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Historical Institutionalism and International Relations: Explaining Institutional Development in World Politics

Historical Institutionalism
and International Relations
Towards Explaining Change and Stability
in International Institutions
Thomas Rixen and Lora Anne Viola
Why do some international institutions, such as the United Nations Security
Council, display remarkable stability even when confronted with a changing
environment (such as changes in the distribution of power or growing
demands for membership expansion), while others, such as the G8, adapt to
systemic changes by expanding membership and authority? Why do some
institutions, such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT),
persist for decades and then rapidly undergo substantial transformation, as
with the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO), while other
institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), undergo slow
and incremental changes over a long period?
The international institutional environment has been undergoing signi-
cant change over the past two decades, even as many of the institutions created
under the particular circumstances at the end of World War II persist and
resist fundamental transformation. Change and stability often coincide, some-
times even within the same organization. The twofold empirical observation
that the international institutional order has proven highly resilient in the face
of exogenous shocks, including the end of the Cold War and the recent
economic crisis, but that individual institutions are nevertheless undergoing
signicant changes, has ushered in a new phase in the study of international
institutions. This new generation of scholarship on international institutions
rejects a simple dichotomy between institutional stability and change and
grapples, instead, with explaining patterns of change and continuity; it is
concerned with questions of institutional development(Pierson 2004:
This book addresses the challenge of explaining both stability and change in
international institutions. Our purpose is to argue that historical institution-
alism (HI), developed and applied in comparative politics and public policy
but relatively neglected within international relations (IR), provides useful
tools for thinking about change in the context of stable components. As
Fioretos notes, HI has long looked beyond political development as a dichot-
omous variable (stasis vs. fundamental change) and examines the conditions
under which variations in incremental patterns of reform create complex
congurations that reproduce the basic structure of political authority while
simultaneously entailing a novel institutional reality(Fioretos 2011: 389; see
also Streeck and Thelen 2005; Mahoney and Thelen 2010). Given the elds
growing interest in explaining complex patterns of change and continuity
within international institutions, we argue that IR needs to turn to HI because
it offers a set of analytical resources and substantive insights for studying the
dynamics of institutional development.
Institutionalist research in IR has thus far taken place largely under the
leadership of rational choice institutionalism (RI) and, increasingly, sociologic-
al institutionalism (SI), reecting to some extent the elds division into rival
liberal institutionalist and constructivist paradigms. The third paradigm of IR,
realism, has generally been skeptical of the importance of institutions. Each of
these existing approaches to institutions within IR has contributed to the eld
in numerous ways, but none of them has a well-developed approach to the dual
empirical puzzle of institutional resilience and transformation. We argue that
IR can benet from turning to the third new institutionalism(Hall and
Taylor 1996), HI, because it offers promising insights in three areas.
First, HI is specically focused on the dynamics of institutional develop-
ment and has theorized the role of history or, more precisely, temporality in
that development. It pays attention to when and how historical processes
shape institutional outcomes; it gives us tools to assess the legacies of founding
moments, the consequences of new ideas and big events, the prevalence of
incremental reform over one-off design, and the unintentional aspects of
institutional formation and change. Second, by theorizing sunk costs, creation
of constituent interests, and positive feedback mechanisms, it allows for a
better conceptualization of endogenous change (and its interaction with
exogenous change). In this way, HI promises to further our understanding
of piecemeal or patchwork institutional development and the accretion of
institutional complexes. Third, HIs origin in domestic politics makes it well-
placed to provide a fresh perspective on the interaction of domestic and
international politics. Indeed, a growing interest in the interaction of the
domestic and international levels has recently provided an important point
of entry for HI into IR (Farrell and Newman 2010, 2014).
We do not suggest, however, that IR import HI blindly. Instead, we aim to
demonstrate the theoretical and empirical value both of adopting and adapting
4Thomas Rixen and Lora Anne Viola
the concepts and mechanisms of HI to IR. HI has largely been developed on
the basis of inductive insights and does not represent a deductively complete
theory. At times woolly and vague, we are not the rst to argue that HI would
benetfromtheoreticalrenement (Pierson 2004: 13942), and we believe that
IR can contribute to HI theory building. One of the major ambiguities in the
eld, even among historical institutionalists, concerns exactly what constitutes
changeor stability(e.g. Thelen 2003; Boas 2007). A clear conceptualization
of what change means and how it differs from stability should be central to
the endeavor of more precisely explaining the interaction between change and
stability. Later in this chapter we ll this gap by introducing a systematic
conceptualization of what we mean by the terms changeand stability,
which serves as a guiding baseline for the subsequent empirical chapters.
In our endeavor to introduce HI to IR we join a growing group of scholars
engaged in a similar effort. Fioretos (2011), for example, was among the rst to
point out the ways in which neglecting HI comes with signicant opportunity
costs for IR. Recent contributions edited by Farrell and Newman (2010) and
Moschella and Tsingou (2013) have demonstrated that HI can successfully be
applied to the international political economy. Our effort is the rst book to
examine a broad spectrum of institutions of interest to IR from the perspective
of HI, covering policy areas such as security, economic cooperation, human
rights, and health. All of the chapters shed light on how the tools of HI, in
combination with a ner conceptualization of change and stability, can help to
explain why institutions evolve at different speeds and to different extents,
thus improving our understanding of persistence and change. Indeed, all the
chapters in this volume demonstrate the usefulness of applying HI to puzzles
of interest to the eld of IR, while also evaluating and improving upon existing
concepts within HI.
The present chapter serves both to introduce HI to IR and to set the stage
for the following empirical chapters. In section 1.1 we show that the study of
institutions within IR has been slowly and implicitly turning towards the kinds
of questions and concerns that HI is well suited to address, and we introduce
HIs basic tenets and its comparative advantages relative to other institution-
alisms. In section 1.2, we then discuss how specic HI concepts and mechan-
isms, such as path dependence, sequencing, unintended consequences, and
critical junctures, can help IR scholars better understand the dynamics of
stability and change in international institutions. But before we can apply the
theoretical tools of HI to empirical cases, we need to establish clarity on what we
mean by institutional development,”“stability,and change.Accordingly, in
section 1.3 we offer a systematic conceptualization of these terms, which will
inform the subsequent empirical chapters. In section 1.4 we provide an over-
view of the book and introduce the individual chapters. Finally, we conclude by
reecting on what status HI should have within the existing eld of institution-
alist IR theories. In particular, we discuss how HI relates to the established
Historical Institutionalism and International Relations 5
schools of rationalism and constructivism and whether it should be considered
its own paradigm. While we cannot settle this debate here, the conclusion to
this volume picks up on it again in light of the chapter contributions.
Institutionalist research in IR has largely taken place within the context of the
broader paradigmatic debates that have structured the eld. Initial institution-
alist scholarship was shaped by the debate between realists and liberals on the
importance of institutions, accompanied by liberal institutionaliststurn to
rational choice institutionalism, which was followed by a constructivist cri-
tique of the rational approach to institutions based, in part, on insights from
sociological institutionalism. HI, located clearly outside of IRs paradigmatic
debates, has been given relatively little explicit attention within IR. We argue,
however, that scholarship on international institutions is increasingly con-
cerned with issues that HI was developed to address. In this section, we trace
the development of institutionalism in IR from the debate on whether insti-
tutions matter, to a focus on institutional stability, to a more recent concern
with institutional change and development. Some of the central concerns of
HIfor example, how historical legacies condition available options and the
persistence of institutions despite a change in initial conditionshave been
implicitly present in the IR institutional literature for a long time (e.g. Krasner
1984; Keohane 1984; Katzenstein 1985). Other HI concerns, especially the
focus on incremental institutional change within largely stable institutions,
have become newly prominent in IR. This overlap of interests is a compelling
reason for IR to explicitly engage with HI.
Contemporary institutionalist scholarship in IR can be traced back to the
international regimesliterature of the 1980s and 1990s (e.g. Krasner 1982;
Stein 1982), when IR shifted away from the ideographic study of organizations
to the study of how institutions, as modes of governance, are created and
maintained. Early IR discussions about institutions turned, initially, on the
debate between (neo-)realists and (neo-)liberal institutionalists about whether
institutions matterat all and which ones might matter (Mearsheimer 1994;
Keohane and Martin 1995; Martin and Simmons 1998). Realism, having risen
to prominence during the Cold War, focused attention on the distribution of
state power and argued that institutions were epiphenomenal to the role of
power and interests (e.g. Mearsheimer 1994). In this view, patterns of institu-
tional change and stability will be explained exogenously by changes in the
distribution of power. Some recent studies pick up (and modify) this line of
6Thomas Rixen and Lora Anne Viola
argumentation by showing how powerful actors can use their inuence to
circumvent formal institutional rules (Stone 2011), or to show how the
convergence or divergence of great power preferences is a crucial factor for
determining international regulatory outcomes (Drezner 2007).
Early liberal institutionalists, motivated in part by empirically relevant cases
of cooperation in the 1980s and especially after the end of the Cold War in the
1990s, adopted realist assumptions about actors and structure but drew on
political economy and rational choice approaches to explain cases of cooper-
ation. In this view, institutions are instrumentally designed by agents to solve
collective action problems, lower transaction costs, and generally facilitate
state cooperation for mutual gain (e.g. Snidal 1985; Oye 1985; Axelrod and
Keohane 1985). The rationalist literature argues that institutions have effects
because their rules have long-term consequences that go beyond the intentions
of their creators (Keohane 1984) and that the institutional context creates a
legacy that may shape action in ways not initially intended (Goldstein 1989).
Institutional stability thus became central to explaining both the attractiveness
and effectiveness of institutions. At the same time, RI conceives of actors as
free to deviate from an institution or to create a new one when the existing
institution no longer maximizes their utility. RI expects that when exogenous
shocks (such as the end of the Cold War) change incentives for actors to (not)
adhere to institutional equilibria, rapid institutional adaptation will occur.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, a large body of literature sought to
understand why institutions created under particular circumstances at the
end of World War II persisted despite the shock of the end of the Cold War.
This resulted in a focus on endogenous institutional dynamics. Constructiv-
ism, drawing inspiration from SI, emerged to argue that institutions persist
because they embody norms and rules that actors accept as legitimate and
appropriate (March and Olsen 1998; Finnemore and Sikkink 1998). Focusing
on socialization, internalization, and routinization, SI expects institutions to
be largely stable and to exhibit isomorphism over time (DiMaggio and Powell
1991). Constructivists drew on a key insight from HInamely, that history
matters”—to point out that interactions and practices over time create struc-
tures and logics of action that tend to get reproduced (Wendt 1995: 77).
At the same time, other IR scholars began to assess institutional continuity
by incorporating insights from HI without always explicitly labeling it as HI.
They showed how sunk costs and increasing returns associated with institu-
tional designs constrain actors from engaging in radical reform, and how
positive feedback loops and increasing returns help to create constituencies
who favor continuation of an institution. Ikenberry, for example, draws on HI
to highlight how in the aftermath of war institutional structures inuence
the distribution of power across political actors providing advantages and
resources to some and constraining the options of others(Ikenberry 2001: 16).
Barton et al. show how trade liberalization helped to create constituencies that
Historical Institutionalism and International Relations 7
gained from multilateral cooperation on trade, thus reinforcing multilateral
trade institutions such as the GATT and WTO (Barton et al. 2006: 3). While
the turn to HI remained largely implicit in IR proper, students of the
EU employed HI more self-consciously. Many EU scholars argued that the
form and development of European integration could be better understood
with HI than with the traditional rational and neorealist toolkit of intergo-
vernmentalists (Pierson 1998; see also Sandholtz and Stone Sweet 1998).
Overall, the literatures move towards endogenizing institutions helped to
explain the persistence of institutions and regimes despite the shock of the
end of the Cold War; however, it simultaneously reinforced the elds em-
phasis on institutional stability and thus contributed to a neglect of questions
of institutional change.
While an emphasis on stability may have seemed appropriate in the period
immediately after the end of the Cold Warespecially since the collapse of the
post-World War II order expected by some (e.g. Mearsheimer 1990) did not
materializetoday a continued emphasis on stability appears misplaced.
Although not fundamentally transformed, the international institutional
environment has been undergoing signicant change over the past two dec-
ades. Existing international institutions once paralyzed by Cold War rivalries
began to adapt to a new, active role in global governance, expanded their
mandates, and opened up to new actors (e.g. Tallberg et al. 2013; Abbott et al.
2014). Meanwhile, new governance institutions have begun to emerge which
look fundamentally different from the intergovernmental organizations that
traditionally populate the international system (e.g. Zürn 2004). Some of the
new governance mechanisms are supranational, such as the WTO Dispute
Settlement Mechanism. Other institutions are transgovernmental and involve
cooperation among national-level regulators or independent bureaucrats, such
as the Basel Committee of Banking Supervisors (BCBS). Still others are
transnational, either the result of collaboration between private and public
actors like the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), or
among private actors like the International Accounting Standards Board
(IASB). So while the initial observationthat the international institutional
order remained remarkably resilient after the end of the Cold Warstill holds,
we also observe, within that order, signicant changes.
The next generation of institutional research, then, revolves around explaining
both institutional stability and change. How can we explain what we empirically
observe as a high level of institutional continuity combined with a signicant
degree of institutional change? Why and under what circumstances do some
institutions persist along some dimensions but change on others? In what ways
do continuity and change interact within an institution? What explains variation
in the depth and scope of institutional change? Why do some institutions
experience radical reform while others undergo incremental adjustment? Are
change and stability the result of exogenous shocks or endogenous processes?
8Thomas Rixen and Lora Anne Viola
Existing RI and SI frameworks have difculty in tackling these questions of
institutional development. RI hypothesizes institutional change as occurring
when existing institutional equilibria no longer provide benets to their
members. As a result, RI tends to de-emphasize endogenous causal effects of
institutions on actor preferences or choices (Milner 1998). Thompson and
Verdier (2014), for example, explain the variation between multilateral, bilateral,
and mixed regimes based on statestransaction costs of negotiating and joining
an institution, and the compliance costs and benets of membership. As they
concede, however, this snap-shotview misses the logic of institutional devel-
opment, which underscores the importance of prior institutional choices in
shaping institutional outcomes at any given moment (Thompson and Verdier
2014: 25).
SI, in turn, emphasizes the embeddedness of institutions in broad contexts
of social meaning, and the role of institutions in shaping preferences and
identity. In this view, institutions are not adhered to primarily because of
instrumental reasons, but rather because they are seen to be appropriate.
Institutions tend to be stable and change only slowly over time because
change relies on a shift in underlying ideas, norms, or culture (see e.g. Klotz
1995). Weaver (2008), for example, shows how organizational culture at the
World Bank impeded the international organization from undertaking
reforms even when its legitimacy and effectiveness were threatened. Other
recent contributions have begun to explore how deeply internalized norms,
such as the commitment to human rights, may either diffuse or erode over
time (e.g. Finnemore and Sikkink 1998; Panke and Petersohn 2012; Risse et al.
1999). Because of their emphasis on ideational and normative constraints,
however, SI studies tend to de-emphasize the material interests and power
resources of agents as well as the role of choice in the historical development
of institutions.
While RI and SI can both generate hypotheses about change, they are each
limited by their particular ontological commitments. HI stands out because
it has developed analytical tools directly addressed at understanding institu-
tional dynamics and for thinking about change in the context of stable
In this section, we rst introduce the basic tenets of HI and then turn to
discuss specic HI mechanisms and how they can illuminate questions of
institutional development in IR.
Historical Institutionalism and International Relations 9
1.2.1. What is Historical Institutionalism?
The central characteristic that distinguishes historical institutionalism from
other institutionalisms is its conviction that understanding an institution
requires an analysis of an institutions origins and development over time.
It is in this sense that HI is historical. A central contribution of HI has been
to redene the disciplinary object from one directed at the study of stationary
outcomes to one focused on explaining diverse and dynamic processes of
institutional development(Fioretos 2011: 371; see also Mahoney and Thelen
2010; Streeck and Thelen 2005; Sanders 2006; Büthe 2002). Although HI is
probably most closely associated with a concern for institutional stability or
resilience to change (see Michael Zürn, Chapter 8)indeed, HI provides
compelling accounts of why institutions often exhibit surprising resilience,
even in the presence of changed circumstances or apparent inefciency
(Pierson 2004: 1753; Mahoney 2000)it is crucial to notice that this atten-
tion to institutional stickiness belies a deeper concern with institutional
development. The motivating concern is to understand the processes by
which institutions change or do not change, rather than to focus on compara-
tive statics that compare an institution in time t
and time t
. By analyzing
institutions through a temporal lens, HI is able to address questions of
institutional effects as well as origins, reproduction, and transformation; it is
well-positioned to tease out the interactions of structure and agents; and it
highlights how asymmetries of power can be created and reinforced by
institutional rules.
Understanding institutional development as a process involving both
change and continuity sensitizes us to the ways in which prior institutional
choices restrict or enable later choices (Pierson and Skocpol 2002: 698), and so
HI shifts our analytical focus to the identication of conditions, context, and
contingency. Important HI concepts capturing the ways in which outcomes
are contingent upon past processes include path dependence, sequencing,
critical junctures, and unintended consequences. In addition, HI has more
recently begun to theorize incremental institutional change (as opposed to
Moreover, what all three institutionalist approaches have in common is an understanding of
institutions as the rules of the game in a societythat both constrain and enable human
interaction (North 1990: 3). This denition is purposefully broad and can accommodate a
variety of more specic understandings of institutions, e.g. that of organizations, international
regimes, and informal cultural scripts. Thus, we do not argue that HI distinguishes itself by its
denition of institutions, instead this denition is compatible with all institutionalist schools.
Within comparative politics historical institutionalists have given distinctive answers to
questions as diverse as: how formal and informal institutions affect the nature of the welfare state
(Esping-Andersen 1990), or the variety of capitalism that develops in a country (Hall and Soskice
2001), or the capacity of social groups to mobilize (Skocpol 1979), or how institutions act as
structures of power by according institutional privileges (such as veto rights) to certain actors
(Moe 2005; Mahoney and Thelen 2010).
10 Thomas Rixen and Lora Anne Viola
punctuated change) in the form of layering, conversion, drift, and exhaustion.
With these concepts, discussed further in the next section, HI has moved
beyond the claim that history matters towards theorizing how and under what
conditions it matters. Timing and sequencing are given explanatory status as
factors of institutional development (Pierson 2004: 210).
HIs particular understanding of how history matters leads to an afnity
for certain methods. Most importantly, it naturally leads to thick descrip-
tions of institutional development and of the societal, political, or technical
constraints under which agents make their choices (Sanders 2006: 423).
This is in contrast to many rational choice accounts in which analytical
leverage comes precisely from abstraction, empirical simplication, and
stylized facts.
But it also differs from sociological approaches, which often
emphasize the existence of social and cognitive constraints without paying
much attention to instrumental agency. HIs interest in historical and
process-oriented analysis usually implies a methodological preference for
qualitative case study research that builds on dense, empirical description.
Accordingly, most works in the HI tradition are single-case or small-N
studies that use process tracing (Pierson and Skocpol 2002: 71315). How-
ever, as Theresa Squatrito, Thomas Sommerer, and Jonas Tallberg show in
Chapter 7, the theoretical concepts of HI can usefully be applied within a
large-N framework as well.
1.2.2. Historical Institutionalist Mechanisms
and International Institutions
HI offers IR three broad categories of conceptual resources for explaining
international institutional development. First, HI provides a set of specic
conceptual tools that help us to move beyond comparative statics and grasp
dynamic processes. Second, HI draws our attention to both exogenous and
endogenous sources of change. Third, HI emphasizes the importance of
looking at the interactions of multiple institutions with implications for the
study of both regime complexes and the interaction between international and
domestic institutions. At the same time, we recognize that HI also has its
weaknesses, and argue that this provides an opportunity for IR scholars to
further develop HIs conceptual and theoretical foundations.
There are, of course, also rational choice theorists with an interest in analyzing long periods
of time and incorporating contextual knowledge. See Bates et al. (1998).
Historical Institutionalism and International Relations 11
Tools for Understanding Dynamic Processes and Stability
The central source of historical institutionalisms explanatory leverage lies in
its commitment to analyzing events over long periods of time and paying
particular attention to the temporal development of institutions. Three central
concepts of HI do this: path dependence, critical juncture, and sequencing.
Path dependence, the concept most associated with HI, has been used
broadly to capture the idea that history mattersand that outcomes are
contingent. More precisely, path dependence refers to a specic kind of
process that is set in motion by an initial choice, decision, or event, which
then becomes self-reinforcing. The process is reinforcing because it is subject
to increasing returns, that is, a situation in which the returns to engaging in a
certain behavior or from adopting a certain rule increase over time and make
the adoption of alternatives less attractive (Arthur 1994; David 1985, 2007).
The process is self-reinforcing because it is reinforced through variables
endogenous to the institution. The institution has effects, which then become
causes of subsequent effects, which in turn become causes once again, in an
ongoing feedback loop (Rixen and Viola 2015).
An important insight of path dependence is that an institution character-
ized by increasing returns will become increasingly stablethat is, reversal or
path switching will become harder to achieve and an institution may experi-
ence lock-in.But, we argue, it would be a mistake to understand path
dependence as simply an explanation of institutional non-change. Path
dependence allows us to grasp an institutions increasing stabilitythat is,
resistance to changeover time. As we discuss in section 1.3, stability is itself
an important attribute of institutions that can vary; an institution can become
more or less stable over time. Path dependence, then, has a logical corollary:
path undermining. Path undermining is the process by which a choice,
decision, or event leads to decreasing returns to a certain behavior or rule,
leading to the unraveling of the institution. Path dependence is a well-
established feature of many institutional developments. Examples from this
volume include the development of the EUs policies on government subsidies
(Tim Büthe, Chapter 2) and the regionalization of the institutional setup of the
World Health Organization (WHO) (Tine Hanrieder, Chapter 4). Path under-
mining is a more recently recognized phenomenon (see Greif and Laitin
2004). Examples from this volume include changes to the IMFs poverty
reduction policies that were enabled because the well-established path had
been slowly undermined (Manuela Moschella and Antje Vetterlein,
Chapter 6).
HI also provides us with a concept for understanding the initial contingent
events that can lead to path dependencethe critical juncture. Critical junc-
tures are exogenous decisions or events that interrupt long periods of stability
and set institutions on one path of development rather than another (Capoccia
12 Thomas Rixen and Lora Anne Viola
and Kelemen 2007). The notion of critical juncture brings another element
of dynamism into understanding institutional development, as these are
moments of relative structural indeterminism in which agency matters and
choices are possible. Critical junctures also provide a way to think about the
difference between rapid changes and gradual ones. Critical junctures, like the
notion of punctuated equilibrium, imply a model of change in which long
periods of stasis are disrupted by short bursts of change which are, in turn,
followed again by long periods of path dependence. In this volume, Squatrito,
Sommerer, and Tallberg (Chapter 7) argue that the end of the Cold War
represents a critical juncture with respect to the opening up of intergovern-
mental organizations (IGOs) to civil society groups. But periods of institu-
tional stability may also develop gradually over time, even in the absence of an
important exogenous shock, as returns to an unremarkable initial investment
slowly increase. For example, the decision to use bilateral rather than multi-
lateral agreements to avoid double taxation seemed natural in the 1920s and
only became locked in over the following decades as states concluded double
tax agreements in gradually increasing numbers. Today this bilateralism
cannot be easily reversed despite unintended consequences in the form of
tax evasion and avoidance (Rixen 2011; Genschel and Rixen 2015).
Finally, HIs emphasis on the historical development of an institution
focuses our attention on the signicance of the sequence of events for the
outcome of change processes. Mahoney (2000) develops the notion of a
reactive sequenceas an event chain in which events following a trigger are
a reaction to prior events. Subsequent institutional choices are to some extent
constrained by prior choices, and they enjoy a lower degree of freedom. Often,
arguments based on sequencing look at the effects of intersections of events, or
causal chains, and point to cumulative causal logics. While path dependence
can be considered a case of sequencing, sequencing can also characterize other
dynamic processes which may not be characterized by increasing returns, but
for which the exact order of the unfolding of decisions or events matters for
the outcome. Moschella and Vetterlein (Chapter 6), for example, trace the
different effects of reinforcing and reactive sequences on the IMFs formula-
tion of policies in the areas of poverty reduction and nancial market
The three central explanatory tools of HI, path dependence, critical junc-
tures, and sequencing, all underscore the need to consider the conditions and
contingency of change processes. In doing so, HI highlights the possibility of
unintended consequences to an extent missing in both rational choice and
sociological institutionalism.
Unintended consequences is the notion that an
Unintended consequences do of course also feature in rational choice theories, e.g. within
the prisonersdilemma. Nevertheless, there is also a functionalist branch of rational choice which
postulates efcient institutional design (e.g. Williamson 1985). Likewise, sociological
Historical Institutionalism and International Relations 13
institution does not (only) have the desired effects but exhibits unintended
side effects (Merton 1936). The dynamics of trade liberalization are an
example. After the dispute settlement system in the WTO became more
legalized, subsequent trade negotiations experienced stalemate, possibly
because states were unwilling to grant too many concessions in agreements
that were likely to be fully enforced (Goldstein and Steinberg 2009).
Focus on Endogenous Sources of Change
In focusing on the historical unfolding of an institution, HI is sensitized to the
effects of past institutional development on subsequent changes; in other
words, it reveals endogenous sources of change and stability. One limitation
of rationalist explanations is that they can only account for changes to or away
from an equilibrium, but cannot make sense of changes within an equilibrium
(Greif and Laitin 2004; Mahoney and Thelen 2010). HI, in contrast, while
recognizing the importance of exogenous sources of change (e.g. in the form of
critical junctures), also makes use of mechanisms that capture endogenous
sources of change.
With respect to exogenous factors, the HI model of punctuated equilibrium
hypothesizes that institutions undergo long periods of stasis interrupted by
short periods of change. In this model institutional change is caused by a
signicant exogenous shock, which enables a new trajectory that will, in turn,
exhibit stability over time (Krasner 1984; Baumgartner and Jones 2009). Other
HI scholarship has argued that the punctuated equilibrium model of abrupt
change is insufcient to adequately capture empirical reality because change
can also happen incrementally, as when change occurs gradually within
moments of seeming stability (Thelen 1999, 2003).
HI scholars have therefore
recently begun to investigate processes of incremental change as the result of
endogenous processes. Streeck and Thelen (2005), for example, identify ve
common patterns of incremental change. Layering happens when new elem-
ents are attached to existing institutions so that they gradually transform their
goals or structure; conversion happens when an old institution is redeployed
to a new purpose; drift occurs if actors refuse to engage in the maintenance of
an institution despite external pressures; exhaustion is the gradual breakdown
of an institution that may occur in the form of self-consumption,or
institutionalism does not, per se, rule out the possibility of unintended consequences, but neither
does it particularly highlight this possibility.
Douglass North even argues that there is hardly any abrupt change in social life. If one
zooms in close enough on seemingly abrupt changes, one will notice that in fact they are of a
more gradual nature (North 1990: 83104). That incrementalism is indeed often observed even
after large exogenous shocks and, despite great expectations of radical change, can also be
witnessed in the efforts at re-regulating nancial markets after the nancial crisis of 2008
(Moschella and Tsingou 2013).
14 Thomas Rixen and Lora Anne Viola
self-undermining; and displacement characterizes a situation where a subor-
dinate institution rises in salience relative to a dominant one.
HI has helped to identify where and when we are likely to see endogenous
sources of change emerge (see also Zürn, Chapter 8). Investments in the initial
design or structure of an institution can function as the source of increasing
returns and self-reinforcement, exerting inuence over future developments.
Endogenous sources of self-reinforcement can also occur when engaging in a
certain behavior or adopting a certain rule makes it more likely that others will
do so as well (coordination effects and adaptive expectations). A third set of
endogenous mechanisms driving institutional development can come from
cognitive frames; for example, when actors learn from their institutional
experiences, they may gain increasing returns to retaining that institution
(Pierson 2004: 2444). One could argue, for example, that despite initial
skepticism, emerging economies are more likely to remain committed to
working through the Group of Twenty (G20) the more they invest resources
in setting up specialized organizational capacity within their ministries to
participate, the more others choose to work through the G20, and as they
learn the skills necessary to use the summit process to their advantage (see
Martinez-Diaz and Woods 2009). Finally, Mahoney and Thelen (2010) have
recently theorized the sources of endogenous gradual change by looking at
how institutions distribute power in such a way as to encourage specic agents
to pursue distinctive strategies that result in incremental change. One key
insight here is that institutions that look stable at any moment in time are
likely to reveal a series of internal, incremental changes when looked at over a
longer period. The implication for scholars is that studying institutional
stability can provide valuable insights for explaining the emergence of insti-
tutional change.
HIs attention to endogenous sources of change is instructive and we take it
up seriously in this volume. In our estimation, however, in an effort to focus
attention on endogenous as opposed to exogenous change, HI has been
neglectful of the ways in which these sources of change surely interact. In
Chapter 2, for example, Büthes argument improves upon this decit by
theorizing a more convincing connection between agency and structure.
Further work remains to be done on theorizing how endogenous and exogen-
ous factors work together to effect change.
New Insights on Institutional Interaction
Because HI stresses the importance of institutional networks and institutional
environments, using HI concepts also promises to open new perspectives on
the interplay of institutions. Thus, HI is well-situated to weigh in on two
prominent issues in IR. First, it can contribute to the debate about institutional
or regime complexes (e.g. Alter and Meunier 2009; Gehring and Faude 2014).
Historical Institutionalism and International Relations 15
Rather than focusing on rational actorsinterest in forum shopping, an HI
account would explain the existence of partially overlapping institutions in one
issue area by studying the endogenously created unintended consequences of
institutional choices. For example, in this volume Orfeo Fioretos (Chapter 3)
argues that responses to the nancial crisis drew on earlier reform attempts to
layer on new institutions, such as the Financial Stability Board (FSB), and
retrotexisting ones, such as the G20.
Second, HI provides a useful perspective from which to view the interaction
of domestic and international politics (Farrell and Newman 2014). As Fioretos
(2001), Farrell and Newman (2010), and Büthe and Mattli (2011) have argued,
the preferences and bargaining strength of governments at the international
level will not only be determined by the preferences of important societal
actors (e.g. Lake 2009b) and market size (e.g. Drezner 2007) or other potential
indicators of power, but also by the particular institutional and regulatory
capacity that has developed in the domestic realm. In this sense the insights of
HIand in particular the notions of sticky institutions, institutional comple-
mentarities, and distinctive national regulatory systems or public policy
regimesoffer alternative hypotheses on both governments(or, if we disag-
gregate the state, agencies) preferences as well as their bargaining strengths in
international institutions. For example, it has been argued that in the regula-
tion of commodities markets, US product standard-setters are disadvantaged
in international standard-setting vis-à-vis their European competitors because
of their more anarchic domestic institutions (Büthe and Mattli 2011). Thus,
institutions created and reinforced domestically can later have important
consequences on institutional change at the international level. Fioretos
(Chapter 3) explores how divisions between liberal market economies and
coordinated market economies inuenced regulatory debates and nancial
sector reform policies after 2008. Conversely, international institutions, espe-
cially as they gain regulatory power over traditionally behind the border
issues, can over time inuence governmentspreferences on domestic and
foreign policy.
Enhancing Historical Institutionalism
While HI has helped to advance our understanding of institutional develop-
ment, we recognize that HI also has its weaknesses. In particular, much of HI
has been developed out of inductive reasoning, deriving general concepts from
specic empirical case studies (Skocpol 1995). While HIs closeness to empir-
ical research has certainly been one of its strengths, it has resulted in a
collection of concepts prone to be interpreted differently in different cases
and only loosely held together by a common theoretical reasoning (Pierson
2004; Rixen and Viola 2015). HI concepts such as path dependence, feedback,
or critical junctures can exhibit a woolliness that contributes to their exibility
16 Thomas Rixen and Lora Anne Viola
and transferability, but makes the derivation of testable hypotheses and cross-
case comparison difcult, diminishing their analytical leverage.
Moreover, HI concepts sometimes walk a blurry line between description
and explanation. Streeck and Thelens inventory of incremental change
patterns, for example, serves to describe types of change (e.g. layering or
conversion), but only implicitly contains explanatory claims. This ambiguity
can be seen in how the literature sometimes treats these types as descriptions
and sometimes as explanations, even when explicit causal mechanisms are
missing. As Mahoney and Thelen note in this context, [i]f theorizing is
going to reach its potential, however, institutional analysts must go beyond
classication to develop causal propositions(Mahoney and Thelen
2010: 3).
These weaknesses, we argue, represent an opportunity to adapt and rene
HI. We are already seeing several conscious attempts to more rigorously
theorize HI concepts (e.g. Pierson 2004; Mahoney and Thelen 2010;
Capoccia and Kelemen 2007; Soifer 2012; Rixen and Viola 2015). With this
volume we want to contribute to these efforts at maximizing HIs explanatory
potential. We begin this effort in the next section where we propose a new
conceptualization of key terms of institutional development: stasis, change,
and stability of institutions.
While HI provides useful tools for improving IRs understanding of the
relationship between continuity and change, scholarship on institutional
development in general suffers from the absence of clearly dened concepts
of stasis, stability, and change. Even among historical institutionalists there is a
debate about what exactly constitutes changeor stability,what distin-
guishes incremental changefrom punctuated change(Thelen 2003;
Pierson 2004; Boas 2007), and how to distinguish exogenous from endogenous
change (Greif and Laitin 2004). Such disputes are usually not conicts over
how to interpret empirical facts, but more often revolve around differing
understandings of the meaning of concepts. In order to systematically develop
hypotheses on its causes and consequences, we must rst be able to clearly and
rigorously dene what constitutes institutional development. Thus, in this
section we momentarily shift the focus away from HIs explanatory framework
in favor of deductively thinking about the ways in which the central explan-
andum institutional developmentcan vary.
Historical Institutionalism and International Relations 17
By using the term institutional developmentrather than institutional
change,we mean to draw attention to the complete spectrum of empirical
possibilities, from no change (i.e. stasis), to differing degrees and speeds of
change. We carefully distinguish change, stability, and stasis; a differentiation
that is often obscured in the literature. While stasis simply means non-change,
stability is an institutional attribute (i.e. robustness to change) and can itself be
subject to variation.
What we aim to do in the following is to clarify the dimensions along which
any institutional feature can change. Institutions have any number of attri-
butes that can change over time and be the focus of study.
In fact, it is most
likely impossible to catalogue a priori all the different ways in which an
institution might change. In contrast to previous classications, most notably
Streeck and Thelensve categories, we want to introduce a generic under-
standing not dependent on having correctly and completely identied all
empirical patterns by which institutional change and non-change can occur.
We argue that any institutional attribute that undergoes change will do so
along certain identiable dimensionsspeed, scope, and depth. These dimen-
sions help us to identify and measure changes relative to some reference point
(e.g. other institutions or the same institution in a previous period). In what
follows we rst introduce and discuss these dimensions. We then discuss how
this exercise exposes a number of gaps in our understanding of change and
reveals a number of assumptions about how change happens that have not
been empirically tested or theoretically defended. We suggest that our con-
ceptualization can serve as a useful guide for more systematic empirical
research and theory-building.
1.3.1. The Dimensions of Change
Change means that a given thing (an object, person, institution, property, etc.)
existing at time one (t
) is discernibly different at time two (t
). This denition
implies three fundamental qualities of change: it happens over time with a
particular speed (the rate of change), and it has a particular magnitude (the
extent of difference), which consists of two components: scope, that is the
number of institutional features affected by change, and depth, the degree to
which these features change. Taking all threespeed, scope, and depth
together allows us to systematically describe and compare change processes.
Recent literature on international institutions has been interested in a range of changing
attributes, such as variation in an institutions degree of hierarchy (e.g. Lake 2009a), variation in
institutional authority (Zürn et al. 2012), institutional independence from principals (e.g.
Hawkins et al. 2006), or institutional legitimacy (Franck 1990).
For a related, but somewhat different usage of the terms scope and depth in the literatures
on European integration and federalism, see e.g. Börzel (2005) and Hooghe and Marks (2012).
18 Thomas Rixen and Lora Anne Viola
A change can only be observed over time. While time refers to how long the
change takes to occur, or the duration between time t
and time t
,speed refers
to the rate of change. Speed can be understood as the extent of change divided
by the time it takes to occur. Speed allows us to compare different change
processes by giving us a relative measure of slowness and fastness. For
instance, if we observe two institutions over the same period of time and
one undergoes a larger extent of change than the other, then we can say that
the change process was faster in the rst one than the second one. This
corresponds to an important and often-discussed distinction in the literature:
incremental vs. punctuated change (e.g. Thelen 1999; Heijden 2011). The
speed at which change happens can only be considered longor short
relative to other changes. While we could thus in principle dene one common
reference point for comparing the speed of change in all institutionssuch as
using the speed of European integration as a baselineit does not make much
sense to impose this arbitrary assignment on diverse empirical phenomena.
Instead, it makes more sense to think of speed in terms of reference points
chosen according to the specic research question, the specic case under
investigation, and/or to certain theoretical expectations.
Because change means a discernible difference between time t
and time t
a comparison across time also yields information about the extent of the
difference. The extent of the difference between t
and t
can be measured in
terms of the scope and depth of change. The scope, or breadth, of change
can be measured in terms of how many additional (or fewer) attributes an
institution has in t
than it had in t
. The institutional attributes that
can change in scope are virtually innite and must be empirically determined,
but they can include features such as the number of members within an
institution, the number of issues over which an institution has regulatory
authority, or whether an institution has gained legitimacy in a new policy
area. Institutions often change by expanding the scope of their membership,
such as the WTOs inclusion of China or the G7s expansion to the G8 and
then the G20 (Viola 2014). Büthe (Chapter 2) explains how the European
Commission extended its policy scope by gaining regulatory authority over
areas where it previously had none. Similarly, Rixen (2011) has shown that the
international tax regime, initially focused solely on liberalizing capital and
goods ows by avoiding double taxation, over time took on board (modest)
measures against tax evasion and avoidance.
The depth of change can be understood as the degree to which an institu-
tions attributes in t
have strengthened or weakened in t
. By strengthened or
weakened we mean whether institutional features are becoming more (or less)
robust to change. Depth indicates an institution is likely to be more robust in
the face of shocks. An increase in depth would mean that an institution
(or institutional feature) in t
is more resistant to change than it was in t
has become more stable. When historical institutionalists refer to path
Historical Institutionalism and International Relations 19
dependence, we argue that they are referring to changes in depth. Path
dependence is, in our reading, a change in which one institution (or institu-
tional feature) becomes ever more stable over time (Rixen and Viola 2015).
This implies a crucial distinction between stability and stasis. Whereas stasis
simply means non-change of some institutional attribute, the stability of an
institutional attribute is variable and can undergo change over time.
Of course, institutions do not only experience increases in depth. As some
recent contributions note, underminingor the process by which an institu-
tion becomes weaker and more shallowis just as feasible an institutional
development as reproduction and reinforcement (Greif and Laitin 2004;
Rixen and Viola 2015; and Zürn, Chapter 8). An institutions legitimacy, for
example, can become stronger over time, allowing it to be more resistant to
shocks, or it can erode over time. Similarly, a norm can be more or less deeply
internalized, which will tell us something about how easily it can be over-
turned or undermined. The norm against assassinating heads of state, for
example, has arguably become weaker over time (i.e. less deep) even though it
did not change in scope (the scope being that the norm applies to heads of
state) (Thomas 2000). The institution has become less stable.
Similarly, changes in the compliance pull of an institution reect changes in
the depth of institutional authority, even in the absence of a change in
regulatory scope. Some scholars have argued that the codication of law, for
example customary international law, may increase its compliance pull, rep-
resenting a change in depth. Even in the absence of codication, customary
international law can become deeper, or more stable, over time through the
mechanism of precedence. The more often a precedent is invoked, the stron-
ger the customary law becomes, even when there is no change in the scope of
the law (Abbott and Snidal 2002).
While changes in scope and changes in depth are most intuitively under-
stood as changes within an institution, a large change in either scope or depth
(or both) might mean that an institution in t
no longer resembles the
institution in t
. Changes in both the scope and the depth of the GATT in
the early 1990s, for example, warranted treating the WTO as a new institution.
Recent reforms to the Financial Stability Forum (FSF)both in terms of scope
(the extension of membership as well as policy competence) and depth
(greater authority especially with respect to monitoring and surveillance)
have resulted in a change of name from the FSF to the Financial Stability
Board (FSB). There is signicant continuity between the FSF and FSB
(Helleiner 2014), but the change of name also indicates the sensibility that
the FSB is a new institution (see Fioretos, Chapter 3). The changes in NATO
over the 1990s, in contrast, have not led to a re-labeling of the organization as
something new.It is not our purpose here to establish criteria by which we
could judge when changes within an existing institution are so signicant as to
result in the creation of a new institution. Rather, we want to emphasize that
20 Thomas Rixen and Lora Anne Viola
taking into account the speed, scope, and depth of institutional change can
shed light both on the more familiar case in which an institution undergoes an
obvious change, which may be stabilizing or destabilizing, as well as situations
in which institutions remain apparently stable, even unchanging, over time
but still experience signicant transformation.
1.3.2. Common Assumptions about the Nature
of Institutional Change
Studies of institutional change might focus on all or only one or two dimen-
sions of change. It is unproblematic that some studies are more interested in
explaining the speed of change while others are interested in explaining the
extent of change. What is problematic, we argue, is not being explicit about
which dimensions are at stake. The HI literature, for instance, does not always
distinguish between the two dimensions of speed and scope. We can see this in
the fact that radical,”“incremental,and gradualare terms sometimes used
to characterize both the speed of change and also its extent. Both radicaland
punctuatedchange can refer to the magnitude or to the speed of change.
Similarly, incrementaland gradualare often used indiscriminately to refer
to small speed and small scope. Sometimes it is not clear which type of
variation is being explainedscope, depth, or speed.
Perhaps more problematic is that underlying this slippage in terms is a set
of implicitand untestedassumptions about how the dimensions of change
are likely to vary. One implicit assumption in parts of the HI literature is that
the speed of change is positively correlated with the extent of change. That is,
that slow change implies a small extent of change, while fast change implies a
large magnitude of change. For example, path-dependent developments with a
small extent of change are often depicted as slow and happening over the
course of time (e.g. North 1990: 83104) and radical, punctuated equilibrium
changes as happening rapidly. There is, however, no a priori theoretical reason
to presume these relations.
If, as we proposed earlier, speed should be understood as a relationship
between the amount of time in which a change takes place, then all logical
combinations between speed and extent are possible when time is allowed to
vary. Changes of large magnitude can happen quickly or slowly, and speedy
changes can occur without a large increase in scope or depth. So, for example,
we can imagine an institution changing speedily because the implementation
of the change happened in a short time frame but the actual scope and/or depth
of the change was minimal. In fact, the implicit assumption of a naturally
positive correspondence between speed and scope has recently been chal-
lenged. Streeck and Thelen (2005) and Mahoney and Thelen (2010) and
Historical Institutionalism and International Relations 21
their collaborators show that big changes often occur as a series of small and
slow-moving changes; a signicant transformation results from longer periods
of incremental change. This insight is readily made when we systematically
deconstruct change into its component dimensions, which opens up a full set of
possible combinations between speed, scope, and depth that can then be
systematically theorized.
The disaggregation of change into the three dimensions also reveals a set of
common, but untested, causal assumptions. The literature often assumes an
implicit connection between the speed of change and the speed of its causes;
for instance, that quickly occurring causal variables, such as sudden shocks,
lead to rapid change. This is the idea that a sudden event, such as a nancial
crisis, will lead to rapid change such as the quick passage of new regulatory
legislation (see Fioretos, Chapter 3). By the same logic, slow acting causal
variables should lead to slow or incremental change. But there is no a priori
reason to assume that the speed of change is a function of the speed of its
causes. In fact, it is logically possible that a slow cause can lead to either a slow
or rapid change, and a fast cause can lead to either a rapid or slow change. It
seems plausible that there are relevant cases where changes in the dependent
variable and changes in the independent variables occur at a different pace.
For example, there may be threshold effects, where some (independent)
variable is slowly increasing with no effect on the functioning of the institu-
tion, until it reaches a certain threshold at which abrupt change occurs (see e.g.
Pierson 2004: 934).
Another implicit assumption widespread in the literature is that there is a
causal connection between the speed of change and the type of cause. Two
types of causes identied in the literature are endogenous and exogenous
It is commonly assumed, perhaps inuenced by the idea of critical
junctures, that exogenous forces cause rapid change. Examples are major
shocks like wars, revolutions, or nancial crises. Likewise, many historical
institutionalists assume that endogenous change is most likely to be slow
and incremental (Fioretos 2011: 377).
The implicit hypothesis here is that,
because endogenous variables, by their nature, work from within the institu-
tion of which they are a part, endogenously caused change, if it occurs at all,
might meet with more resistance and thus move slowly. Path dependence, for
example, has become virtually synonymous with incremental change. But
here, too, there is no a priori reason to think that endogenously caused change
A variable is endogenous when its value is determined or inuenced by the institution in
question, and it in turn affects that institutions development. Variables are exogenous to an
institution when they are not controlled or determined by that institution, but they may
nevertheless affect its development.
For example, Heijden (2011: 10) writes: a broad distinction can be made between those
studying major change as a result of exogenous shocks, and those studying ongoing incremental
22 Thomas Rixen and Lora Anne Viola
would occur more gradually or incrementally than exogenously caused
change. And HI does not provide a theoretical reason why this relationship
should always hold. A nancial crisis (as an exogenous shock), for example,
may cause a slow-moving process of regulatory reform. Speed is simply a
description of how change occurs and does not on its own offer a causal story.
Our point here is that these relationships ought to be theorized and explicitly
tested rather than implicitly assumed. Explicitly conceptualizing change along
the three dimensions allows us to more systematically hypothesize relations of
correlation and causation, and this conceptualization will inform all the
studies in this volume.
We have made a case for the relevance and promise of HI for IR. IR can learn
much from HIs explicit attention to dynamic processes, its engagement of
endogenous sources of change, and its emphasis on the interaction of institu-
tions. We also recognize that HI on its ownlike the other institutional
approachesis not a fully constituted theory of institutional change. Accord-
ingly, the chapters to follow contribute to two important tasks. They show that
existing concepts of HI can help us to better understand and explain inter-
national institutional change, and that a fresh disciplinary focus on HI can
serve to develop its conceptual and theoretical foundations.
The empirical chapters address a range of institutions of interest to IR,
including the IMF, the nancial regulatory regime, the European Commission,
the World Health Organization, and the United Nations Security Council. The
chapters also demonstrate the diversity of methods that can be used within an
HI approach, from process tracing to comparative case study analysis to large-
N analysis. The cases also vary in the types of institutional attributes that are
changing. One set of chapters focuses on changing substantive rules and
policies. Fioretos in his contribution addresses changes in the regulatory
content of prudential nancial regulation. Moschella and Vetterlein explain
the IMFs gradual shift away from an income-approach to poverty reduction.
Büthe explains how the EU Commission gained regulatory authority over
government subsidy provisions, where previously such authority had been
absent. Another set of contributions seeks to explain change or non-change in
procedural rules and organizational structure. Alexandru Grigorescu explains
why and when IGO executive bodies change their rules of membership to
become more inclusive. Squatrito, Sommerer, and Tallberg analyze changes in
the formal rules governing access of civil society organizations to policy-
making processes in IGOs. Hanrieder focuses on how initial conicting
Historical Institutionalism and International Relations 23
preferences over a centralized versus a decentralized organizational structure
affected the subsequent development of the WHO.
Each chapter employs one or more of the three main conceptual tools of HI
(path dependence, critical junctures, and sequencing) and explicitly employs
the conceptualization of the dimensions of change (speed, scope, and depth)
set out in this introduction. The rst two contributionsBüthe and Fioretos
both focus on incremental processes of international institutional change that
are highly inuenced by domestic coalitions, leading to unintended outcomes.
Büthes chapter analyzes an increase in the depth and scope of supranational
European authority over government subsidies. The argument emphasizes the
importance of timing, sequencing, and self-reinforcing processes in explaining
this institutional outcome. In particular, early steps towards greater market
integration created new, and unanticipated, market actor preferences for
greater supranational authority with respect to state aid. Büthe develops an
actor-centered approach to HI in order to allow him to combine RIs assump-
tion of actorsstrategic rationality with HI assumptions about the feedback
role played by institutions in shaping and re-shaping actor interests over time.
In this sense, the chapter proposes an important renement of HI in order to
derive hypotheses about when we are likely to see institutional change in
global governance.
Fioretos investigates changes to nancial sector regulations in the wake of
the last global nancial crisis and argues that the absence of fundamental
reform should not be equated with the absence of important changes. While
many argue that regulatory reforms did not transform the nancial sector,
Fioretos shows how paying attention to incremental changes reveals an
unprecedented scope of reforms. The critical juncture of the crisis led to
speedy reforms followed by an intense incrementalism that expanded the
scope of regulations and appears to have increased the depth, or durability,
of institutions. Pre-crisis institutions were converted to deal with new issues
and new layers of governance were added onto existing institutions. In
particular, Fioretos argues that an interaction of domestic and international
reform efforts led to the retrottingof regulatory systems. In this way, like
Büthe, Fioretos points to the feedback effects that occur between domestic and
international actors.
The next three contributionsHanrieder, Grigorescu, and Moschella and
Vetterleinall focus on the importance of sequencing and path dependence
for explaining particular institutional developments. In Chapter 4 Hanrieder
investigates the depth of the regionalized organizational structure of the
WHO. She demonstrates how the sequence of events during an organizations
founding moment can set the international organization on a course of path
dependence, with long-lasting consequences for its future operation and
prospects for reform. She argues that the WHOs de facto regionalization
was conditioned by the coalition formed around the pre-existing Pan
24 Thomas Rixen and Lora Anne Viola
American Sanitary Bureau, a result not anticipated by the WHOs founders
but that has proven, over time, deeply robust to many later reform attempts.
Grigorescu focuses on the speed, scope, and depth of changes to the
membership rules of the executive bodies of IGOs. Focusing on the UN
Security Council and the Council of the League of Nations, Grigorescu
shows how the speed, scope, and depth of changes to the rules for permanent
and non-permanent membership varied. He then uses HI to explain why, over
the past century, some attempts to change membership rules were successful
while others were not. The answer lies in the particular sequence in which
prior reforms were undertaken. If reform efforts unfold at a time when
organizations are already transparent and inclusive of civil society organiza-
tions, powerful states are more likely to accept broader state membership
rules. If the pressure to reform comes before an IGO has opened up to civil
society, it can be diffused by rst adopting secondary reforms.
Moschella and Vetterlein highlight how a rened version of path depend-
ence can account for the depth of policy change within the IMF. Comparing a
case of self-reinforcing path dependence (i.e. the process of change through
which the Fund has acquired responsibility over poverty reduction) and a case
of reactive path dependence (i.e. the process of change through which the IMF
developed policies of nancial surveillance over time), this chapter discloses
the mechanisms that account for the divergent organizational changes in these
two cases. Importantly, the authors argue that this nuanced approach to path
dependence needs to be combined with insights from sociological institution-
alism in order to understand why some changes are down the pathwhile
others are off the path.
Chapter 7, by Squatrito, Sommerer, and Tallberg, explores the extent to
which the notion of critical junctures can explain institutional dynamics. They
show that since 1950 international organizations have undergone a dramatic
shift away from exclusively interstate cooperation toward more complex
forms of governance involving the participation of transnational actors
(TNAs). Building on a data set of fty IGOs they rst provide a detailed
description of the speed, scope, and depth of this process and then go on to ask
how it can be explained. They argue that the opening up of IGOs to TNAs
after 1990 has been driven by two structural factorsdeepening cooperation
among nation states and domestic democratizationin combination with the
end of the Cold War as a critical juncture. The authors are very careful to use
strict criteria to identify the end of the Cold War as a critical juncture with
respect to the process they analyze and thus address a shortcoming in some
existing applications of the concept: while historical institutionalists have
convincingly shown that critical junctures can have pervasive consequences,
they have not systematically analyzed the origins of these events. With their
chapter, Squatrito, Sommerer, and Tallberg demonstrate that the concepts of
HI cannot only be used in small-N but also in large-N research.
Historical Institutionalism and International Relations 25
Finally, in the concluding discussion, Zürn draws out lessons from the
preceding chapters in order to assess the extent to which HI can be usefully
transferred to IR. Against objections that the international system is not
institutionally thickenough to be subject to the dynamics outlined by HI,
he shows that the international realm is largely subject to the same conditions
that make HI concepts tractable at the domestic levelindeed, international
institutions are getting older and stronger and more clearly embedded in
complex inter-relationships. Finally, Zürn discusses how we should best
understand HI in relation to the other theories of institutions within IR. It is
with this debate that we close this introductory chapter.
Having made the case that HI ought to have a place within institutionalist
IR, the question remains, what place? If IR is to turn to HI, what role should
HI have in IR? Indeed, there is a growing debate about the relative status of
the various institutionalist theories (Nexon 2012; Fioretos 2011; Bell 2011;
Jupille et al. 2013, 20816). Should HI be integrated synthetically with RI and
SI? Should it be elevated to its own theoretical tradition, on par with ration-
alism and constructivism? Or is it a via media in the rationalistconstructivist
In this debate the status of HI hinges on whether one sees it as having its
own hard theoretical core and distinct microfoundations (i.e. its own assump-
tions about human agency and preferences). As we see it, there are three
positions in the literature. First, the synthesisapproach essentially sees HI as
having insights compatible with and capable of being integrated into RI or
SI. It has two variants. One version argues that HI rests on claims and
assumptions that are indistinguishable from those of RI or SI, respectively.
For example, Barnett and Finnemore (2004) invoke a sociological/construct-
ivist approach to institutions while at the same time incorporating important
insights associated with HI. Likewise, Bates (1998) argues in a distinctly
rationalist vein that implicitly incorporates HI notions. This approach
becomes problematic when it uses HI concepts as stopgap tools brought in
to plug the holes left by other theories; in other words, where HI is engaged
simply to explain the error term or residuals rather than being recognized for
its theoretical distinctness and independence.
A further problem with this
approach is that it picks and chooses insights from different paradigms
This is an RI approach that, for instance, draws on HI to help explain suboptimal or
inefcient outcomes despite clearly ordered actor preferences. Or, this is an SI approach that has
difculty explaining change and so draws on the HI notion of critical juncture.
26 Thomas Rixen and Lora Anne Viola
without regard to theoretical coherence and epistemological/ontological con-
sistency. Indeed, arguments have been made that HI can be subsumed under
both RI and SI, even though the latter two have very different ontologies and
While this might point to HIs own lack of ontological
and epistemological commitmentsa point to which we return belowwe
maintain that the subsumption of HI under its competitors does not do justice
to the distinctness of the approach.
The other variant of the synthesis approach argues that the insights of
HI can be combined with another approach to create a newinstitutionalism.
This strategy has been pursued in particular by those seeking to re-balance
the elds focus on agency and structure. Rational Choice Historical Institu-
tionalism(RCHI), for example, combines RI and HI in the attempt to correct
for HIs perceived over-emphasis on stability to the neglect of agency
(Lindner and Rittberger 2003). In a mirror-image move, the institutional
choice theory termed USCC, developed by Jupille, Mattli, and Snidal (2013),
combines HI and RI in an attempt to bring a corrective focus on structural
constraints to the overly agency-oriented RI. Others have argued for a new,
agent-oriented constructivist or discursiveinstitutionalism (Schmidt 2010),
that combines insights from SI and HI. This approach gives signicant
weight to moments of great transformation,leading to a strong emphasis
on the role of crisis in creating rapid changes. It is questionable, however,
whether we need any more newnew institutionalismsespecially because
these represent not new theories as such, but new applications or combin-
ations of existing theories. As exemplied in a number of chapters in this
volume (see e.g. Büthe in Chapter 2 and Moschella and Vetterlein in
Chapter 6) and discussed by Zürn in the conclusion, the exercise is indeed to
see how existing approaches can be blended,but without a proliferation of
new labels.
The second response to the question of HIs place in IR is to argue that HI
should be considered a distinct tradition on par with rational choice institu-
tionalism and sociological institutionalism. Fioretos, for example, sees HI as
having a discrete theoretical core and as having microfoundations which
distinguish it from both RI and SI. While acknowledging that HI scholars
have not explicated the microfoundations of their approach, he maintains that
they share certain assumptions about how the past gures into actorsevalu-
ations of alternatives and that these common assumptions, which are broadly
in line with bounded rationality and prospect theory, can be seen as HIs
It has of course also been argued that SI and RI can be subsumed under each other.
Without getting into the debate on this issue here (see e.g. Fearon and Wendt 2002; Zürn and
Checkel 2005), we do take the position that, while the two approaches can be usefully combined,
both maintain a hard core made up of different ontological and microfoundational commit-
ments that prevent a subsumption.
Historical Institutionalism and International Relations 27
implicit microfoundations (Fioretos 2011, 3736). This position notwith-
standing, there is still no consensus on whether HI has distinct microfounda-
tions or what they are (Nexon 2012). An additional problem with advocating
for a stark tripartite division of institutionalisms in IR is that it sets up HI as a
competitor with other approaches. As we read the current state of institution-
alist work, however, there is greater interest in and innovation coming from
using blends rather than in perpetuating a purist commitment to either of
the three paradigms. Three-cornered ghts are giving way to eclecticism in
institutionalist theorizing (Sil and Katzenstein 2010).
The third, via media,response stakes out a middle ground between
seeing HI as merely a sub-part of another theory and seeing it as its
own paradigm to rival rationalism and constructivism. This perspective
acknowledges HIs distinctness but sees its usefulness primarily in combin-
ation with different approaches. This position credits HI with having its
own discrete theoretical core developed around a distinct set of analytical
concepts and theoretical models (Fioretos 2011; Katznelson and Weingast
2005). For this reason, HI cannot simply be subsumed under either of the
two established institutionalist approaches or newly made up additional
institutionalisms, but should be viewed as an institutionalist school in its
own right. At the same time, however, there are currently no strong onto-
logical commitments or a shared set of explicit microfoundations within
scholarship identifying itself as HI. Indeed, in the via media view, HI, unlike
RI and SI, cannot be coherently reconstructed in terms of a singular theory
of individual action.
The acknowledged indeterminacy of HIs microfoundations may be one of
its strengths. If most human action falls in the range between a pure logic of
appropriatenessand a pure logic of consequences,self-consciously embra-
cing the indeterminacy in HIs microfoundations may allow the analyst to
capture a broader range of motives. Rather than committing to a logic of
action ex ante, it leaves the question to be decided by each empirical case. This
position embraces the idea that HI may be, and has in fact long been,
conducted from both more rationalist and more sociological perspectives.
As Zürn discusses in the conclusion to this volume, HIs compatibility with
other theoretical traditions is a particular strength of HI. In this sense, he
argues, HI should not be viewed as a new paradigmor grand theoryof
institutional stability and change, but rather as a coherent set of mid-range
theoretical tools. In such a pluralist understanding, HI is recognized as having
a distinct theoretical core characterized by its dual commitment to the
importance of temporality and to endogenizing institutions but one that is
ontologically naive and compatible with various theories of social action
(Nexon 2012; Thelen 1999).
No matter how it is ultimately incorporated in the eld, the case studies in
this volume demonstrate that HI provides IR with a distinct set of conceptual
28 Thomas Rixen and Lora Anne Viola
tools and mechanisms for understanding international institutions. With it we
are better equipped to investigate the complex ways in which change and
continuity mix, to show how institutional stability provides insights for
explaining the emergence of institutional change, and to understand the
ways in which situated agency and instrumentalized structures interact.
We thank all participants of the two WZB workshops for their constructive feedback.
Draft versions of this chapter were also presented at the meeting of the International
Relations section of the German Political Science Association (DVPW) in Munich,
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34 Thomas Rixen and Lora Anne Viola
... Initially focusing on national political institutions, processes, and outcomes, at the end of 1990s the institutionalist perspective was taken up by European Union (EU) studies of integration and EU governance [Pollack, 2004]. More recently, historical institutionalism was adopted by some scholars of international relations to explore international stability and change [Rixen, Viola, 2016] and informal clubs such as the G20 [Viola, 2019]. It has not been used so far to trace the G20 or any other institution's dynamics across a lifespan. ...
The Group of 20 (G20) brought together leaders of the key advanced and emerging market countries to manage the 2007–08 financial and economic crises, reform the international architecture, devise a new global consensus, ensure recovery, and promote strong, sustainable, and balanced growth. Established as an anti-crisis mechanism and designated by its members as a premier forum for international economic cooperation, the G20 transformed into a global governance hub. Since its first summit, the G20 has generated high expectations and has become a subject of research and assessment for analysts, mass media, and the general public. Each summit’s deliberations, decisions, and engagements have been scrutinized. Critics of the G20 claim it has lost relevance and was not capable of responding to the degradation of multilateralism, or the COVID-19 pandemic and the crisis it induced. In this article, the logic of historical institutionalism is applied to explore the confluence of dynamics in the G20’s evolution: demand for G20 leadership; agenda expansion and institutionalization; and legitimation, accountability, and engagements. It is concluded that the G20 changed global governance trends, creating a more inclusive global governance that integrates the G20’s own extensive and diverse cooperation networks with the networks of the other international institutions and engagement groups involved in G20 policy processes. The networked governance, alongside the rotating presidency, the Troika, and various outreach mechanisms, augment the G20’s authority and reduce the legitimacy gap perception. The benefits from the early decisions, established and expanding agenda, patterns of engagement, cognitive scripts, embedded ideas, and internalized norms became strong endogenous sources of stability, reinforced in positive feedback loops. Despite tensions between members, the value that the G20 provides and the global public goods it generates, real and expected returns, constitute significant incentives for the G20’s continued engagement, sustain its evolving dynamics, and consolidate its path-dependency. The downside of the G20’s resilience is its inability to undertake innovative initiatives in the wake of COVID-19 or to provide the powerful leadership the world needed to overcome the pandemic and the related economic and social crises. Notwithstanding these failures, the G20 remains the crucial hub of contemporary global economic governance. However, the lock-in may entail the risk of losing relevance to other institutions.
... Such a wide range of communication between different stakeholders can lead to a better understanding of the perception of business crisis situations. These can potentially provide more competitive solutions to crisis management, considering several influential aspects of the topic under consideration [74][75][76]. ...
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The main aim of this article was to outline how the appearance of COVID-19 changed the global competitiveness of Slovenian companies through the lenses of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and crisis management. Based on concepts of CSR and crisis management, we analyzed the responses of companies to ensure their competitiveness in a crisis situation. Two surveys among managers in Slovenian companies were carried out, one in March 2020 (N = 618) and the other in May 2020 (N = 486). Our results showed that internationally oriented companies responded more comprehensively and proactively to the challenges of doing business in the COVID-19 crisis compared to the companies that had operated mainly in the domestic market during this period. The analysis also showed that internationally oriented companies responded to the COVID-19 crisis with more comprehensive measures also using the concept of CSR and crisis management in comparison with companies that, in the time of the pandemic, operated mainly in the domestic market and used fewer principles of CSR and crisis management. The main theoretical implications of this survey are related to CSR development. They emphasize the interdependent importance of experience and impact in international business in connection with the concept of CSR and crisis management in times of COVID-19. Practical implications include proposals to streamline operations to maintain competitiveness and to take advantage of new business opportunities and effects, which are also encouraged through the use of the CSR concept and crisis management.
The Permanent Structured Cooperation in Defence (PESCO) and the European Defence Fund (EDF) constitute another attempt to consolidate the European defence market. In this article, we explain the different engagements of Czechia and Portugal in the two initiatives until 2021 through the evolution and reform of the domestic institutions governing their defence industrial policies. We trace how the institutions were established, how they contributed to the national position on PESCO and EDF and how the two countries' defence industries became involved. The article shows how the different institutionalisation of the defence sector allowed Portugal and its companies to participate more than their Czech counterparts. We contribute to historical institutionalist scholarship by evidencing the critical role of ideas in promoting and preventing policy change. We also offer an insight into the practice of European defence co‐operation and identify processes that challenge further integration.
The United Nations in Global Tax Coordination fills the decade-long knowledge gap in international tax history concerning the UN Fiscal Commission, which functioned as the overarching fiscal authority during the early post-World War II economic order. With insights from political economy and international relations scholarship, this critical archival examination chronicles the tenacious activism by post-colonial developing countries to preserve source taxation rights, and by the UN Secretariat in championing the development of equitable tax rules. Such activism would ultimately lead developed countries to oust the UN as a forum for international tax norm setting. The book includes a revealing prehistory of the wartime work of the League of Nations that questions the legitimacy of the Mexico Model, the first model tax convention between developed and developing countries. This expertly researched work is essential reading for understanding the roles of politics, states, secretariats and private actors in directing global tax coordination.
Das nachfolgende Kapitel beschäftigt sich mit der Analyse von Global-Governance-Systemen (GG-Systemen). Zu Beginn des ersten Unterkapitels wird definiert, was unter einem GG-System zu verstehen ist. Dabei rückt der problemlösende Charakter von GG-Systemen ins Zentrum. In diesem Zusammenhang werden auch die einzelnen Strukturelemente eines GG-Systems behandelt, um anschließend drei unterschiedliche Formen von GG-Systemen zu betrachten: GG-Systeme mit integrierter und mit speziellen Aufgaben betrauter IOs, GG-Systeme mit Sekretariaten, die über geringe delegierte Autonomie verfügen (Regimetyp) sowie GG-Systeme, die netzwerkförmig organisiert sind, wobei die Knotenpunkte häufig von privaten Akteuren (Organisationen) gebildet werden. Die Leistungsfähigkeit (Steuerungsfähigkeit) von GG-Systemen hängt von zahlreichen Faktoren ab, von denen für jeden GG-Typ die jeweils wichtigsten untersucht werden. Dabei sind Steuerungsdefizite von GG-Systemen vor dem Hintergrund der von ihnen zu bewältigenden Aufgaben zu beurteilen.
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As wildfires rage, pollution thickens, and species disappear, the world confronts environmental crisis with a set of global institutions in urgent need of reform. Yet, these institutions have proved frustratingly resistant to change. Introducing the concept of Temporal Focal Points, Manulak shows how change occurs in world politics. By re-envisioning the role of timing and temporality in social relations, his analysis presents a new approach to understanding transformative phases in international cooperation. We may now be entering such a phase, he argues, and global actors must be ready to realize the opportunities presented. Charting the often colorful and intensely political history of change in global environmental politics, this book sheds new light on the actors and institutions that shape humanity's response to planetary decline. It will be of interest to scholars and advanced students of international relations, international organization and environmental politics and history.
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Cilj ovog rada jeste da predstavi istorijski institucionalizam kao jedan od pristupa proučavanja uzroka krize hipotekarnog duga u SAD. Kao što će biti prikazano, za razliku od tradicionalnog pristupa koji ovu krizu smešta u ok- vire isključivo ekonomskih uzroka i interesa koji su opredelili ponašanja koja su dovela do uvećanja rizika po finansijski sistem SAD, istorijski institucionali- zam je pogodan jer omogućava da uzroke krize smestimo u političke okvire, odnosno da proučavamo krizu hipotekarnog duga kao posledicu ekonomskih poremećaja nastalih usled političkih odluka, odnosno usled izmena institucionalnog okvira SAD. Up- ravo zbog toga, rad tretira istorijski institucionalizam uporedno, predstavljajući njegove prednosti u odnosu na dominantan pristup uzrocima krize koji se može obja- sniti pretpostavkama teorije racionalnog izbora. Ovaj rad dakle predstavlja jednu studiju slučaja, koja nam praktično pokazuje potencijal istorijskog institucionali- zma da objasni delovanje institucija i dalekosežnost posledica takvog delovanja.
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As Western-led institutions of global governance adapt to global power shifts, the question of which countries dominate, and how, increasingly animates scholarship. Yet while attention has shifted from ‘Great’ to ‘Rising’ Powers, the underlying focus on market power has changed little. In this article, we shift the focus to alternative forms of power that developing countries can wield in global governance, specifically in highly technical transnational negotiations. Reconceptualising the notion of ‘regulatory capacity’, we argue that states can overcome limited market power through socio-technical resources: expertise and professional networks. These resources form the basis through which policy claims become authoritative and they enable emerging state coalitions to influence policy-making. To demonstrate this, we analyse developing countries’ involvement in standard-setting for international corporate taxation. Specifically, we study the newly established G20/OECD Inclusive Framework, an experiment where more than 140 jurisdictions participate in negotiations that were previously the preserve of OECD states. Based on unique attendance data and interviews with dozens of participants, we perform a detailed analysis of specific policy decisions, interrogating the extent and sources of developing countries’ influence. We find that socio-technical resources allow individuals from lower-income countries to achieve narrow yet significant successes, punching above their weight in global governance. © 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.
Global governance has come under increasing pressure since the end of the Cold War. In some issue areas, these pressures have led to significant changes in the architecture of governance institutions. In others, institutions have resisted pressures for change. This volume explores what accounts for this divergence in architecture by identifying three modes of governance: hierarchies, networks, and markets. The authors apply these ideal types to different issue areas in order to assess how global governance has changed and why. In most issue areas, hierarchical modes of governance, established after World War II, have given way to alternative forms of organization focused on market or network-based architectures. Each chapter explores whether these changes are likely to lead to more or less effective global governance across a wide range of issue areas. This provides a novel and coherent theoretical framework for analysing change in global governance.
This chapter provides a reflection on race and Historical International Relations (IR). It draws from emerging scholarship on the intersections between race, history, and IR and interrogates histories of race in IR and politics. It discusses the importance of race as a lens to understand the development of the modern international state system as well as forming the basis for disciplinary inquiry in IR. This chapter then points to the ongoing discussions and methods used by scholars to recentre race in IR. Drawing from these discussions, it considers the racialization, colonization, and displacements of indigenous communities in North America, noting how intellectual displacements and the displacement of indigenous bodies were facilitated by the development of residential schools. Using this example, we highlight how analysing race can reveal the material and ideational legacies of colonialism, the false division between the domestic and international, and the centrality of race in the maintenance of the current global order and IR.
Applying the new economics of organization and relational theories of the firm to the problem of understanding cross‐national variation in the political economy, this volume elaborates a new understanding of the institutional differences that characterize the ‘varieties of capitalism’ found among the developed economies. Building on a distinction between ‘liberal market economies’ and ‘coordinated market economies’, it explores the impact of these variations on economic performance and many spheres of policy‐making, including macroeconomic policy, social policy, vocational training, legal decision‐making, and international economic negotiations. The volume examines the institutional complementarities across spheres of the political economy, including labour markets, markets for corporate finance, the system of skill formation, and inter‐firm collaboration on research and development that reinforce national equilibria and give rise to comparative institutional advantages, notably in the sphere of innovation where LMEs are better placed to sponsor radical innovation and CMEs to sponsor incremental innovation. By linking managerial strategy to national institutions, the volume builds a firm‐centred comparative political economy that can be used to assess the response of firms and governments to the pressures associated with globalization. Its new perspectives on the welfare state emphasize the role of business interests and of economic systems built on general or specific skills in the development of social policy. It explores the relationship between national legal systems, as well as systems of standards setting, and the political economy. The analysis has many implications for economic policy‐making, at national and international levels, in the global age.
Until recently, dominant theoretical paradigms in the comparative social sciences did not highlight states as organizational structures or as potentially autonomous actors. Indeed, the term 'state' was rarely used. Current work, however, increasingly views the state as an agent which, although influenced by the society that surrounds it, also shapes social and political processes. The contributors to this volume, which includes some of the best recent interdisciplinary scholarship on states in relation to social structures, make use of theoretically engaged comparative and historical investigations to provide improved conceptualizations of states and how they operate. Each of the book's major parts presents a related set of analytical issues about modern states, which are explored in the context of a wide range of times and places, both contemporary and historical, and in developing and advanced-industrial nations. The first part examines state strategies in newly developing countries. The second part analyzes war making and state making in early modern Europe, and discusses states in relation to the post-World War II international economy. The third part pursues new insights into how states influence political cleavages and collective action. In the final chapter, the editors bring together the questions raised by the contributors and suggest tentative conclusions that emerge from an overview of all the articles. As a programmatic work that proposes new directions for the analysis of modern states, the volume will appeal to a wide range of teachers and students of political science, political economy, sociology, history, and anthropology.