A call for papers has been issued to “Institutional Change in the Ancient Mediterranean,” an in-person conference that will take place at Stanford University, California, on 12-13 April 2024.

Call for Papers

During the last few decades, the study of institutions in ancient history has increasingly engaged with New Institutional Economics and its conceptual frameworks. This has led to the proliferation of synthetic accounts dealing with institutional mechanics (i.e., how do institutions work and what kind of outcomes – both intended and unintended – do they produce) and institutional dynamics (i.e., how do institutions change). Those scholars partial to New Institutional Economics – the ‘new institutionalist’ approach now widely applied to the study of ancient institutions – have indeed offered many studies of institutional mechanics. However, institutional dynamics has not gained quite the same level of systematic scrutiny and theoretical reevaluation. In cases where one finds explicit discussion of institutional dynamics, the NIE approaches tend to advance a punctuated equilibrium model of historical change often favored by rational-choice institutionalisms which emphasizes innovative institutional responses to exogenous factors during critical junctures. Political historians, on the other hand, often highlight long term continuities (or path dependencies). Other new institutionalist schools, particularly Historical Institutionalisms and Sociological New Institutionalisms, also have their own preferred frameworks for modeling institutional change, many of which have not been employed in the study of ancient institutions.

The aim of this conference is to encourage scholars – both established and emerging – to tackle the problem of institutional change in the Ancient Mediterranean by engaging deliberately and in depth with a wide variety of the contemporary ‘new institutionalist’ approaches derived from the social sciences. Questions addressed in papers may include:

-What is the form, intensity, and frequency of institutional change in the different yet interconnected domains of political, economic, fiscal, and legal institutions?
-Can we identify and generalize the circumstances under which certain forms of institutional change take place?
-How do case studies of particular ancient institutions and their evolution contribute to or challenge the theoretical assumptions of the new institutionalisms? In turn, how does the application of models and theoretical approaches from one or more of the new institutional schools lead to a reassessment of the historical impact and significance of particular ancient institutions?
-How does the formal structure of particular institutions differ from their operational mechanisms and realities? What are our strategies for recovering or discerning evidence of these disjunctions?
-Following the DiMaggio and Powell’s (1983) categorization of coercive, mimetic, and normative means of producing institutional isomorphism, what kind of paths can one observe that lead to institutional isomorphism or divergence?
-Concerning the diffusion of institutional formations, what mode of diffusion (e.g., globalization) or translation (e.g., glocalization) processes can we identify in relation to trends of institutional change at local, regional, and global scales?

In tackling these questions, we aim to: 1) develop a better understanding of institutional change in both generalizable terms as well as its specifically Ancient Mediterranean instantiations; 2) broaden the variety of new institutionalist theories commonly applied to the study of Greek and Roman institutions and the transformations thereof; 3) encourage the application of theoretical pluralism and theoretical integrations to the dynamics of ancient institutions; and 4) make contributions to the new institutionalists paradigms not merely by testing the already formulated theories but also facilitating new theoretical foundations and conceptual frameworks through collaboration with social scientists and scholars in other disciplines.

We invite submissions that address one or more of the above questions or related topics within the context of the political, religious, economic, and legal institutions of the ancient Mediterranean. The authors of abstracts are encouraged but not required to check the relevant bibliography (link below) and engage with some of the literature in dealing with the above questions.

Scholars interested in contributing a paper to the conference should send the title and an abstract (up to 500 words) as a MS Word file or a PDF to institutionalchangeconference@gmail.com by 30 October 2023. We plan to respond to submissions by 13 November.

Leading up to the conference, in the period between December and March, we aim to hold a total of 2 or 3 reading group/discussion sessions over Zoom in order to facilitate conversations and create a research community in preparation for our in-person meeting at Stanford.

Link for the short bibliography: https://tinyurl.com/2swjvsfb

For any queries, please contact institutionalchangeconference@gmail.com