Go to JKU Homepage
Institute for Comprehensive Analysis of the Economy
What's that?

Institutes, schools, other departments, and programs create their own web content and menus.

To help you better navigate the site, see here where you are at the moment.

Explicit and Implicit Rules of Competition

Interdisciplinary Research Concept on a Polarising Principle of Social Order

Competition and competitive formats are omnipresent in modern societies, leading to an ecology of competition (Arora-Jonsson et al. 2021): labour relations, football matches, the educational and health system, Dating Apps, as well as economic interactions between nation states or multi-national corporations follow competitive logics to different degrees. Accordingly, societies developed rules to regulate, constitute and act (in) competition (Ergen and Kohl 2020). Rule-based entities that structure human interactions are best described as institutions. It is therefore useful to consider competition as a social institution structured by explicit and implicit rules. We draw on this distinction to account for the fact that some rules in competition are made explicit and thus, are clear to all competitors (explicit rules), while others are elusive and make it difficult for actors to understand the course and outcomes of competition (implicit rules). Together, explicit and implicit rules shape competitive outcomes and practices; this project aims to understand how.

To address our research interest, we define competition as a social institution involving at least two parties competing for a naturally or artificially scarce good where the distribution of said good is solved in a non-violent way (Gräbner-Radkowitsch and Pühringer 2021; Altreiter et al. 2020). For institutions, we use the definition proposed by Hodgson (Hodgson 2006; 2019) according to which an institution is (1) rules-based patterns of interpretation and action that are (2) characterised by a certain degree of stability and (3) shared by a group of individuals. We thusfocus on rules that structure competitive interactions and their role in co-determining competitive outcomes and practices. Instead of focusing only on legal rules (such as the WTO, EU law, property rights or market access) or official rankings, scoreboards or indicators, we also consider ethical and moral negotiations, historically evolved power relations or regimes of knowledge as rules. In this respect, we go beyond the distinction between formal and informal rules that is common in the literature. We argue that it is important to understand how competitive outcomes and practices are legitimised. Since the distinction between formal and informal rules only captures the dimension of codifiability, we use the terms explicit and implicit rules to capture the legitimising and negotiating aspects of rules. We combine an anthropological concept where rules are embedded in culture with an institutional economics approach, similarly presented by interpretative-constructivist sociologists. The inclusion of implicit rules and considering their relation to explicit rules is critical to a comprehensive understanding of competitive outcomes and practices. Therefore, we ask how explicit and implicit rules can be analytically distinguished while emphasising their continuous relationship: What constitutes the explicitness and implicitness of rules in competition? What is the relationship between implicit and explicit rules within the institutional structure of competition? In which specific contexts and competitive formats are they substitutes or complements? How do explicit and implicit rules contribute to the negotiation and legitimization of outcomes of competition in different competitive formats?

To account for the range of domains in which competition occurs, we examine three specific competitive formats: global competition between countries of the ‘Global North’ and ‘South’, international competition that the EU is facing throughout the European green transition and local competition on Viennese and Lisbon private rental housing markets. The institutional perspective in our global-international-local framework allows for an interdisciplinary approach to the research interest. Given the variety of social fields organised according to the principle of competition, such a perspective can not only offer a broader view and deeper insightsinto the multifaceted phenomenon of competition, but it is also in line with calls for more interdisciplinarity in competition research.

At the global level, Theresa Hager investigates the role of technological capabilities for economic and ecological exchange relationships shaped by global competition between the ‘Global North’ and the ‘Global South’. Motivated by the concept of ‘competitive sustainability’ she asks whether and how the current focus on competition and competitiveness as ordering elements of global relations impairs the potential for necessary socio-economic transformations. The empirical analysis consists of a scrutinization of the concept; a macroeconometric analysis of the impact of increased competition shocks on the technological sophistication of countries in the ‘Global North’ and ‘South’ respectively, making use of local projections estimation and hierarchical cluster analysis; and a quantitative exploration of the relationship between a countries technological competitiveness and its emission output employing regression analysis and the synthetic control method. In doing so, she can investigate the relation between explicit rules of global competition as constituted by e.g., free trade agreements and implicit rules such as the importance of historically contingent technological capabilities.

At the international level, Laura Porak assesses the role of ideas and interests for how the European Union repositions itself in international competition after the European Green Deal (2019). Multilateral treaties such as the World Trade Organisation or the Paris Agreement (2015) define the explicit rules that constrain policies. Following political sociology and economy scholars, she assesses competitive practices that broadly entail attempts to improve the position of the European economy on the world market. Power relations and ideas are analysed as implicit rules for EU competitive behaviour by combining critical discourse and historical-institutionalist policy analysis. This analysis is timely at this critical juncture in global political economy, as the European Green Deal is described as a paradigm shift (Bongardt and Torres 2022) in EU policy making.

At the local level, Susanna Azevedo analyses the competitive allocation and access to housing in the private rental markets of Vienna and Lisbon. She is interested in the practices adopted by gatekeepers and housing searchers in these highly competitive environments. Through a combination of qualitative interview methods, she detects the explicit rules of tenant selection which consist of the common sense of gatekeepers and practices adopted by the searchers since the allocation is barely formalised in the private rental market. Through participant observation and informal conversations, she will analyse the implicit rules, which entail the subjectivities (Alkemeyer, Budde, and Freist 2013) of gatekeepers and housing searchers and what cannot be said but contributes significantly to tenant selection processes.

This proposed project is a deepening of interdisciplinary preliminary work conducted by the three PhD candidates. The aim is to create an interdisciplinary approach to competition research to be able to account for said ecology of competition. Employing an institutionalist framework with a focus on explicit and implicit rules accomplishes the task by using a concept that can serve as the common denominator for all three disciplines. By triangulating the disciplines, the level of scope of analysis and the methods we add an interdisciplinary perspective on competition and contribute to the literature on rules in institutions.


Project lead

Theresa Hager
Laura Porak
Susanna Azevedo

Project duration

December 2023 - November 2026