2023 (20), №3

Lock-in vs. Institutional Blockage: Lost in Translation

For citation: 

Vernikov, A.V., & Kurysheva, A.A. (2023). Lock-in vs. Institutional Blockage: Lost in Translation. AlterEconomics, 20(3), 485–504. https://doi.org/10.31063/AlterEconomics/2023.20-3.1


In this article, we explore a well-known concept that explains how institutions can become deeply ingrained in a community, so that it becomes difficult to remove, even if most people consider them ineffective. This phenomenon can occur when institutions emerge by chance or are intentionally implemented. In English, this phenomenon is referred to as “lock-in”, but in Russian it has been inaccurately translated as blokirovka (literally “blockage”). This Russian word, however, conveys the opposite meaning, referring to the rejection or delibe­ra­te exclusion of a foreign or extrinsic institution from its native context. Our analysis of relevant sources uncovers the evolution of the “lock-in narrative” within institutionalist discourse and its transformation into the concept of “the effect of blockage” in Russian-language literature. To address this translation inaccuracy, which originated in 1997, we propose to reserve the term “blocking” exclusively for instances involving the rejection of a new institution. “Lock-in” is better understood as indicating irreversibility, a strong commitment to, or unwavering adherence to a specific social practice. We explain why it should not be confused with another widely recognized phenomenon in institutional evolution known as “path dependence”. Furthermore, we examine the frequently used Russian-language metaphor “institutional trap”, which is often interchanged with “lock-in”. We highlight that Original Institutional Economics had previously explored these unique cases of institutional evolution long before they were reintroduced into economic theory as part of the lock-in and path dependence narratives. Our paper contributes to the rectification of names (zhèngmíng) aimed at getting rid of redundant substances in academic discourse.

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Andrei V. Vernikov — Dr. Sci. (Econ.), Leading Research Associate, Institute of Economics of the Russian Academy of Sciences; https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1561-9458 (32, Nakhimovsky Ave., Moscow, 117218, Russian Federation; e-mail: vernikov@inecon.ru).

Anna A. Kurysheva — Cand. Sci. (Econ.), Senior Research Associate, Southern Federal University; https://orcid.org/0000-0001-8334-4594 (105/42, Bolshaya Sadovaya St., Rostov-on-Don, 344006, Russian Federation; e-mail: suaveanna7@gmail.com).

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