Professor Thelen's research focuses on the origins and evolution of political-economic institutions in the rich democracies, with an emphasis on labor market institutions (education and training, industrial relations, labor market and social policy).

Advances in Comparative-Historical Analysis

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 and the New Politics of Social Solidarity

(Cambridge Studies in Comparative Politics Series, 2014)


This book examines contemporary changes in labor market institutions in the United    States, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands, focusing on developments in three arenas-- industrial relations, vocational education and training, and labor market policy.  While confirming a broad, shared, liberalizing trend, 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.  Conversley, 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 Book Award of the American Sociological Association for the “best book in comparative and historical sociology” and was co-winner of the Best Book Award of the European Politics and Society Section of the American Political Science Association (APSA).

How Institutions Evolve:  The Political Economy of Skills in Germany, Britain, the United States and Japan

(Cambridge University Press, 2004)

Kathleen Thelen explains the historical origins of important cross-national differences in four countries (Germany, Britain, the United States and Japan), and also provides a theory of institutional change over time.  The latter is considered a frontier issue in institutional analysis, of which there are several varieties emerging from economics, political science and sociology.  Thelen's study contributes to the literature on the political economy of the developed democracies that focuses on different institutional arrangements defining distinctive modesl of capitalism. 

Honors received by this book include:

  • Winner (2006) of the Mattei Dogan Award for best book published in the field of comparative research in 2004/2005.
  • Co-winner (2005) of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award of the American Political Science Association for the best book published in 2004 on government, politics, or intergovernmental affairs.
  • Honorable Mention for the J. David Greenstone Book Award of the American Political Sceince Association Organized Section on Politics and History.
  • Runner-up for the Gregory Luebbert Book Award of the American Political Science Association Organized Section on Comparative Politics.
  • Featured in invited "author meets critics" panels at annual meetings of the Society for the Advancement of Socioeconomics (SASE) in 2006 and the Social Science History Association (SSHA) in 2007.


Links to other books by Professor Kathleen Thelen: