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date: 24 April 2017

Path Dependency in Foreign Policy

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Please check back later for the full article.

Path dependency has been employed more frequently in the field of foreign policy analysis, though it is still an emerging framework. This reference article traces the roots of path dependency from the physical sciences and economics to the social sciences, and finally, to foreign policy. The basic assumptions of path dependency are summarized, including the role of critical junctures, increased returns, and policy legacies that are produced and reproduced by a variety of causal mechanisms. Preferred methods employed by path dependency scholars are briefly outlined, the framework’s applicability to the study of politics is addressed, and the major critiques of path dependency are reviewed. The general conclusion is that, despite conceptual and methodological challenges in the area of foreign policy, there is definite “value added” in path dependent approaches.