International Organizations as Corporate Actors: Agency and Emergence in Theories of International Relations
In this paper, the implicit and explicit conceptualizations of international organizations found in the three major theories of international relations are outlined and compared. It turns out that in a neorealist framework, international organizations can be explained; however, they exhibit no autonomy and cannot therefore be conceptualized as a corporate actor. Principally, the same applies to rational choice institutionalism, although limited autonomy is conceivable. Both theories are reductionist in the sense that they do not allow a corporate actor beyond the nation-state. International organizations are at best instruments of state interests. Solely social constructivist theories allow a conceptualization of international organizations as partly autonomous corporate actors. The reason for this conceptual openness lies in its ontology that includes ideational factors such as knowledge and ideas. The concept of emergence gives the core explanation for international organization autonomy: identities and interests of states and international organizations constitute each other mutually. This is specified by referring to the generation of new knowledge within international organizations as the key feature which accounts for feedbacks to the member-states of international organizations. This power of international organizations to alter perceptions and identities of their own ‘founding fathers’ makes them more than state instruments. International organizations thereby gain autonomy, which justifies conceiving of them as high-order corporate actors in international relations.
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