The study of international organizations (IOs) has been described as lacking theoretical depth. However, the field actually has a more solid theoretical foundation than some of its critics allege. Moreover, the variety of approaches has entailed multifaceted knowledge of the internal workings as well as the global effects of IOs. Three theoretical traditions have emerged, dealing with institutions, organization, and governance. Institutional analysis has a central position in political science. In the study of domestic institutions, three major schools—rational choice institutionalism, historical institutionalism, and sociological institutionalism—have emerged. Organization theory represents a change of focus from the ideational structures studied by institutionalists to more material and human structures. Whereas both institutional and organizational approaches were originally formulated for domestic structures, institutionalists have been more receptive to exploring domestic-international analogies and contrasts. Even if both institutional and organization theories pay attention to process— institutionalizing rules and practices as well as organizing collective entities are long-term processes— IO studies inspired by these approaches tend to focus on relatively stable structures, asking questions concerning the establishment, persistence or change, and impact of international institutions and organizations. A third, more recent perspective focuses on continuous processes of governance, involving international organizations as well as other types of actors.
Kendall W. Stiles
Trust is the expectation that one’s interests be looked after despite the possibility of exploitation by the one being trusted (trustee). Trusting always involves some risk on the part of the one trusting (truster). The truster is vulnerable—either by choice or by circumstance. One can never be absolutely sure that one’s interests are important to the trustee or that their past performance can allow one to predict future behavior. The trustee retains their agency and even has an incentive for betrayal in the future. Much of the research on trust in international relations is aimed at explaining cooperation amid anarchy. In this context, cooperation begins with a leap of faith by actors who trust generally rather than specifically. Such “generalized trusters” do not require evidence that the trustee in question is even trustworthy with respect to a particular issue, since all actors are assumed to be worthy of trust across all topics (assuming they have the capacity to act). This can be considered “credulity,” and it primarily involves having trustful attitudes, affects, emotions, or motivational structures that are not focused on specific people, institutions, or groups. Furthermore, one cannot speak of trust without some reference to affect, particularly since one can never absolutely calculate the odds of betrayal.