Distinguished Visitor: Kathleen Thelen

Photo Courtesy of MIT Department of Political Science, Photo by Stuart Darsch

Our Department is pleased to welcome Professor Kathleen Thelen (PhD Berkeley) as a Distinguished Visitor. Professor Thelen is Ford Professor of Political Science at MIT, and President of the American Political Science Association.

Professor Thelen will be giving a talk to our Department on April 18th, 2017 from 12-2pm, in Buchanan Penthouse.

Thelen studies the origins, development, and effects of institutional arrangements that define distinctive “varieties of capitalism” across the developed democracies. Her work uses cross-national comparison and over-time analysis to identify the political-coalitional foundations on which different models of capitalism are founded, and to explain divergent trajectories of institutional development.

To read more about Thelen’s research, click here.

Thelen’s Awards and Positions Held:

Thelen’s awards include the Barrington Moore Book Prize (2015), the Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award of the APSR (2005), the Mattei Dogan Award for Comparative Research (2006), and the Max Planck Research Award (2003). She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2015 and to the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences in 2009. She has been awarded degrees honoris causa at the Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam (2013) and at the London School of Economics (2017).

Thelen has served as Chair of the Council for European Studies (2002-2006) and as President of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (2008-2009).  She was also President of the APSA Section on Comparative Politics Section (2011-13) and of the APSA Section on Politics and History (2007-2008). Thelen is General Editor, along with Eric Wibbels, of the Cambridge University Press Series in Comparative Politics, and a permanent external member of the Max Planck Institut für Gesellschaftsforschung in Cologne, Germany.

A Sampling of Thelen’s Books:

Advances in Comparative Historical Analysis (with James Mahoney, Cambridge 2015).

Against the backdrop of an explosion of interest in new techniques for data collection and theory testing, this volume provides a fresh programmatic statement about comparative-historical analysis. It examines the advances and distinctive contributions that CHA has made to theory generation and the explanation of large-scale outcomes that newer approaches often regard as empirically intractable. An introductory essay locates the sources of CHA’s enduring influence in core characteristics that distinguish this approach, such as its attention to process and its commitment to empirically grounded, deep case-based research. Subsequent chapters explore broad research programs inspired by CHA work, new analytic tools for studying temporal processes and institutional dynamics, and recent methodological tools for analyzing sequences and for combining CHA work with other approaches. This volume is essential reading for scholars seeking to learn about the sources of CHA’s enduring influence and its contemporary analytical and methodological techniques.


Varieties of Liberalization: The New Politics of Social Solidarity (Cambridge University Press 2014).

This book examines contemporary changes in labor market institutions in the United States, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands, focusing on developments in industrial relations, vocational education and training, and labor market policy. It finds that there are in fact distinct varieties of liberalization associated with very different distributive outcomes. Most scholarship equates liberal capitalism with inequality and coordinated capitalism with higher levels of social solidarity. However, this study explains why the institutions of coordinated capitalism and egalitarian capitalism coincided and complemented one another in the ‘Golden Era’ of postwar development in the 1950s and 1960s, and why they no longer do so. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, this study reveals that the successful defense of the institutions traditionally associated with coordinated capitalism has often been a recipe for increased inequality due to declining coverage and dualization. Conversely, it argues that some forms of labor market liberalization are perfectly compatible with continued high levels of social solidarity and indeed may be necessary to sustain it.

This book received the Barrington Moore Best Book Award of the ASA’s Section on Comparative and Historical Research.


How Institutions Evolve: The Political Economy of Skills in Germany, Britain, the United States and Japan (Cambridge 2004).

The institutional arrangements governing skill formation are widely seen as a key element in the institutional constellations defining ‘varieties of capitalism’ across the developed democracies. This book explores the origins and evolution of such institutions in four countries – Germany, Britain, the United States and Japan. It traces cross-national differences in contemporary training regimes back to the nineteenth century, and specifically to the character of the political settlement achieved among employers in skill-intensive industries, artisans, and early trade unions. The book also tracks evolution and change in training institutions over a century of development, uncovering important continuities through putative ‘break points’ in history. Crucially, it also provides insights into modes of institutional change that are incremental but cumulatively transformative. The study underscores the limits of the most prominent approaches to institutional change, and identifies the political processes through which the form and functions of institutions can be radically reconfigured over time.

Selected as winner of the 2006 Mattei Dogan Award of the Society for Comparative Research and co-winner of the 2005 Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award of the APSA.

A Sampling of Thelen’s Recent Articles:

  • “Diverging Solidarity: Labor Strategies in the New Knowledge Economy,” (with Christian Lyhne Ibsen). World Politics 69: 3 (June 2017), 409-447
  • “Gender in the Journals,” (co-authored with Dawn Teele). PS: Political Science and Politics (April 2017).
  • “Varieties of Capitalism: Trajectories of Liberalization and the New Politics of Social Solidarity,” Annual Review of Political Science (2012)
  • “Institutionalizing Dualism: Complementarities and Change in France and Germany,” (coauthored with Bruno Palier), Politics & Society 38: 1 (March 2010), 119-148.
    *Winner, 2011 Stanley Hoffmann Prize
  • “Economic Regulation and Social Solidarity: Conceptual and Analytic Innovations in the Study of Advanced Capitalism,” Socio-Economic Review (January 2010), 187-207.

Other Publications:

May 30, 2017
Washington Post
Some of the top political science journals are biased against women. Here’s the evidence.