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Martin and Simmons: Theories and empirical studies of international institutions

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Martin and Simmons. 1996. Theories and empirical studies of international institutions. In Exploration and Contestation, eds. Katzenstein, Keohane, and Krasner.

Y: How institutions work (or, how states use institutions to achieve their goals)

X: enforement, distribution, domestic politics, secondary rules

Martin and Simmons begin by reviewing the evolution of institutional analysis. In the beginning, research was problem driven, but studies in this tradition, though insightful, fizzled out because they lacked a cumulative theoretical framework. Research then moved toward a more scientific application of American politics to IR, but this approach overlooked important differences between the UN and Congress. Keohane and Krasner introduced functional approaches to international regimes in the 1980s that have combined the best of both worlds: like the early studies, this approach is realistic, and like the later studies, this approach is more scientific.

After this long historical summary, the authors move into criticism of the current institutional program. Their main criticism is that institutionalist scholars have spent too much time trying to prove that institutions matter (in response to realist criticisms) without "sufficient attention to constructing well-delineated causal mechanisms or explaining variation in institutional effects." They argue that institutions must be modeled simultaneously as cause and effect; institutions intervene between state preferences/strategies and real-world outcomes. In other words, we must study how rational states use institutions to achieve their goals. How do institutions work?

Although the authors' primary goal is to show that we need to move in this new direction, they also make some suggestions about where we might try looking. They suggest two approaches. First, we should try applying recent models of domestic politics. Scholars of American politics in particular have done considerable research into how legislators make credible commitments to one another in the absence of a central enforcement mechanism (think Weingast and Marshall). The authors find "scope for optimism here, since modern theories of domestic institutions typically draw on similar assumptions of unenforceable agreements and opportunistic behavior by individuals that characterize most work in international relations." Second, the authors urge us to look beyond enforcement [efficiency] to consider issues of distribution [equity], (there is a difference between cooperative and collaborative game theory--see pg 744), the effect of domestic politics (which groups favor delegation to an IO?), causes of unanticipated consequences (e.g. resulting from a change in "secondary rules," like EU voting methods), and a typology of institutional effects (such as "convergence" vs "divergence" effects).