The Review of International Organizations

, Volume 13, Issue 4, pp 519–546 | Cite as

Self-legitimation in the face of politicization: Why international organizations centralized public communication

  • Matthias Ecker-EhrhardtEmail author


International organizations (I0) have centralized their public communication to a large extent over recent decades by undertaking a broader codification of communication tasks as well as a departmentalization of these tasks within units of IO bureaucracies. The paper provides the first systematic analysis of this important development in institutional design using a novel data set on the organization of public communication in 48 IOs between 1950 and 2015. It identifies self-legitimation as a key driver of centralization in the face of increased levels of politicization, that is, public awareness and activism directed at IOs. Empirically, the study suggests that the centralization of public communication significantly increases as transnational civil society organizes and gains access to IO decision-making. Further, politicization in terms of contentious activism and public scandals substantially accounts for varying levels of centralization across IOs.


International organization Institutional design Communication Politicization Legitimation Transnational civil society Non-state access Political protest Political scandal 

JEL Classification

C23 D73 D83 F53 M31 



Research for this article was funded by the German Research Foundation (EC 323/1-2). Essential research assistance by Manuel Hofmann, Stefan Wiechmann, Florence Wild, Minna Ålander, Roisin Cronin and Laura Jung is gratefully acknowledged. I wish to give special thanks to the three anonymous reviewers, and Axel Dreher for detailed comments and recommendations.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Arbeitsstelle Transnationale Beziehungen, Außen- und SicherheitspolitikFreie Universität BerlinBerlinGermany

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