International Organizations as Corporate Actors: Agency and Emergence in Theories of International Relations

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Preprints of the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods Bonn 2008/7

International Organizations as Corporate Actors: Agency and Emergence in Theories of International Relations

Remi Maier-Rigaud

MAX PLANCK SOCIETY

Preprints of the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods

Bonn 2008/7

International Organizations as Corporate Actors: Agency and Emergence in Theories of International Relations

Remi Maier-Rigaud

February 2008

Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods, Kurt-Schumacher-Str. 10, D-53113 Bonn http://www.coll.mpg.de

International Organizations as Corporate Actors: Agency and Emergence in Theories of International Relations

Remi Maier-Rigaud1

Introduction I. Reductionist theories of international organizations 1. Neorealism 2. Rational choice institutionalism

2 4 4 10 17 17 18 21 21 25 29 30

II. Foundations for a conceptualization of emergent international organizations 1. Symbolic interactionism 2. Social constructivism: inter-state practice matters III. Emergence, autonomy and power of international organizations 1. International organizations as emergent high-order corporate actors 2. Knowledge generation and the productive power of discourses Conclusion References

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This chapter has benefited from many discussions within the Corporate Actors Group at the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods. I want to thank Martin Beckenkamp, Julia Ellinger, Christoph Engel, Stefanie Brilon, Frank Maier-Rigaud, Andreas Nicklisch, Tobias Salz and Anne van Aken, for their helpful comments. I am also indebted to Brian Cooper for his linguistic assistance. Last but not least, I want to thank Alkuin Koelliker, who not just commented on this chapter several times in a very helpful way, but who discussed this project and provided important input from the start to the finalization of this chapter. 1

Introduction
Since the end of World War II, international organizations have increasingly gained in importance for inter-state cooperation and international politics. Whereas some international organizations seem to function solely as fora for the coordination of state actor interests, others seem to have emerged as actors of their own. In order to discuss this observation, two questions will be raised. First, are international organizations unitary actors? Like treaties between states (e.g., free trade agreements) and regional integration arrangements, international organizations are a subcategory of international institutions.2 International institutions are a “set of rules meant to govern international behaviour” (Simmons/Martin 2002: 194). This definition is based on the broader definition of institutions as rules of the game in social life by Douglass North: “Institutions are [...] the humanly devised constraints that shape human interaction” (North 1990: 3). International organizations are a physical entity with a bureaucratic structure that embodies a set of rules. The other sub-categories of institutions are often contained in international organizations, implying a more qualified type of institution. Therefore, international organizations are the most differentiated type of international institution. This is reflected in the fact that most international organizations3 are accorded legal personality in international law.4 However, not all international organizations are corporate actors and the state of legal personality does not automatically make an international organization a corporate actor. Rather, a corporate actor5 is composed of parts or members, but its behavior is not decomposable or reducible to its parts. This necessary and sufficient feature of corporate actors is called ‘emergence’ and accounts for the autonomy of corporate actors. The process of emergence has been described by Flam (1990: 5) as driven by the capacity of “member-created organizations […] to transform themselves from a ‘mere’ set of formal...
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