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How party systems Form: The Institutional, Historical and Strategic Foundations of the Post-War ... - page 2 / 42





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Add this somewhereI follow John Gerring’s definition of “an intensive study o a single case (or small set of cases) with the aim to generalize across a larger set of cases of the same general type.” (Gerring 2007, 65) This understanding of case study has little use for the atheoretical, thick descriptive studies but plays a crucial role in addressing conceptual, methodological and theoretical issues without which large n, variable-centered and cross-case studies would be possible. (Gerring 2007, 37-63)

How do party systems form and why does their formation vary so much across countries ? An increasing number of scholars have engaged with these two questions and focused on three broad types of explanations: systematic and already well understood institutional effects; potentially systematic but still unevenly conceptualized and tested elite strategies; and highly contingent and haphazardly analyzed historical factors. This wide range of causal factors and their varying theoretical potential raises a fundamental question that needs to be engaged before tackling the more practical question of how party systems form. The current literature raises the fundamental question of whether it is at an early stage of theory development, where ongoing testing of current theories will led to a convergence around a few, parsimonious explanations; or, whether party system formation is a phenomenon so complex, so historical, that existing theories require thorough reconsideration about how compatible its key theoretical and methodological assumptions with such important temporal dynamics ?

With a question so broad, I prefer approaching it empirically rather than theoretically, and by studying a single rather than many cases. Among the numerous cases available, the development of the postwar Germany party systems is an ideal case study for three reasons. First, it institutionalized faster and proved more durable than any party system after 1945. Germany managed to form a stable and enduring two-and-a-half party system by 1957, only eight years after its founding election. This very success suggests a development less complex than any other and occurring under circumstances more beneficial than any other. The German party system thus offers a best case scenario for testing to what extent existing theories – premised on established and hence less complex party systems- can explain about the formation of new ones. Put differently, if we can show, that the more systematic, more advanced explanations of party system

Party Switching3/12/2007p.

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