The number of organizations involved in world politics has long been increasing and so has, consequently, the number of relations among them. For scholars of international studies, it is of central importance to examine these inter-organizational relations. The state-centrism in international relations, however, impeded the discipline’s engagement with this phenomenon for some decades. It was only in the mid-2000s that this began to change. Since then, the study of inter-organizational relations in world politics has mostly drawn on five theoretical approaches: sociological neo-institutionalism, resource dependence, network accounts, regime complexity, and classical pragmatism. These approaches will be introduced; for the sake of comparability, all five are presented in the same way, by carving out their theoretical tradition and key concepts, their core argument and causal logic, as well as their understandings of organizations and how they relate. Each presentation offers a brief look at how the respective approach has been applied.
Filippo Costa Buranelli and Aliya Tskhay
“Regionalism” is a polysemic term that represents both a subfield of international relations (IR) that studies regions of the world and a process of formation of regions themselves. Its meaning and content have evolved substantially from its inception in the 1940s to its most recent contributions in the early 21st century. More precisely, the field of regionalism was severely marked by neofunctionalism theory and an economic reading of international relations in the years of the Cold War and then embraced new contributions from post-positivist and critical theories and methodologies from the 1990s onward, which featured not only different manifestations and causes but also different normative meanings. Regionalism has progressively moved away from Europe over the years (both as a site of production of research and as an empirical case study) to explore non-European and, more widely, non-Western and postcolonial domains, challenging Eurocentric theoretical and epistemological assumptions in IR. In addition, the two subfields of comparative regionalism and interregionalism have become prominent. The field of regionalism is more dynamic than ever, developing, self-innovating, and becoming more conceptually aware, while at the same time being susceptible to weaknesses, blind spots, and potential for further improvement and deeper dialogue with IR theory.
Research on regional organizations in Southeast Asia began to form during the Second World War. Although not always explicit, realist assumptions informed most of this early scholarship. From the organization’s foundation in 1967 until the end of the Cold War, research focused almost exclusively on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). In the 1990s, new regional initiatives led to a broadened empirical scope and encouraged the adoption of new perspectives from broader debates in International Relations theory, such as liberalism and constructivism. However, this increasing pluralism was still highly Western-centric in terms of its theoretical underpinnings. Since the 2000s, there has been a conscious effort, driven by scholars from inside and outside the region, to draw on critical and indigenous traditions of political thought in accounting for the distinctive features of regionalism in Southeast Asia. Despite the diversity of research questions and approaches, researchers keep returning to three central, long-standing themes: ASEAN’s institutional features, its effects and relevance, and its relation to the broader regional and global context. By exploring these issues, scholars of regional organizations in Southeast Asia have not just passively adopted insights from broader International Relations research but also driven conceptual and theoretical innovation, most notably regarding the development of non-Western approaches in International Relations.
Margaret P. Karns
The teaching of international organization (IO) poses unique challenges. One is deciding whether to take a broad global governance-IO approach dealing with the creation, revision, and enforcement of rules that mark different governance arrangements, the roles of formal, informal, intergovernmental, and nongovernmental IOs, and the politics, dynamics, and processes of problem-solving and governance in various issue areas, a theory-driven approach, or an IOs approach focusing primarily on select formal intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) and possibly nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), emphasizing structures, charters, mandates, and functions. Either choice could lead one to utilize recent literature on IGOs (and to a lesser extent NGOs) as organizations and bureaucracies, examining their design, functions, and performance or behavior. Another is the extent to which various international relations as well as IO-related theories such as theories of cooperation, regime and institution formation and evolution, functionalism, constructivism, and others are integrated into an IO course. To what extent are students introduced to currents of critical theory such as postmodernism, Marxism, feminism, and postcolonialism in relationship to IOs? There is also the question of which IGOs—global and/or regional—to include given the range of possibilities. How all the abovementioned issues are addressed will strongly influence choices with regard to textbooks, other readings, and various types of electronically available materials.
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.