and vertical gender segregation. Other informal institutions may counteract democratic decay. For instance, judges may team up with journalists and mobilize the public to defend the judiciary. Informality can thus be a force for the good or the bad. The key question is then what informal institutions and under what conditions they push institutional performance in one direction or the other.

The goal of this working group is to examine how informal institutions affect functioning of the state and under what circumstances they counteract or contribute to democratic decay. We will build on a comparative legal perspective combined with sociological and political science approaches. Provisionally, we would like to focus on three aims:

1) to identify the most important informal institutions in different countries and develop their typology;

2) to assess their interaction with formal institutions and their impact, positive or negative, on the functioning of the state;

3) to analyze the dynamics of informal institutions, that is, how they reproduce themselves and under what circumstances they change.


Katarína Šipulová, Raul Sanchez-Urribarri, Björn Dressel, David Kosař

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