This chapter has argued that Japanese hamlets and hamlet-based agrarian norms and practices are more than inane reminiscences of a distant past, but adaptive resources in the increasingly contested field of agricultural politics. This finding has theoretical implications beyond the case: the role of norms, practices, and beliefs - let alone their ‘traditional’ forms - remains understudied especially when it comes to politics and processes of institutional change in advanced industrial nations.[1] The development into modern political economies is typically associated with a process of formalization,[2] in the course of which ‘traditional’ (e.g. agrarian) norms and practices are gradually ‘crowded out’ or become obsolete. Informal institutions are typically assumed to be ‘slow-moving’,[3] that is, norms and practices change not ‘by decision’, but by ‘cultural evolution’.[4] This chapter, however, has shown that even in highly advanced political economies like Japan, this process is neither an automatism nor irreversible, but affected by agency on multiple levels. On the macro level, this entails the creation of policies that resonate with - and in the case of hamlet farming ‘reactivate’ — certain normative settings. And on the micro level, groups of actors strive for the interpretation and adaptation of ‘traditional’ norms and practices, thus taking an active part in shaping their pathway. The latter aspect in particular deserves more attention when studying policy processes and institutional change in general in advanced political economies.[5]

  • [1] E.g. Azari and Smith, ‘Unwritten Rules’.
  • [2] See, e.g., Streeck and Thelen, ‘Introduction’.
  • [3] Roland, ‘Understanding Institutional Change’.
  • [4] Streeck and Thelen, ‘Introduction’, 10.
  • [5] A number of authors have proposed an understanding of gradual institutional change asendogenously shaped by actors responding to, and eventually reinterpreting institutions;Thelen, How Institutions Evolve; Streeck and Thelen, Beyond Continuity; Mahoney and Thelen,Explaining Institutional Change; Mahoney and Thelen, Explaining Institutional Change; Deeg andJackson, ‘The state of the art’. Yet, the norms, practices, and social networks that inform actor’sbehaviour ‘on the ground’, let alone the way in which local actors themselves shape theirnormative surroundings, have not been in the focus of these authors.
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