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Challenging conventional explanations of international cooperation: negotiation analysis and the case of epistemic communities


  • Sebenius, James K.


Analyses of international policy cooperation are often marked by analytic and empirical confusion. First, by largely treating cooperation as a binary phenomenon (typically, as cooperation versus defection), they direct attention away from crucial issues of distribution, the possibility of suboptimal cooperation, and the degree of unrealized joint gains. Second, even when simple matrix games with known payoffs capture distributional conflict and Pareto-inferiority, they typically do so by suppressing the inherent uncertainty and the need to learn, especially with respect to payoffs and values. And, third, even when they take both power and knowledge-dependent joint gains into account, they often treat the two as competing alternatives or as analytically separable, rather than as inherently bound together in the bargaining process. This article describes the emerging negotiation-analytic approach and argues that it provides a useful framework within which these conceptual problems can be avoided and explanatory power can be enhanced. From a negotiation-analytic perspective, it argues, epistemic communities can be viewed as distinctive de facto natural coalitions of “believers†whose main interest lies not in meeting material objectives but, rather, in expanding to become winning coalitions capable of ensuring the adoption of specific policy projects. An epistemic community's actions can thus be understood as changing the perceived zone of possible agreement through well-understood ways that are favorable to its objectives. Although ultimately a community's influence is exercised through bargaining, there is practically no theory of bargaining elaborated in the epistemic communities approach. Despite this and other drawbacks, the approach helps account for players' interests and usefully insists on the importance of perceptions and learning in negotiation. The article concludes that the effects of shared beliefs and of policy conflict can be readily incorporated into the negotiation-analytic model of bargaining, thereby giving rise to more precisely drawn observations about the conditions under which “believers†will have the strongest impact on negotiated outcomes. This will in turn make it possible to improve policy prescriptions in the actual or potential presence of epistemic communities.

Suggested Citation

  • Sebenius, James K., 1992. "Challenging conventional explanations of international cooperation: negotiation analysis and the case of epistemic communities," International Organization, Cambridge University Press, vol. 46(1), pages 323-365, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:intorg:v:46:y:1992:i:01:p:323-365_00

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    Cited by:

    1. Sauve, Raphael & Watts, Jamie, 2003. "An analysis of IPGRI's influence on the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 78(2), pages 307-327, November.
    2. repec:eee:aosoci:v:66:y:2018:i:c:p:29-44 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Mayntz, Renate & Scharpf, Fritz W. (ed.), 1995. "Gesellschaftliche Selbstregelung und politische Steuerung," Schriften aus dem Max-Planck-Institut für Gesellschaftsforschung Köln, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies, volume 23, number 23.
    4. Paul J. Stephenson, 2010. "The Role of Working Groups of Commissioners in Co-ordinating Policy Implementation: The Case of Trans-European Networks (TENs)," Journal of Common Market Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 48, pages 709-736, June.
    5. Bernhard Zangl & Frederick Heußner & Andreas Kruck & Xenia Lanzendörfer, 2016. "Imperfect adaptation: how the WTO and the IMF adjust to shifting power distributions among their members," The Review of International Organizations, Springer, vol. 11(2), pages 171-196, June.
    6. Rouba Chantiri-Chaudemanche & Anouar Kahloul, 2011. "Les acteurs de la normalisation comptable internationale : une communauté épistémique ?," Working Papers halshs-00678806, HAL.
    7. John S. Odell, 2003. "Making and Breaking Impasses in International Regimes. The WTO, Seattle and Doha," EUI-RSCAS Working Papers 1, European University Institute (EUI), Robert Schuman Centre of Advanced Studies (RSCAS).
    8. Trofimov, Ivan D., 2017. "Political economy of trade protection and liberalization: in search of agency-based and holistic framework of policy change," MPRA Paper 79504, University Library of Munich, Germany.

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