The Review of International Organizations

, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp 117–143 | Cite as

Punctuated equilibrium in the energy regime complex

  • Jeff D. Colgan
  • Robert O. Keohane
  • Thijs Van de GraafEmail author


The concept of a regime complex has proved fruitful to a burgeoning literature in international relations, but it has also opened up new questions about how and why they develop over time. This article describes the history of the energy regime complex as it has changed over the past 40 years, and interprets this history in light of an interpretive framework of the sources of institutional change. One of its principal contributions is to highlight what Stephen Krasner referred to as a pattern of “punctuated equilibrium” reflecting both periods of stasis and periods of innovation, as opposed to a gradual process of change. We show that the timing of innovation depends on dissatisfaction and shocks and that the nature of innovation—that is, whether it is path-dependent or de novo—depends on interest homogeneity among major actors. This paper is the first to demonstrate the empirical applicability of the punctuated equilibrium concept to international regime complexes, and contributes to the eventual development of a dynamic theory of change in regime complexes.


Regime complex Energy Institutional innovation Institutional design Oil Punctuated equilibrium Path dependence 

JEL Classification

F50 F53 F55 F59 N70 Q48 Q49 



First of all, we thank Lauren Bleakney for excellent research assistance on the revision of this paper, which included not only collecting information and making calculations, but also making very perceptive critical points about the manuscript that led directly to improvements. For comments on early drafts of this paper, we thank Joseph Nye, Peter Katzenstein, and participants of the Princeton IR Graduate Seminar, the 4th Annual Conference on The Political Economy of International Organizations, January 27-29, 2011, Zurich, and the 2nd ULB-UGent Workshop on International Relations, May 27-28, Brussels. We are grateful to the anonymous reviewers of the RIO for their very perceptive and helpful comments. Two of the authors (Colgan and Van de Graaf) have benefited from participation in the S.T. Lee Project on Global Governance led by Ann Florini at the National University of Singapore. We thank the organizers and participants, who have contributed to our thinking about this paper. Jeff Colgan gratefully acknowledges financial support from The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation; Robert O. Keohane acknowledges generous research support from Princeton University; and Thijs Van de Graaf acknowledges the Flemish Research Foundation (FWO) for a PhD fellowship.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeff D. Colgan
    • 1
  • Robert O. Keohane
    • 2
  • Thijs Van de Graaf
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.School of International ServiceAmerican UniversityWashingtonUSA
  2. 2.Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International AffairsPrinceton UniversityPrincetonUSA
  3. 3.Ghent Institute for International StudiesGhent UniversityGhentBelgium

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