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JeiJOURNAL OF ECONOMIC ISSUESVol. XLNo. 1March 2006What Are Institutions?Geoffrey M. HodgsonThe use of the term institution has become widespread in the social sciences in recentyears, reflecting the growth in institutional economics and the use of the institution concept in several other disciplines, including philosophy, sociology, politics, and geography. The term has a long history of usage in the social sciences, dating back at least toGiambattista Vico in his Scienza Nuova of 1725. However, even today, there is no unanimity in the definition of this concept.Furthermore, endless disputes over the definitions of key terms such as institutionand organization have led some writers to give up matters of definition and to proposegetting down somehow to practical matters instead. But it is not possible to carry out anyempirical or theoretical analysis of how institutions or organizations work without having some adequate conception of what an institution or an organization is.This paper proposes that those that give up are acting in haste; potentially consensual definitions of these terms are possible, once we overcome a few obstacles and difficulties in the way. It is also important to avoid some biases in the study of institutions,where institutions and characteristics of a particular type are overgeneralized to the setof institutions as a whole. This paper outlines some dangers with regard to an excessiverelative stress on self-organization and agent-i

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