When Agency Triumphs Over Structure: Conceptualizing Bhutan’s Unique Transition to Democracy

  • Marian Gallenkamp (Author)

Identifiers (Article)


There a few absolutes in political science, but the historical observation that democracy does not just evolve without any form of struggle or demand for it, and the theoretical assumption that countries do not simply embark on the path of transition to democracy without a crisis of legitimacy for the old regime, are closest to being universally accepted. However, this paper will demonstrate how historic precedence can prove theory wrong by analyzing Bhutan’s transition to democracy. Assembling the basic assumptions of the most popular approaches to regime transitions, it will be shown that none of them can fully or even partly account for democratization in Bhutan. It will be shown that a paramount centrality of agency rather than structure was the driving force behind a transition to democracy that can very well be characterized as being unique. At least for the case of Bhutan, the long ongoing structure-agency-debate has been clearly decided in favor of the latter.


Bhutan, Democracy, Transition Theory, Democratization, Agency, Structure