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Informal governance in world politics

Abstract

Informal modes of cooperation are a central element of the complex institutional architecture of contemporary global governance. Collectively and individually, the contributions to this special issue broaden the emerging research on informal governance in world politics and provide novel empirical analyses based on unique data. In this introduction, we outline the research questions and puzzles that the special issue addresses. We then sketch three types of informality in world politics: Informality of institutions, within institutions, and around institutions. We discuss each type and provide examples from the contributions to the special issue and the existing literature. We consider how differentiating among these types of informality provides novel insights into the causes of informal global governance. We also identify candidate independent variables which, individually and in combination, should allow researchers to explain the striking variation in the growth and distribution of informal governance in world affairs. We summarize the main findings of the contributions and conclude by outlining an agenda for future research on informal governance in world politics.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    For extensive reviews of the literature, see Haggard and Simmons (1987), Martin and Simmons (1998, 2012), and Keohane and Martin (2003).

  2. 2.

    More surprising is the degree of formality that sometimes emerges within supposedly informal international institutions, such as the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision or the Kimberley Process. Abbott et al. (2018), for example, discuss how transgovernmental networks may be structured and operate just as formally as some FIGOs. In this special issue, Reinsberg and Westerwinter (2021) and Westerwinter (2021) also show how informal international institutions, such as IIGOs and TGIs, may adopt organizational structures that display a considerable degree of formality.

  3. 3.

    Westerwinter (2021, 2020) describes in detail how the data was collected and presents additional descriptive statistics.

  4. 4.

    The identification of IIGOs is based on Vabulas and Snidal (2013, forthcoming).

  5. 5.

    The percentages across issue areas do not sum to 100 because issue areas are not coded as mutually exclusive. One FIGO, IIGO, or TGI can operate in more than one issue area.

  6. 6.

    The online appendix is available at the Review of International Organizations’ website.

  7. 7.

    Correlates of War Project. 2017. “State System Membership List, v2016.” http://www.correlatesofwar.org/data-sets/state-system-membership, accessed: 26.03.2020.

  8. 8.

    http://www.uia.org/yearbook, accessed: 26.03.2020.

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Funding

Funding from the Swiss Network for International Studies (SNIS) and the University of St. Gallen is gratefully acknowledged. Oliver Westerwinter is also grateful for the generous support of the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies and the Max Weber Programme at the European University Institute. We would like to thank the excellent research assistance of Stefano Jud in preparing this paper. We thank the participants in the workshops on the Politics of Informal Governance in St. Gallen (October 6–7, 2016) and Geneva (May 19–20, 2017) as well as the editor of this journal for helpful comments.

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Westerwinter, O., Abbott, K.W. & Biersteker, T. Informal governance in world politics. Rev Int Organ 16, 1–27 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11558-020-09382-1

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Keywords

  • Informal governance
  • International institutions
  • International organizations
  • Institutional design
  • Global governance
  • International relations