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date: 17 January 2021

Interdependence in International Organization and Global Governancefree

  • Roger A. Coate, Roger A. CoateDepartment of Government and Sociology, Georgia College
  • Jeffrey A. GriffinJeffrey A. GriffinDepartment of Political Science, University of Nevada, Reno
  •  and Steven Elliott-GowerSteven Elliott-GowerDepartment of Government and Sociology, Georgia College


Interdependence is a key structural feature of the international system. While ambiguity exists over the concept and its usage, interdependence is central for explaining the nature and dynamics of international organization (IO), as well as international relations more broadly conceived. Interdependence involves interconnection/linkages among actors and systems of interrelationships of actors. Yet, interdependence means more than simple interconnectedness. It entails a relationship in which two or more parties are linked in a system of action in such a way that changes in one party impact in some meaningful way on the attainment of needs, values, and/or desired outcomes of the others. In other words, the satisfaction of each party’s needs and values is contingent to some degree on the behavior of others. The concept of interdependence is used in several areas. In general international systems, a system functions as a whole because of the interdependence of its parts. Interdependence also plays a significant role in Immanuel Wallenstein’s world-systems theory, as well as the closely related concept of dependency. Another important analytical thread in interdependence theorizing has been international integration, where the creation of cooperative transnational linkages for dealing with technical issues could result in a learning process that changed attitudes about cooperation. Finally, with interdependence as a core element, more systematic frameworks for analyzing and explaining the nature and role of transnational relations in world politics can be made.


The concept of interdependence has long been central to those wishing to explain and understand the dynamics of international organization (IO) and the role of international institutions in processes of global governance. As the world has become more globalized—creating a seemingly endless but not unbroken web of world politics—individuals, groups, and polities have become increasingly linked together as never before on a worldwide scale. Describing and explaining the nature and implications of such dynamic interrelatedness is crucial for understanding world politics, international organization, and global governance.

Interdependence involves interconnection/linkages among actors and systems of interrelationships of actors. Yet, interdependence means more than simple interconnectedness. It entails a relationship in which two or more parties are linked in a system of action in such a way that changes in one party impact in some meaningful way on the attainment of needs, values, and/or desired outcomes of the others. In other words, the satisfaction of each party’s needs and values is contingent to some degree on the behavior of others.

The publication of Power and Interdependence by Keohane and Nye in 1977 brought interdependence to the forefront of international relations (IR) scholarship (Keohane & Nye, 1977). The authors endeavored to build a more rigorous theory for explaining international cooperation in the face of an increasing complex and globalizing world order. In many ways, the story of interdependence theorizing is the story of those attempting to escape the narrow blinders of political science international relations “great debates,” “schools of thought,” and “-isms” and create theories and frameworks for explaining dynamics of international organization and the role of international institutions in processes of global governance. As Keohane (2002, p. 3) has exclaimed, labels like “liberal institutionalism” or “neo-liberal institutionalism” do not adequately capture the essence of his work and, thus, did not appeal to him.

This article provides an overview of interdependence scholarship and analyzes its potential for serving as a tool for explaining and understanding the dynamics of international organization and the role of international institutions therein. The concept of interdependence has been associated with and integral to several other main areas of international relations scholarship that lie beyond the focus here, including international conflict, arms races, alliances, balance of power, and international political economy. This article will not attempt to deal systematically with these areas; the discussion touches on them only as necessary to explicate the nature, origins, underpinnings, and orientations of interdependence theorizing and analysis as related to international organization and cooperation.

The article begins with an overview of differing approaches to and conceptualizations of interdependence and the associated definitions: What is interdependence and why does it matter? Then the nature and role of interdependence thinking in contemporary international relations theorizing is explored, broadly speaking, to provide the context necessary for understanding its use and potential for understanding the dynamics of international organization and global governance. What role has interdependence thinking played in international relations and international organization theorizing? In this regard, the analysis examines how the concept has been used in the study of general international systems, world-systems theory, dependency, international integration, transnational relations, and international institutions and regimes. Regarding interdependence in international organizational theorizing, special focus is placed on Keohane and Nye’s (1977) formulation of “complex interdependence” and James Rosenau’s (1984) notion of “cascading interdependence.” The discussion concludes with some summary observations about potential future directions for international organizational research and scholarship—where do we go from here?

Differing Approaches and Conceptualizations of Interdependence

So what is interdependence and why does it matter? As Milner (2006, pp. 14–16) has argued, interdependence is a key structural feature of the international system, along with anarchy. She argues that anarchy and interdependence do not stand in opposition to one other as is frequently claimed. To the contrary, anarchy and interdependence are different features of the international system. “A priori one cannot determine the extent of [two actors’] interdependence from the degree of hierarchy/anarchy present in their relationship, and vice versa. The two concepts are logically independent” (Milner, 2006, p. 15). She discusses two related meanings of interdependence. One is strategic interdependence, where the ability of each participant to attain her/his valued outcome is dependent to some important degree on the choices made by the other participant[s]. Each actor faces costs from not cooperating (Axelrod & Keohane, 1985; Schelling, 1960). The second meaning is structural interdependence resulting from the nature of the relationship itself.

Baldwin (1980), Rosecrance and Stein (1973), and others have repeated that the concept is not new. Interdependence thinking and theorizing have been at play for a long time and have served as fundamental building blocks in international relations scholarship. Baldwin (1980) has linked the concepts of “dependence” and “self-reliance” back as far as the various writings of Niccolò Machiavelli in the 16th century, as well as Montesquieu, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Adam Smith in the 18th century, and, in more contemporary times, to the pre-World War II writings of Angell (1914), Delaisi (1925), and Muir (1933). All of these early writers used the term in the same way “to refer to international relationships that would be costly to break” (Baldwin, 1980, p. 477).

Baldwin (1980, p. 484) illustrated this point by recounting Angell’s (1914, p. 17) frequently cited story about two men in a boat in a stormy sea. The boat was leaking and rapidly taking on water. One man rowed frantically as the other desperately bailed. If either stopped, the boat would sink and both would drown. They were equally dependent on one another. Baldwin suggested that the story reveals several elements commonly addressed by most pre-WWII interdependency writers: a division of labor among parties involved; mutual dependency among the parties; mutual benefits from exchange; reciprocal interdependence constrains behavior; dependency as unpleasant fact; and the effects of interdependence on the effectiveness of the use of force.

Clearly, these examples show that interdependence is relational and refers to the situation of parties engaged in a system of action. Deutsch (1954) defined interdependence as a situation involving interlocking relationships between parties and a related division of labor that affects the satisfaction of valued outcomes. In short, the parties are dependent to some degree on each other. This usage has become standard (e.g., Katzenstein, 1975; Holsti, 1978; Michalak, 1979a, 1979b; and Ikenberry, 2014).

The various writings of Robert Keohane individually (Keohane, 1975, 1980, 1985, 2002) and in partnership with Joseph Nye (Keohane & Nye, 1971a, 1971b, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1987, 1998) and James Rosenau (1984, 1990, 1997, 2003) have been in the vanguard in regard to theorizing about the politics of interdependence. The catalyzing piece of this scholarship was the publication in 1977 of Power and Interdependence (Keohane & Nye, 1977). These authors suggest that “interdependence” is both an analytical tool and rhetorical device. “In common parlance, dependence means a state of being determined or significantly affected by external forces. Interdependence most simply defined means mutual dependence. Interdependence in world politics refers to situations characterized by reciprocal effects among countries or among actors in different countries” (Keohane & Nye, 1977, p. 8). They differentiate interdependence from simple interconnectedness by the existence of costly reciprocal effects. They argue that is distinction is crucial for understanding the politics of interdependence.

Keohane and Nye distinguish between two dimensions of interdependence for understanding power and interdependence: sensitivity and vulnerability. According to the authors, “sensitivity means liability to costly effects imposed from outside before policies are altered to try to change the situation. Vulnerability can be defined as an actor’s liability to suffer costs imposed by external events even after policies have been altered” (Keohane & Nye, 1977, p. 13). In a similar vein, Haas (1980, p. 86) has stated it this way, “Sensitivity is measured by the perceived effects of interrupting a pattern of interdependence,” whereas “Vulnerability is measured by the opportunity costs incurred by making alternative arrangements for collaboration when the initial arrangement breaks down.”

Young (1992) expanded on this sensitivity theme and focused on the mutual impacts of parties’ actions on each other’s welfare. “Interdependence arises when the actions of individual members of a social system impact (whether materially or perceptually) the welfare of other members of the system. Those who are interdependent are affected by and react in a sensitive manner to each other’s behavior; the higher the level of interdependence, the more pronounced these impacts and reactions will be” (Young, 1992, p. 188). Conversely, the greater the degree of impact on each other’s valued outcomes, the greater the degree of interdependence (Young, 1989).

In this context, Baldwin (1980, p. 475) suggested that Duvall’s (1978, pp. 61–68) discussions of the two basic meanings of “dependence” that are used in normal discourse are helpful for understanding different dimensions of the concept. One is when an actor is significantly affected or constrained in attaining valued outcomes by someone or something else. This meaning denotes a causal relationship in which an effect is contingent on, conditioned, or caused by something else. Referring to Cooper’s (1968) treatment of the concept of interdependence, Baldwin (1980, p. 475) suggested that economists often use the term interdependence very loosely to refer to the degree of sensitivity an economic actor has to external changes or to the relative relationship between countries in regard to the relative dollar value of economic transactions between them. He equated this kind of dependence to Keohane and Nye’s definition of sensitivity interdependence. The second meaning focuses more on the nature and structure of a relationship, in which one party is subordinate or reliant on another party. It is a relationship of structural inequality and is costly to break. Duvall (1978, pp. 62–63) suggested the second meaning comes close to capturing vulnerability interdependence. Caporaso (1978) and Duvall (1978) argued that further distinction needs to be made in regard to vulnerability interdependence—the fundamental distinction between “dependence” and “dependency.” The latter entailing a highly unequal asymmetrical relationship wherein the weaker party is basically subservient to the stronger party and the costs of breaking the relationship prohibitively high.

Definitions of interdependence, however, are not without contention. For example, Rosecrance et al. (1977) proposed “. . . interdependence can be defined as the direct and positive linkage of the interests of states where a change in the position of one state affects the position of others and in the same direction. Interdependence, then, is measured both by the flow of goods between states—horizontal interdependence, and the equalization of factor prices among states—vertical interdependence” (p. 425). The first focused on transaction flows of individuals and resources, and it relates primarily to interconnectedness. The second was more structural and focused on relationships related to changes in factor prices. Tetreault has suggested that only this second measure corresponds to what scholars like Cooper (1968) and Keohane and Nye (1977) mean when they talk of sensitivity interdependence.

Tetreault (1980, p. 442) went on to argue that economic interdependence is not simply a dyadic relationship between two actors. Each actor is also interdependent with the other participants in the system. In this context, she brought in the vulnerability dimension. Economic linkages can increase the vulnerability of actors, the multiplex nature of complex interdependence “can also decrease vulnerability by providing alternative partnerships for transactions” (Tetreault, 1980, p. 442). Here, she stresses the importance of nation-to-system linkages as opposed to nation-to-nation linkages.

In regard to the use of the concept to understand international organization, Baldwin (1980) cited Cooper’s The Economics of Interdependence in 1968 and the critical response to Cooper by Waltz (1970) as a turning point in international relations literature on interdependence as related to a focus predominantly on “sensitivity dependence” versus “vulnerability dependence.” He placed Cooper squarely in the sensitivity definition camp and Waltz equally clearly on the vulnerability side. As Baldwin reflected, this benchmark has also been noted by Katzenstein (1975) and Ruggie (1972).

In distinguishing interdependence from globalization, Keohane (2002) posited that “Interdependence refers to a state of the world, whereas globalization describes a trend of increasing transnational flows and increasing thick networks of interdependence. For the terms to be comparable, we need to use a different term: “globalism,” which describes a state of the world. Both increase or decline over time. Globalization, by contrast, implies increases in globalism”(p. 15). He further clarified that interdependence is not just economic, but also strategic, environmental, and ideational. “Globalism involves thick networks of interdependence, organized on a transnational basis. Each strand of interdependence involves specific actors, whereas globalism refers to the aggregate pattern produced by all these strands, and by their organization on a global scale” (Keohane, 2002, p. 15).

Clearly, ambiguity exists over the concept and its usage. What is equally clear, however, is that the concept is central for explaining the nature and dynamics of international organization, as well as international relations more broadly conceived. Broadly speaking, this concept has been used in international relations theorizing to provide the context necessary for understanding its use and potential for understanding the dynamics of international organization and global governance. Specifically, the analysis examines the use of the concept in the study of general international systems, world-systems theory, dependency, international integration, and transnational relations.

Interdependence in International Relations Theory

As reflected by Baldwin (1980), interdependence thinking has a long history in contemporary international relations scholarship. Writing in the first half of the 19th century, for example, Karl Marx endeavored to create a scientific theory of the nature and evolution of human social organization and world order. Marx’s (1867) critique of the capitalism, for example, was based on fundamental interdependence concepts and systems logic. Marx’s theoretical foundation would soon be built upon by Lenin and others who saw mode of production, technological change, exploitative economic relations, and the dynamics of interdependent social relations among collectivities—defined along class, not national territorial, lines—as constituting the elements determining change and transformation in international relations.

In the mid-20th century and the debates among purported schools of thought in international relations, distinctive general tendencies within these various traditions can be identified regarding why systems change, but all are based on interdependence logic. So-called “realists” and “neorealists” tend to explain system change as a function of changes in actors and distributions of power among them and/or as a function of forces of change, such as technological change, originating outside the system. The so-called “liberal” and “neoliberal institutionalists” focuses on interdependence among actors and relies more heavily on this latter factor—technological change in transportation and communications—resulting in incremental change as actors move to readjust their relations among each other. Third, alternatively—what realists and liberals alike often refer to as “radical” approaches—are theories that go beyond the limits of state-centric thinking and focus on the rise to prominence of new actors or changes in importance of issues among them. World-system theory and dependency theory tend to explain change or lack thereof as a function of the hierarchical structure of the system status difference among actors therein. Finally, social constructivism tends to explain change as shifts in the meaning of power and/or the normative structures underlying the meanings of social relationships in the system.

In many respects, E. H. Carr (1939) initiated the interwar-time context. To develop a comprehensive image of international relations, he focused on interdependence related to relative power relationships among major powers in the Westphalian interstate order. He distinguished power into three distinct elements: military, economic, and power over opinion. The struggle to fulfill power-related objectives creates an interactive framework in which states cause conflict while attempting to achieve additional power. In this context, the struggle for power among states may cause change at the systemic level, which can serve as a stressor for conflict among them. Carr did not believe in absolutist assumptions. Historical conditions and relative positions, actual and perceived, among state actors conditioned such systemic change.

On the U.S. side of the Atlantic, Morgenthau (1948), in his classic Politics among Nations, also dealt with interdependence and system stability and change issues. The struggle for power in the historical European context had led to an interdependent balance of power structural configuration. The balance of power system is based on the twin goals of stability and preservation. It is also based on the concept of equilibrium. “The means employed to maintain the equilibrium consist in allowing the different elements [states] to pursue their opposing tendencies up to a point where the tendency of one is not so strong as to overcome the tendency of the others, but strong enough to prevent the others from overcoming its own” (Morgenthau, 1948, pp. 187–189). The objective then becomes reducing vulnerability. Thus, for Morgenthau, coping with interdependence can be an underlying cause of conflict.

Writing several decades later, Bull (1977) suggested that endeavoring to coping with interdependence can also be an underlying cause of cooperation. Bull (1977) argued that, while the international system is anarchical, it is subject to principles of interdependence. The members of the system form a society with common rules and institutions, providing order in the international arena. These rules and institutions are based on basic goals of the society of states, including (a) preservation of the system and society of states; (b) maintaining the sovereignty of states; (c) preserving peace; and (d) general goals of social life (Bull, 1977, pp. 16–18). International society or the society of states exists when a group of states perceive themselves bound by a common set of rules in their relations with one another and work together in common institutions. He juxtaposed this with interconnectedness in the international system, which is, more simply, when two or more states have contact and dealings with each other. Common rules and institutions serve to limit conflict among states. These include conceptions of justice, balance of power, international law, diplomacy, and great powers. On the question of the relationship between change and conflict, the approach is very incrementalist. In this regard, the major powers are instrumental. They can contribute to maintaining order by preserving the balance of power, avoiding and controlling crises, limiting war, unilaterally exercising local preponderance, agreeing to establish spheres of influence, and agreeing to create Great Power concerts.

Interdependence and General International Systems Theory

It is instructive to begin an exploration of interdependence thinking in international relations theorizing by reflecting on its usage in general international systems theory. Parsons (1937, 1951) and Kaplan (1957, 1958) were pioneers in bringing systems logic to the study of international relations. As Morse (1976) has succinctly clarified, a system functions as a whole because of the interdependence of its parts. Interaction among the parts is shaped by the constraints and parameters of system structure. The parties create and maintain the social structures through regularized practices that characterize the social system in which they are acting. Thus, participants shape the structure and the structure impacts on the interaction of agents.

Parsons (1951) postulated that all recurring actions occur in systems and that any person at a given time is a member of multiple interrelated and sometimes nested systems. Focusing on various subsystems (e.g., the personality system, the social system, and the cultural system), he argued that such systems are interdependent and interact regularly and a change in any of the subsystems changes the system as a whole. He placed substantial emphasis on the notion of system equilibrium and argued that four prerequisites are necessary for social system maintenance: pattern maintenance, adaptation, goal attainment, and integration. When applied to the field of international politics on an international level, he postulated that common values and procedural consensus would be integral to having equilibrium and international stability.

In his System and Process in International Politics, (Kaplan, 1957) conceptualized the international system as being composed at any one time of a system of action in which a set of variables, so interrelated to each other in “contradistinction from its environment,” so that describable patterns of interaction among the variables can be discerned that distinguished the set from the environment (Kaplan, 1957, p. 4). Based in interdependence logic, he argued his case for systems theory by positing six ideal-type models of international systems. Each type has its own particular “essential rules” and “essential actors.” In the context of each type system, Kaplan further categorized actors in a four-fold scheme: directive or nondirective and system dominant or subsystem dominant. Here, the theorizing began. Each of the six system types can take on different characteristics under each of the four different types of actors, further specifying five different patterns of choice—thus linking system and process. While Kaplan emphasized specifying actors and essential rules within systems, he understated the conditions under which systems change and become transforming into different system types. The crux of system transformation rests for the most part on violations of the essential rules necessary for system stability and survival and, relatedly, to permanent change in essential actors. In his formulation, change is neither a cause of conflict nor necessarily a stressor.

Kaplan’s attempt to create a general systems level theory of international politics stands in sharp contrast to another profound intellectual international relations theorist of the day, Quincy Wright. Like Kaplan, Wright (1955) focused on the interdependent nature of world politics. In his The Study of International Relations, he brought together a wide diversity of disciplines and disciplinary approaches—international law, international organization, military science, diplomatic history, international trade, foreign policy, world history, geography, psychology, sociology, operations research, and more—in an attempt to build international relations theory. Wright envisioned a grand theory of international relations, grounded in interdependence logic; thus, all aspects of the human social condition needed to be taken into consideration.

To illustrate the far-reaching nature of Wright’s conceptualization of interdependence, consider his use of the concept of field—social field. In distinguishing two senses of the term field—“on the one hand, as the actual time-space in which events take place, and on the other, as an analytical system of co-ordinates within which variables can be located in relation to one another”—geographical field and analytical field (Wright, 1955). The former locates people and their actions in actual space and time. This conception of field is standard. The analytical field notion represented more path-breaking thinking for scientific theory construction. “The analytical approach to the study of international relations . . . implies that each international organization, national government, association, individual, or other ‘system of action,’ or ‘decision maker’ may be located in a multidimensional field. Such a field may be defined by co-ordinates, each of which measures a political, economic, psychological, sociological, ethical, or other continuum influencing choices, decisions, and actions important in international relations” (Wright, 1969, pp. 445–450).

Wright explained in depth the notion of social field theory, its complexities, and its potential for forging both international relations theory and international relations as a field of study. He went on to discuss how each system of action has different structural levels that may affect criteria for choice and action. He argued that “a single multidimensional field including both capabilities and values should be envisioned . . . Values influence capabilities and visa-versa” (Wright, 1969, p. 446). Wright suggested that changes in the nature of the character of international relations may be seen as movements of systems of action in analytical fields, resulting from general changes in the fields, from the interaction between capabilities and values, and interaction between geographic fields and analytical fields.

Clearly, the concept of interdependence has been instrumental in general international systems theorizing. And systems thinking is inherent in theories endeavoring to describe and explain interdependence and its implications for world order and for international organization, broadly speaking. Closely related to general systems theorizing is world-systems theory and theorizing about dependency.

World-Systems Theory and Dependency

The work of Immanuel Wallerstein provides a vantage point for exploring interdependence in world-systems theory. Wallerstein (1974, 1979) contended that between 1450 and 1650 a new form of multisocietal organization arose in Europe that transformed global political economy. This new evolving world system, according to Wallerstein, was organized around a capitalist mode of production: production of goods for sale for profit in markets. Those who control production combine factor inputs into the production process to create value in excess of the value of the individual factor inputs and other production costs, resulting in growth, expansion of the scale of production, and capital accumulation. The nature of unequal exchange and relative dependencies within the system as a whole breeds and perpetuates inequality among the parties.

In his conceptualization of the capitalist world system (CWS), Wallerstein focused on the nature of interdependence between and among three primary zones: core, semiperiphery, and periphery. The nature of dependence–interdependence in the capitalist world system was centered on a division of labor between those who owned and controlled finance capital and production processes and other parties to the relationship who provided other factors of production as well as markets. Thus, this division of labor is founded in a complex system of unequal exchange relationships in which surplus value is appropriated from certain participants to the benefit of other participants as well as from certain zones within the world economy to other zones.

At the heart of Wallerstein’s thesis is the nature of the relative exchange relationship between and among the three primary zones. The position occupied by a given area is a function of the structural role played by that area in the global division of labor at any particular point in time. According to Wallerstein, the semiperiphery plays a crucial role and is essential for the smooth functioning of the overall system; it inhibits polarization within the larger system. Wallerstein (1979, p. 37) posits that the single most important distinguishing characteristic of the CWS is the discontinuity between economic boundaries and states’ jurisdictions.

Wallerstein (1979) suggested, “The framework of the capitalist world economy limits critically the possibilities of transformation of the reward system within it, since disparity of reward is the fundamental motivating force of the operation of the system as it is structured” (p. 73). According to Wallerstein (1980, pp. 3–4), a primary condition enabling change relates to the dynamic interdependent nature of the overall system, itself, especially whether the system is expanding or contracting. In times of overall system expansion, movement up-or-down across zones is restricted as the core can continue to expand at the expense of the other two zones. However, during times of a decline in relative surplus and system contraction, retrenchment among producers within the core may make possible opportunities for upward movement for parties from semiperipheral areas.

Closely related to world-systems theory is the concept of dependency. Duvall (1978), Caporaso (1978), and Baldwin (1980) include asymmetrical relationships of subordination in which one party must rely on another for the satisfaction of basic needs and values under the rubric of vulnerability dependence. Dependence is seldom, if ever, absolute. The concept “dependency” refers to relationships involving highly asymmetrical vulnerability interdependence (Dos Santos, 1973; Sunkel, 1973; Cardoso, 1977; Cardoso & Faletto, 1979). While both parties to a relationship of dependency possess some degree of power, the bulk of the power lies in the hands on the dominant party. Perroux (1979) has argued that relations between core and periphery zones of the global political economy cannot be adequately understood by narrow conceptions of interdependence that focus on sensitivity dependence or vulnerability interdependence among relatively equal parties. Under conditions of dependency, the relationship is about vulnerability dependence—the relative distribution of benefit and the ability or inability to alter or even break the relationship.

Cardoso and Faletto (1979, pp. 177–178) have suggested that the dependency approach focuses on “the relationship that exists between the political struggles of groups and classes on the one hand and the history of economic-political structures of domination, both internal and external, on the other.” More nuanced than world-systems theory, situations of dependency are not solely artifacts of external exploitation and domination. In exploring the nature of international interdependence, Cardoso and Faletto (1979, p. xvi) were careful to stress the role of indigenous parties within dependent political economies. In this context, they refer to internalization of external interests, “We conceive the relationship between external interests and internal forces as forming a complex whole whose structural links are not based on mere external forms of exploitation and coercion, but are rooted in coincidence of interests between local dominant classes and international ones, and on the other side, are challenged by local dominant groups and classes.”

Reflecting on the role of interdependence thinking, as exemplified in general international systems theory, world-systems theory, and theorizing about dependency, yields important insights. It underpins power-dependent relationships; it is an inherent characteristic of all systems of action; and it is seldom symmetrical in nature. Asymmetrical interdependence can perpetuate and exacerbate inequalities regarding the nature and dynamics of relationships of dependence and interdependence in systems of action.

Interdependence also highlights the importance of systems thinking, itself, for the study of international organization and global governance. In this article, international organization and global governance are viewed both as processes and structures—with an admitted bias toward process. In the following two sections, systems thinking, embodied in studies of processes of international integration and transnational relations, is explored to further set the stage for a more focused analysis of interdependence in international organization studies.

International Integration

Another important analytical thread in interdependence theorizing has been international integration. Mitrany (1944, 1948) laid the foundation for the functionalist approach to international integration. He argued that peace may result from compatible interests and collective pursuits with regard to providing for citizens welfare through technical means and other aspects of low politics, as opposed to the high politics of national security. Integration was based in the perceived need and search for solutions to technical problems and issues. In specific reference to the role of interdependence, Mitrany focused on a process that he termed “ramification.” The creation of cooperative transnational linkages for dealing with technical issues could result in a learning process that changed attitudes about cooperation and spread to other technical issue areas. As this process evolves, norms of cooperation may eventually replace norms of conflict.

Building on this, Deutsch (1954, 1966) linked his ideas about integration to interdependence associated with interlocking relationships, a division of labor, and covariance among parties in a system of action. Such a relationship entailed mutual dependence among the parties and not simply mutual responsiveness. Haas (1958, 1964, 2004), Lindberg (1963), Nye (1968), Schmitter (1970), and Lindberg and Scheingold (1970) would build further on this foundation, ultimately positing a theory of neo-functionalism. As opposed to functionalism, neo-functionalism placed greater emphasis on the role of self-interested political elites and nongovernmental and private-sector elites and interest groups who realize that their interests may be better served through supranational arrangements. Analogous to Mitrany’s idea of “ramification” is the neo-functionalist notion of spillover. Functional supranational arrangements in one issue can lead to the demand for such arrangements in other areas. Puchala (1970) and Cobb and Elder (1970) expanded the on this notion of interdependence as a pattern of relationships among a set of actors.

Joseph Nye (1968, 1971a, 1971b) among others built on this conceptualization, though his work is most illustrative. A review of Nye’s reformulation of neo-functionalist theory aids in understanding the exceeding complex nature and role of interdependence in international integration (Dougherty & Pfaltzgraff, 2001, pp. 515–519). Nye posited seven process mechanisms that underpin integration: (a) functionalist linkage of tasks; (b) rising transactions; (c) deliberate linkages and coalition formation; (d) elite socialization; (e) regional group formation; (f) ideological and ideational appeal; and (g) involvement of external actors in the process. These process mechanisms can encourage and create what Nye terms “integrative potential.” He recognized four conditioning factors that further influence such integrative potential: (a) symmetry or economic equality of units; (b) elite value complementarity; (c) existence of pluralism; and (d) capacity of member states to adapt and respond to demands within their political units. The integrative process itself is conditioned by additional factors, such as perceived equity of distribution of benefits, perceived external cogency, and relatively low perceived costs. To these, he added the importance of factors such as politicization, redistribution, changes in perceived utility of alternatives to integration, and externalization with regard to dealing with nonmembers.

In summary, interdependence thinking lies at the core of international integration theorizing and analysis in a more or less formally structured way: mutual dependence, patterned and interlocking relationships, division of labor, and so forth. Another important scholarly focus in international organization studies—transnational relations—has tended to focus on more interactive and less formally structured networks of interdependence.

Transnational Relations

With interdependence as a core element, Keohane and Nye (1972, 1974), Kaiser (1971), Mansbach et al. (1976), and Mansbach and Vasquez (1981) endeavored to provide more systematic frameworks for analyzing and explaining the nature and role of transnational relations in world politics. To break with state-centric explanations of world politics, Keohane and Nye (1972) stressed the importance of “new kinds of bargaining coalitions and alliances being formed between transnational actors and between these actors and segments of governments and international organizations” (p. 373). While bringing attention to the role of transnational actors in world politics, Keohane and Nye (1972) focused heavily on how transnational relations affect interstate politics, for example, “by altering the choices open to statesmen and the costs that must be borne for adopting various courses of action” (pp. 374–375). Keohane and Nye (1974) would expand on the role of transnational interactions among government subunits under the rubric of transgovernmental relations.

In explicating their transnational framework, Keohane and Nye (1972, p. 382) presented a six-by-six matrix of possible bilateral interactions between (a) states as units; (b) governmental subunits; (b) international organizations as units; (c) subunits of international organizations; (d) transnational organizations as units; and (e) subunits of transnational organizations and (f) individuals. In doing so, they were attempting to illustrate the “richness of possible transnational coalitions that determine outcomes in world politics” (Keohane & Nye, 1977, p. 25). In differentiating actors in what they termed “complex conglomerate system,” Mansbach et al. (1976) envisioned world politics as being comprised of a diversity of types of actors: international governmental, international nongovernmental, nation-state, governmental noncentral (regional, provincial, municipal), and intrastate nongovernmental actors. They grouped these actors into diffuse, flexible, and situationally specific alignments.

Whereas Keohane and Nye tended to focus on how transnational politics constrain government action, Kaiser (1971) stressed the nature of governmental attempts to influence international organizations and transnational actors. In his “multinational politics” framework, he argued that multinational politics “comprise processes in which public bureaucracies allocate values either jointly in decision-making frameworks that are intermeshed across national frontiers or separately as a result of transnational interactions at the societal level” (Kaiser, 1971, p. 796). He distinguished three forms of multinational politics: multibureaucratic decision making, integration, and transnational politics. Transnational politics in this context, he suggested, refers to interactions between and among national governments (and international organizations) that originate in transnational society.

The study of the role of NGOs and other nonstate actors in world politics is almost as old as the contemporary study of international organization itself. Pioneers in the exploration nonstate actors from a more implicit interdependence perspective include White (1952), Haas (1958), Wolfers (1959, 1962), Alger (1963), Lador-Lederer (1963), Angell (1969), Skjelsbaek (1971), Feld (1972), and Kriesberg (1972). A proliferation of studies followed regarding various aspects of interdependence related to nonstate actors engagements in transnational relations. Some have a more general focus, including, for example, Gordenker and Weiss (1995), Weiss and Gordenker (1996), Florini (1999), Higgott et al. (2000), and Josselin and Wallace (2001). Others are more functionally specific. Haas (1989, 1992), Coleman (2001), Benner et al. (2002), Witte et al. (2003), and Stone (2004), for example, concentrate on transnational policy networks and epistemic communities. A plethora of studies have dealt with transnational social movements and global campaigns, including Leatherman et al. (1994), Smith et al. (1997), Khagram et al. (2002), Keck and Sikkink (1998), and Ritchie (1995). Chadwick Alger led the way in investigating the role of local communities in international organization (Alger, 1977, 1984, 2010).

Gordenker and Weiss (1995) focused their analysis on the role of social networks in international cooperation. Using an interorganizational relations framework, they argue that international cooperation requires the creation and maintenance of networks of organizational units. Social networks form as government officials, international bureaucrats, nongovernmental organizations, activists, and other individuals attempt to deal uncertainties and other aspects of interdependence (Jönsson, 1986). According to Gordenker et al., such social networks lie at the heart of international cooperation. Building on Keohane and Nye’s (1974) conceptualization of transgovernmental relations, they analyzed formal and informal relationships among governmental subunits across state boundaries as well as transnational relations more broadly among individuals and groups outside the formal structures of government authority. Social exchange and bargaining in the context of social networks lie at the core of the framework set out by Gordenker et al. Transnational networks are the seen as the foundation of international regimes, and network activity contributes to or constrains international cooperation. In this context, however, the authors reiterated that international networks, like international regimes, are analytical constructs. Nonetheless, these constructs help us understand processes of social networking and the role it plays in international cooperation.

Gordenker et al. base their framework on interorganization theory. In addition to traditional international relations literature reviewed above, they built on elements of exchange theory from sociology and administrative science. An important focus in this regard is the substantial literature dealing with interdependence among sets of organizations in interactive exchange and power-dependence relationships (Aldrich & Pfeffer, 1976; Benson, 1975; Cook, 1977, 1978, 1983; Emerson, 1962, 1972; Galaskiewicz, 1979; Pfeffer & Salancik, 1978). Participants in organizations tend to establish formal and informal mechanisms to deal with vulnerability regarding external forces (Evan, 1966; Thompson, 1967).

Underpinning social exchange theory in interorganizational relations is the assumption that organizational actors seek to reduce uncertainty with regard to dealing with critical vulnerabilities. Thus, they engage in exchange relations to achieve negotiated and relatively predictable environments. What ensues is a continuous bargaining learning process. Much of the social exchange literature focuses on the role of resource acquisition, broadly defined, regarding power-dependent relationships. The more dependent an organization is on outside resources, the less power it has in relation to other associated organizations in its environment (Thompson, 1967).

An important drawback of social exchange theory in this context is a dominant focus on the role of resource dependency in interorganizational relations. Nonetheless, this literature is instructive in that it developed and attempted to use important concepts regarding power dependence that later made their way into international relations. These concepts include sensitivity, vulnerability, essentiality, and substitutability. As discussed earlier, sensitivity was used to refer to the extent to which a given resource was critical to an organization’s functions and core technology. As early as 1962, Emerson (1962) discussed the importance of vulnerability regarding an organizations liability to suffer costs even after it had changed its policies in order to deal with the condition. Thompson (1967) and Jacobs (1974) use the concepts of essentiality and substitutability to make the concept of vulnerability more specific. Vulnerability relates positively to essentiality and is negatively associated with substitutability.

Thereafter, a resurgence of scholarly interest in theorizing about international organizations as interorganizational relations occurred (e.g., Biermann, 2008; Dingwerth & Pattberg, 2009; Koops, 2013; Franke & Koch, 2013, 2015; Vetterlein & Moschella, 2013; Biermann & Koops, 2015; Jönsson, 2015; Lipson, 2015). The 2015 Palgrave Handbook on Inter-organizational Relations deals with a wide-ranging set of conceptual and theoretical concerns related to the topic, ranging from regime complex theory (Oberthür & Koops, 2015) to social network theory (Schulze & Ries, 2015) to resource dependence theory (Biermann & Harsch, 2015) to population ecology (Ries, 2015) and sociological approaches (Franke & Koch, 2015). The volume concludes with a forward-looking chapter on “Inter-Organizationalism in International Relations: Directions for the Future” (Koops & Biermann, 2015).

Theorizing about interdependence in transnational relations, however, has remained relatively underdeveloped compared to the other general international relations traditions, such as general international systems, world-systems theory, dependency, international integration, and transnational relations. In important ways though, it also provides insights into how interdependence thinking has influenced and impacted how scholars have more directly approached studying and theorizing about the dynamics of international organization and the role of international institutions therein. In fact, many of the leading contemporary international organization scholars have their foundations in international integration and transnational relations studies. In this context, the essay now examines the nature and use of interdependence thinking in the study of international institutions and regimes.

International Institutions and International Regimes

Reflecting on studies of international integration and transnational relations reveals a subtle but important dual focus on institutional processes and institutional structures. Both of these foci are essential components for analyzing the role of interdependence in the study of international organization and global governance. In the context of this essay, however, it is important to differentiate between IOs in the more formal and narrower organizational sense and IO in the broader institutional sense. Formal IOs are, of course, comprised of interdependent systems of action, involving definable component parts—member states, delegate bodies, secretariat, civil society partners, and so forth. Yet, for the purposes of this study, the relationships among IOs and other actors comprise larger international systems of action that is of primary concern. Notably, however, such larger international systems of action, such as in the case of European integration, may be characterized by more or less formalized and regularized institutional patterns of behavior so as to blur the distinction between international organizations and international organization. In this context, a focus on international regimes is instructive.

John Ruggie (1975) was one of the first international relations scholars to discuss the concept of international regime as an interdependent arrangement among states, consisting of mutual expectations about institutionalized rules, norms, and behaviors. The focus on regime analysis rapidly expanded as Keohane (1975, 1985, 2002), Keohane and Nye (1977, 1987), and Young (1969, 1980, 1982a, 1982b, 1986, 1992, 1999) explored it to focus on the relationship between increasing interdependence and the need for international institutions (Haggard & Simmons, 1987). In their path-breaking book, Power and Interdependence, Keohane and Nye (1977, p. 11) argued that actors establish international regimes to mitigate negative effects of interdependence. They defined international regime as a set of norms, procedures, rules, and/or institutions for governing activities in particular issue areas. Haas (1980, p. 101) offered a similar definition, an international regime as a set of “norms, procedures, and rules agreed to in order to regulate an issue-area.” The consensual definition used in the Krasner International Regimes volume ultimately dominated the discourse. According to Krasner’s definition, an international regime is a “set of principles, norms, rules, and procedures around which actors’ expectations converge” (Krasner, 1983b, p. 2).

Definitions aside, approaches to the study of international regimes as it relates to interdependence have varied. Similar to the alternative perspectives on systems theory, a division exists between scholars who treat international regimes as actual phenomena manifest in international relations and scholars who view international regimes more as social constructs and an analytical device for understanding international cooperation and organization. To Krasner (1983b), Keohane and Nye (1977, 1987), and most other scholars focusing on international regimes as an area of study, tend to take the former stance. Young (1980, 1982a, 1982b, 1986, 1992, 1999), Puchala and Hopkins (1983), and Coate (1982) take the latter. Young (1982a), for example, views international regimes as complex social institutions. They are “responses to problems of coordination among groups of human beings and products of regularities of human behavior.” He cautions that as social structures they should not be confused with functions and that they may be more or less formally constituted. They constitute systems of action characterized by patterned behaviors and expectations about appropriate practices. Young (1982a, p. 95) stresses that international regimes are merely “human artifacts, having no existence or meaning apart from the behavior of individuals or groups of human beings. . .”

Also shunning the tendency of most international relations scholars to reify the concept of international regimes and treat such arrangements as empirical reality, Puchala and Hopkins (1983) have taken a more analytical approach. They stressed five main features of interdependent relationships underpinning such arrangements. From their perspective, an international regime is a subjective construct—an attitudinal phenomenon. As such, “They exist primarily as participants’ understandings, expectations or convictions about legitimate, appropriate or moral behavior” (Puchala & Hopkins, 1983, p. 62). Regimes are characterized by norms of appropriate procedures for decision making. Third, regimes have embedded within them major principles and hierarchies among those principles. Fourth, the main actors in international regimes are elites representing government units as well as international, transnational, and subnational organizations: “Individuals and bureaucratic roles are linked in international networks of activities and communication.” Fifth, they argued that regimes exist in every substantive issue area in international relations in which there is “discernable patterned behavior” (Puchala & Hopkins, 1983, p. 63).

Strange (1983) has challenged the assertion that the concept of international regime is a useful tool for understanding international organization and world politics. Her critique was based on five counts, or “dragons,” as she puts it. She argued that the study of regimes was a fad. Second, the concept was imprecise and “woolly.” Third, it is value-biased. Fourth, it overemphasizes the static, as opposed to dynamic, aspects of world politics. Finally, “It is narrowminded, rooted in a state-centric paradigm that limits vision of a wider reality” (Strange, 1983, p. 480). As reflected much earlier by Morse (1969) in regard to interdependence frameworks more generally, it ignores the vast majority of international relations that lie beyond the scope of interstate relations and international bargaining makes a similar criticism. Strange (1983) proposes: “The bias of regime analysis can be corrected by attention to the determining basic structures of the international political economy, the structures of security, money, welfare, production, trade, and knowledge. Each of these raises the question, ‘How to achieve change?’ which is surely no less important than the question, ‘How to keep order?’ ” (p. 496).

Complex and Cascading Interdependence

Taking note of Strange’s observations and challenges, a closer examination of two of the leading theoretical frameworks for understanding interdependence and international organization is instructive. These include, Keohane and Nye’s (1977) formulation of “complex interdependence” and James Rosenau’s (1984) notion of “cascading interdependence.”

Keohane and Nye offered their conceptualization of complex interdependence as an ideal type of international system in contrast to the traditional realist approach. As the authors succinctly stated, “Complex interdependence refers to a situation among a number of countries in which multiple channels of contact connect societies (that is, states do not monopolize these contacts); there is no hierarchy of issues; and military force is not used by governments towards one another” (Keohane & Nye, 1987, p. 731). They identified three channels connecting societies: interstate relations, transgovernmental relations, and transnational relations. Military and national security issues do not dominate the agenda, and the distinction between domestic and foreign issues becomes blurred. Different issues generate different coalitions, both within governments and across them, and involve different degrees of conflict. Politics does not stop at the waters’ edge.

The combined effect of these three characteristics yields distinct political processes, which “translate power resources into power as control over outcomes” (Keohane & Nye, p. 25). The distribution of power, as well as goals, vary by issue area. This effect, in turn, complicates attempts at issue linkage and affects the nature of international hierarchy and reduces its impact. The existence and importance of transgovernmental, as well as transnational, policy networks lays bare the realist assumption of unitary state actors as well as brings into question the assumption that states act to satisfy some objective national interests. Under conditions of complex interdependence, the role of international organizations and international regimes assume a new importance. They provide decision-making environments for enhancing communication and information flows reducing uncertainty and arenas for agenda setting, coalition formation, bargaining, and influence peddling. In important ways, they even the playing field between otherwise disparate players regarding power capabilities.

In his book, After Hegemony, Keohane (1985) went on to propose what he termed a “functional theory of regimes.” He reiterated that international cooperation is rule-governed behavior. States engage one another in negotiations to achieve mutual adjustment. Thus, cooperation is not merely a function of common interests, it serves as an instrumental goal of states caught up in interdependent relationships. He reiterated that international institutions take on importance because they reduce transaction costs, provide information, and thus reduce uncertainty; they make commitments credible. In this theory, “The principal guarantors of compliance with commitments are reciprocity . . . and reputation” (Keohane, 2002, p. 3).

A second major theoretical contribution to international relations interdependence theory, especially as it relates to systems thinking, has come from James Rosenau. He was never captured by the image of a reified international system being the Westphalian interstate legal order. Although he used some of the language to exchange in discourse with those bounded by the normal science orientation of reifying “the international system,” Rosenau, especially in his later years, operated in the basic science mode, not bowing to positivist reifications of state-centered international relations (Rosenau, 1984, 1990). Perhaps more than any other international relations scholar, Rosenau has captured complex interdependence inherent in the multiplex world of the late 20th and early 21st century. It is a messy and somewhat chaotic world in which individuals and groups simultaneously play multiple roles and engage in multiple systems of action. Not surprisingly, the world Rosenau was capturing could not be seen through the blinders of scholars locking into “great debates” and competing “schools of thought” mentality. In the world of the 21st century, Rosenau was sending a call to students who wished to understand world politics in the new century. Moreover, he invited those who wanted to really understand what had happened in 20th century international relations—devoid of epistemological, methodological, and ideological blinders—to move his analysis forward.

Rosenau (1984, 1990) envisioned a world characterized by what he termed “cascading interdependence.” He saw a turbulent world in which multiple systems of action comprised of individuals and groups occupying various roles both within and across these systems of action coexisted. He argued that international political processes were subject to a form of interdependence he termed “fragmegration,” the simultaneous dynamic processes of fragmentation and integration. Moreover, embodied within the various systems of action were various institutions that actors utilize as they attain valued outcomes and satisfy needs. In this context, individuals and groups hold role expectations about their own behaviors and the behaviors of others. They develop “role scenarios,” which provide a foundation for participating in social life. Role scenarios provide shared action scripts, which hold social systems together (and also can create role conflicts). The “cascading” of differing interacting action scripts can fuel disintegrating forces and lead to crises of authority.

Rosenau (1984) suggests that “The more crises of authority cascade subgroupism across the global landscape, the more extensive is the disaggregation of wholes into parts that, in turn, either get aggregated or incorporated into new wholes. That is, cascading interdependence can readily be viewed as continuous processes of systemic formation and reformation” (p. 281). The associated turbulence created a world order bifurcated between state-centric and multicentric systems. To Rosenau, interdependence is characterized by how and the extent to which parts of the world order are connected with each other. It is not so much a focus on “power,” as with Keohane, as it is with explaining and understanding the foundations of order, change, and transformation in world politics.

Global order, Rosenau proposed, is underpinned by three basic levels of interactive patterns: ideational, behavioral, and institutional levels. The ideational level entails how people sense, perceive, and understand to maintain order. The behavioral level is the realm of what people routinely do to maintain order. Finally, the institutional level captures the interactions among institutions and regimes, as they engage to implement policies inherent in ideational and behavioral patterns. Global orders are established and sustained by the interdependence of ideational, behavioral, and institutional patterns. On the other hand, resource scarcity, subgrouping, effectiveness of governments, transnational issues, aptitudes of publics, as well as exogenous conditions can trigger change and transformation.

Rosenau (1984) portrays this combination of increasing interdependence, fragmentation, and decentralization as postinternational politics. He suggests that suggests that the resulting “interlocking tensions that, being interlocked, derive strength and direction from each other and cascade throughout the global system” (p. 262). Rosenau’s postinternational politics appear to reflect the global polyarchy envisioned by Brown (1995). In such a global polyarchy, “National states, subnational groups and transnational interests and communities are vying for the support and loyalty of individuals and (in which) conflicts are prosecuted and resolved on the basis of ad hoc power plays and bargaining among shifting combinations of these groups” (Brown, 1995, p. 253). Rosenau’s primary theoretical concerns all revolved around aspects of interdependence: interdependence related to the relationships of wholes and parts, the relationship between domestic and international factors, and the interdependence of individuals and communities (Mansbach, 2000, p. 9).

Future Directions

Where does this field of study go from here? Understanding governance and international organization in the exceedingly complex and dynamically interdependent world of the early 21st century requires the kind of innovative thinking and theorizing attempted by Rosenau, Keohane, Mansbach, Kaiser, and others. There exists no fixed hierarchy among issues, and security has taken on a diversity of blurred meanings—for example, global security, human security, national security, and so on. In the post-9/11 and Charlie Hebdo world, basic values underpinning political participation and action also have no fixed prioritization. Considering, for example, Lasswell’s (1971, p. 18) eight value categories (power, enlightenment, wealth, well-being, skill, affect, respect, and rectitude), traditional preoccupations with power and wealth seem very out of place. Rectitude (moral, religious, ethical beliefs), respect, enlightenment, affect, and well-being loom large on center stage. A new interdependence is playing itself out.

The range and diversity of participants—governmental and nongovernmental, actual and potential, organized and unorganized—is seemingly overwhelming, yet need not be. An analytical approach is needed that enables the analyst to envision not only what appears on the surface but, as Strange has challenged, what lurks below. As Truman (1951, p. 511) argued many decades ago, understanding political processes and governance requires envisaging potential groups, that is, aggregations of persons who, because of a common values, needs, or interests, may, given the nature of the issue in contention, form or join a group, as well as actual groups. Similarly, Lasswell (1971) differentiated between unorganized and organized participants. In any substantive issue, there will be persons (i.e., passive participants) who are not formally engaged but, because of the nature of the issue as it relates to the satisfaction of their needs and values, are affected by and inherently linked to the value allocation process.

As suggested by Rosenau, identity and identity politics have also moved to center stage. Loyalties are at the same time enduring yet relative and malleable (Coate & Thiel, 2010). Individuals are involved in a wide variety of social relationships, each associated with differing identities. Identity with culture, nation, religion, class, clan, and race vie for allegiance with that of the state. Negative identities—the “other,” which may appear to be threatening—also serve as a basis for association into groups. Different events and conditions may trigger and bring to the fore different identities.

To understand the complex interdependence of the 21st century, students of international organization need to think outside the box and blinders of state-centric and Western liberal ideological thinking. Economics and politics, for example, are not distinct spheres of reality. Western notions of nongovernmental actors and of civil society are of limited utility for conceiving of and analyzing interdependence among the diversity of essential players in contemporary world affairs. This is not new thinking. More than fifty years ago, Gabriel Almond suggested that models of social organization that may be useful for understanding social and political phenomena in advanced Western liberal societies may not and probably are not so useful for understanding such phenomena in other parts of the world. Regarding processes of aggregating and articulating interests, he differentiated four main types of identity grouping: institutional groups, nonassociational groups, anomic groups, and associational groups (Almond, 1960, pp. 33–34). Institutional groups are based on identities related to professional association, such as militaries, bureaucracies, and churches. Nonassociational groups are based on identity to more traditional cultural and social collectivities, such as clan, kinship, ethnicity, region, religion, status, and social class. Anomic groupings are more or less spontaneous aggregations of individuals responding to situations or events. In large parts of the world, Western-style associational groups, which are the focus of most international organization and international relations scholarship on transnational relations, international regimes, etc., are not the predominant or most significant forms of social identity. As shown with regard to the various events related to the so-called “Arab spring” and conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Rwanda, and a plethora of other locations, these other kinds of identity groups often matter most. Thus, they need to be integrated into our thinking and conceptualizing about interdependence and our models of international organization and cooperation. Moreover, identities, perceived values and interests, associations and relationships, loyalties and allegiances vary not only by issue area but also by issue framings. Thus, theoretical and methodological frameworks need to properly reflect the relativity inherent in “real-world” political, social, and cultural life.

Finally, as implicit in the work of Wright, Puchala and Hopkins, Young, Coate, Mansbach, Ferguson, and others, adequately describing and explaining the exceedingly complex and dynamically interdependent world of the early 21st century requires acknowledging, confronting, and overcoming the reification fallacy that has dominated mainstream international organization and international relations scholarship for decades. Systems, networks, international regimes, and the like need to be viewed, analyzed, and treated as analytical constructs rather than concrete manifestations of social reality. The concept of the international system itself greatly constrains and diminishes the ability to envision, explain, and understand 21st century international organization and processes of global governance. The Westphalian interstate diplomatic-legal order is but one important conceptualization of the multitude of important systems of action that underpin contemporary world order. Future theorizing about interdependence would be well served by breaking free from the remnants of these conceptual blinders from the past. Therefore, an interorganizational approach, as suggest by Jönsson (2015), Koops and Biermann (2015), Lipson (2015), and others, may well be key to making such a conceptually and theoretically dramatic break.


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