The Politics of Informal Governance

What are the factors that lead states and transnational actors to choose between formal intergovernmental organisations, informal intergovernmental organisations and transnational governance networks to structure their interactions and govern global problems?

Summary

Why have states recently started to use informal institutions instead of formal organisations to govern global policy issues? Extant research on the forms of institutionalisation in global governance focuses on formal modes of cooperation, such as intergovernmental organisations and treaties. Formal rules, however, do not exhaust the institutional variety of international and transnational cooperation. They are often inadequate descriptions of the game that actors play in world politics. Recent work in political science, economics, and international law has started to examine informal governance as a mode of international cooperation. Informal governance refers to unwritten – and often vaguely specified – rules and norms that are not enshrined in formally constituted organisations and which modify or substitute legally binding rules.

This project examines the factors that lead states and transnational actors to choose between formal intergovernmental organisations, informal intergovernmental organisations and transnational governance networks to structure their interactions and govern global problems. The research team will also investigate the interactions between formal and informal institutions. The project highlights the political dimensions of informal governance and argues that distributional conflict and power asymmetries are critical for the selection and design of informal institutions. States and transnational actors use informal institutions as a means to project power and influence outcomes according to their particularistic interests. This project will fill an important gap in research on international cooperation and global governance by taking systematic account of the wider spectrum of institutional variation. Furthermore, the accurate knowledge about the factors that shape the emergence and functioning of informal forms of governing will help policy-makers to effectively provide public goods and enhance the legitimacy, equity, and efficiency of global governance institutions.

Keywords

  • International relations
  • International institutions
  • Informal governance
  • Power
  • Networks

Disciplines

  • Economics
  • International relations
  • Law
  • Political science

Collaborations

International Organisations:

  • Forest Stewardship Council
  • United Nations Global Compact
  • International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers Association
  • United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

Non Governmental Organisations:

  • One Earth Future

States & Public Collectivities:

  • Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs
  • Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development of the Government of Canada

Relevant Countries

  • All countries

Status

This project, started in 2014, has been completed.

Contact the project team

12 + 5 =

Research team

Oliver Westerwinter
Coordinator
University of St. Gall

Dirk Lehmkuhl
Co-Coordinator
University of St. Gall

Katharina Michaelowa
Co-Coordinator
University of Zurich

Bernhard Reinsberg
Principal Member
University of Zurich

Kenneth Abbott
Associated Member
Arizona State University

Thomas Biersteker
Associated Member
Graduate Institute Geneva

Jonathan Cuenoud
Associated Member
Federal Department of Foreign Affairs – FDFA

Mark DeWitt
Associated Member
International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers Association Board

Megumi Endo
Associated Member
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

Tom Hale
Associated Member
University of Oxford

Lindsay Heger
Associated Member
One Earth Future Foundation

Miles Kahler
Associated Member
American University

Marion Karmann
Associated Member
Forest Stewardship Council

Christopher Kilby
Associated Member
Villanova University

Barbara Koremenos
Associated Member
University of Michigan

Douglas Matina
Associated Member
Foreign Affairs – Trade and Development – Government of Canada

Axel Michaelowa
Associated Member
University of Zurich

Melissa Powell
Associated Member
United Nations Global Compact Office

Conor Seyle
Associated Member
One Earth Future Foundation

Duncan Snidal
Associated Member
University of Oxford

Felicity Vabulas
Associated Member
University of Chicago