Thursday, December 28, 2017

Summary: International Institutions: Two Approaches / Robert Keohane

To understand the conditions under which cooperation can take place, one must understand how international institutions operate and how they come into being. All cooperation take place in somehow an institutional way. Cooperation is a contested term, the way Keohane uses it, it is distinguished from discord and harmony. Cooperation requires that the actions of separate individuals or organizations must be brought in conformity with each other.
The impact of cooperation can be measured by looking at the difference between the impact of the outcome of it and the impact of outcome when there would be no cooperation. Cooperation knows different views: rationalistic and reflectivist. The chief argument of the article is as follow:
Students of international relations should direct their attention to the relative merits of two those approaches. Until we understand the strengths and weaknesses of both, we will be unable to design research strategies that are sufficiently multifaceted to encompass our subject-matter, and our empirical work will suffer accordingly.
The article and this summary will be build as follow:

1. Definitions of international institutions.
2. Rationalist approach
3. Reflective approach.
4. Conclusion.

1.       Definitions. 

after mentioning different forms of institutions, Keohane mentions the following: ‘’I will focus on institutions that can be identified as related complexes of rules and norms, identifiable in time and space.’’
He means that we have to look at institutions that are auctioning particular activity and have general norms that can be attached to any number of rule complexes. In this way, he can focus on specific institutions and on practices. Specific institutions can be defined in terms of their rules. Those have to be durable and must prescribe behavioural roles for actors that are constrained by it. 

He calls it summary rules. They summarize the past and predict what will happen in the future. Those rules are comprehended by practices: the mark of a practice that being taught how to engage in it involves being instructed in the rules that define it, and that appeal is made to those rules to correct the behaviour of those engaged in it. Those engaged, should not oppose to these, because that will be punished (Rawls). According to Rawls, sovereignty is a practice because it contains a set of rules that define it and that can be used to correct states’ behaviour.
2.       Rationalist.

assumption: scarcity and competition as well as rationality from the actors.
It is the combination of potential value and the difficulty of making them that renders international regimes significant. The view them as patterns of cost. If transaction costs (transferring info about cooperation partner) are negligible, it won’t be necessary to create new institutions to facilitate mutually beneficial exchange. According to this theory, transaction costs are never negligible, so one should expect institutions when the costs of communication, monitoring and enforcement are relatively low compared to benefits generated from it. They can’t be politically neutral though.

It does not account though why they occur in only some fields. There are hypotheses though: some are not created because the benefits are not high enough. Hegemony is a necessary condition. The slowing away of a hegemon can create a reason for the diminishing of an institution.

So it does account how they occur and when, but why and what kinds will and won’t develop. It is good at posing questions, but not in giving answers. Rationalism also needs to extend its vision on history. To overview the history, you can conclude why some occurred. Theories of path-dependence in economics might account for reasons why they occur. Some organisations still exist (GATT), though they are not efficient. Why? Sunk costs might able to remain them or considerations of power are involved over the years. This shows the importance of history.
3.       Reflectivist.
This focusses on processes and sociological effects. It is not only about human beings shaping them, it is also about changing environments. The critique on rationalist comes back here by saying that a lack of focus on history is filled up by reflectivist approaches. Sociological changes are also important and institutions are not only shaped from the outside. There is lack of consideration in context. Learning and consciousness should also be taken into account.

Keohane mentions the criticism on rationalist:

- the assumption of equilibrium is often misleading
-       Rationalists account better for strange in strength than in change of cultural values.
-       It does not take into account social processes of reflection and learning.
-       It has little to say about the evolution of practices and its origins.
Though, Keohane argues that these critiques are not devastating. No social science is complete and this is a perfect explanatory framework. Reflective is not that good since it has no clear cut data to use. Neither does pay attention to domestic politics.
4.       Conclusions.

- International institutions are important, but without cooperation we are lost.
-. Rationalistic approach needs to be contextualized historically, they do need an explanation that is not embedded in practices that are not entirely explicable through rationalistic analysis.
- reflective needs to develop own theories instead of omitting rationalistic theories.
- we hope for a synthesis between both.

*ATTENTION: KEOHANE PRESENTS IT LIKE HE IS EVALUATING BOTH APPROACHES, BUT IS CLEARLY MORE FOND OF RATIONAL APPROACH ABOVE REFLECTIVE. THIS IS BECAUSE OF LACK OF DATA USE IN REFLECTIVE APPROACH*  

see also: The Demand for International Regimes / Robert Keohane

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