Kathleen Thelen

FACULTY  |  Kathleen Thelen

Kathleen Thelen is Ford Professor of Political Science at MIT. Her work 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). Her latest book is entitled Varieties of Liberalization and the New Politics of Social Solidarity (Cambridge University Press 2014).  Previous publications include five other books, among them most recently Explaining Institutional Change (Cambridge University Press, 2010), Beyond Continuity (Oxford University Press, 2005), and How Institutions Evolve (Cambridge University Press 2004). She has received several awards for her work, including the Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award of the APSR (2005), the Mattei Dogan Award of the Society for Comparative Research (2006), the Max Planck Research Award for Humanities and Social Sciences (2003), and the Stanley Hoffmann Award for the best article on French politics (2011). Thelen has held research fellowships at Oxford University, Gothenburg University, Sciences Po, the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Society, the Radcliffe Institute, the Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin, Copenhagen Business School, and the Science Center in Berlin, among others. In 2009 she was elected to the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences, and in 2013 she was awarded an honorary degree (doctor honoris causa) at the Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam.

Thelen is currently serving on the APSA Executive Council as the Association’s Treasurer.  She served as President of the Association’s Comparative Politics Section (2011-13), as Chair of the Council for European Studies (2002-2006), as President of the APSA Section on Politics and History (2007-2008), and as President of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (2008-2009). She is Assistant General Editor for the Cambridge University Press Series in Comparative Politics, and a permanent external member of the Max Planck Institut für Gesellschaftsforschung in Cologne, Germany. She co-chairs the "Seminar on the State and Capitalism Since 1800" with Peter A. Hall at the Center for European Studies at Harvard. 


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.  Thelen’s most recent book, Varieties of Liberalization: The New Politics of Social Solidarity (Cambridge University Press 2014) examines trends in industrial relations, education and training, and labor market policy across five countries (Germany, Denmark, the United States, Sweden and the Netherlands).  Her previous book, How Institutions Evolve: The Political Economy of Skills in Germany, Britain, the United States and Japan (Cambridge 2004), was 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.  While her past research focused especially on the “coordinated market economies” of northern Europe, Thelen’s current work turns to the study of the so-called liberal market economies, with an emphasis on the American political economy.

Thelen is also a prominent contributor to the literature on institutions and institutional change. Two recent volumes, Explaining Institutional Change (Cambridge 2010, with James Mahoney) and Beyond Continuity (Oxford 2005, with Wolfgang Streeck) critique dominant punctuated equilibrium models of change and provide an alternative historical-institutional framework for explaining modes of political change that are incremental but cumulatively transformative.  She is currently completing an edited volume with James Mahoney tentatively entitled Advances in Comparative Historical Analysis.

Recent Publications

Varieties of Liberalization: The New Politics of Social Solidarity.  New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Explaining Institutional Change: Ambiguity, Agency, and Power (co-edited with James Mahoney). New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Beyond Continuity: Institutional Change in Advanced Political Economies (co-edited with Wolfgang Streeck). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

How Institutions Evolve: The Political Economy of Skills in Germany, Britain, the United States and Japan. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

“Varieties of Capitalism: Trajectories of Liberalization and the New Politics of Social Solidarity,” Annual Review of Political Science (2012, available online 2011)

"Institutionalizing Dualism: Complementarities and Change in France and Germany," (co-authored with Bruno Palier), Politics & Society 38: 1 (March 2010), 119-148.

"Economic Regulation and Social Solidarity: Conceptual and Analytic Innovations in the Study of Advanced Capitalism," Socio-Economic Review (October 2009), 1-21.

“The State and Coordinated Capitalism:  Contributions of the Public Sector to Social Solidarity in Post-Industrial Societies,” (co-authored with Cathie Jo Martin), World Politics 60 (October 2007), 1-36.


17.154 Varieties of Capitalism and Social Inequality
17. 561 European Politics
17.150 American Political Economy in Comparative Perspective
17.951 Institutionalism and Institutional Change
17.156 Welfare and Capitalism in Western Europe



CV (pdf)
Cross-disciplinary research at MIT