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Gourevitch: The governance problem in international relations

Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.

Gourevitch. 1999. The governance problem in international relations. In Strategic Choice, eds. Lake and Powell.

Y: What institutions will be formed. Institutions perform many useful functions for states, so states will frequently want them. Gourevitch examines when and how they will be formed.

X1: Strength of pre-existing institutions

X2: Collective action problems, joint production benefits

X3: Information costs

X1: Neoliberals argue that institutions structure what goes on under anarchy; realists argue that institutions are epiphenomenal, and that it is only the distribution of capabilities that matters. Gourevitch makes this distinction opposite extremes of X1, the strength of existing institutions. When institutional change happens in the context of strong institutions (think of the House changing its rules under the strong Constitution), the existing institutions have a strong influence. When institutions are weak (think of the Franco-Russian alliance in the 19th centurty), then pre-existing institutions matter little. It is when institutions are weak that X2 and X3 (below) come into play. Institutional strength is largely determined by the amount of asset-specific investment that parties to the institution have made.

When institutions are weak, then future governance disputes depend more on the distribution of capabilities and on the costs and benefits of forming an institution.

X2: Collective action problems:

States form institutions to overcome collective action problems, yet the formation of the institution is itself a collective action problem. Gourevitch leans on Broz to say that this problem will be overcome if there are joint production benefits: "Actors may have self-interested motives for developing an institution in addition to a collective one" (154). Though he doesn't cite Olson, I don't see how this differs from selective incentives and political entrepreneurs. "Joint product provides the individual incentives needed to overcome the collective-action problem of providing the public good of institutional creation. At the same time, joint product helps explain which institutions will be chosen" (154). [He acknowledges some similarity to hegemonic stability theory.]

X3: Information costs.

Information is costly. Knowing your alternatives, knowing others' preferences, monitoring your agents--it's all costly. Gourevitch takes this discussion well beyond the usual discussion of information costs. He delves into a lengthy discussion of "priors" (156) and ideas: since you don't have perfect information, you rest on a set of priors. Ideology has a role here, then. For example, pg 157 includes his discussion of how different assumptions about "people, society, issues, and politics" led to very different European peace settlements at Vienna (1815) and Versailles. Vienna was informed by realist power-balancing; Versailles was informed by Wilson's "second-image" ideas. "Governance disputes often involve situations of some ambiguity, where discretion is possible and judgment is required, situations were information is imperfect and costly. Ideas about situations help solve problems of uncertainty and lack of information" (158). In short: culture matters.


Since ideas and culture/ideology matter, we next ask where they come from. Specifically, what is "the impact of institutions on preferences and strategy" (159)? New institutional rules alter actors' incentives, so that "they construct new selves. They go through a process of discovery and adjust their strategic interaction as conditions alter incentives and policy preferences" (159). Just as Normans and Bourgignon became French, are French and Germans today become European? This may even be a "tipping game" (161).

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Gourevitch, Peter (author)International RelationsInstitutionsOrigins of InstitutionsCollective ActionInformationConstructivismAlliancesStrategiesPreferencesInternational Institutions

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