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Introduction: epistemic communities and international policy coordination

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 May 2009

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How decision makers define state interests and formulate policies to deal with complex and technical issues can be a function of the manner in which the issues are represented by specialists to whom they turn for advice in the face of uncertainty. The contributors to this issue examine the role that networks of knowledge-based experts—epistemic communities—play in articulating the cause-and-effect relationships of complex problems, helping states identify their interests, framing the issues for collective debate, proposing specific policies, and identifying salient points for negotiation. Their analyses demonstrate that control over knowledge and information is an important dimension of power and that the diffusion of new ideas and data can lead to new patterns of behavior and prove to be an important determinant of international policy coordination.


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Research Article
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Copyright © The IO Foundation 1992

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References

For their comments on earlier versions of this article, I am grateful to Pete Andrews, Peter Cowhey, Barbara Crane, George Hoberg, Raymond Hopkins, Ethan Kapstein, Peter Katzenstein, Stephen Krasner, Craig Murphy, John Odell, Gail Osherenko, M. J. Peterson, Gene Rochlin, and Richard Sclove.

1. See, for example, Wendt, Alexander E., “The Agent-Structure Problem,” International Organization 41 (Summer 1987), pp. 335–70;CrossRefGoogle ScholarArcher, Margaret S., “Morphogenesis Versus Structuration: On Combining Structure and Action,” British Journal of Sociology 33 (12 1982), pp. 455–83;CrossRefGoogle ScholarDessler, David, “What's at Stake in the Agent-Structure Debate?International Organization 43 (Summer 1989), pp. 441–73;CrossRefGoogle ScholarGourevitch, Peter, “The Second Image Reversed: The International Sources of Domestic Politics,” International Organization 32 (Autumn 1978), pp. 881912CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Katzenstein, Peter J., ed., Between Power and Plenty: Foreign Economic Policies of Advanced Industrial States (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1977)Google Scholar; Katzenstein, Peter J., Small States in World Markets (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1986)Google Scholar; Putnam, Robert, “Diplomacy and Domestic Politics: The Logic of Two-Level Games,” International Organization 42 (Summer 1988), pp. 427–60;CrossRefGoogle ScholarEvans, Peter B., Rueschemeyer, Dietrich, and Skocpol, Theda, eds., Bringing the State Back In (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Nordlinger, Eric A., “Taking the State Seriously,” in Weiner, Myron and Huntington, Samuel P., eds., Understanding Political Development (Boston: Little, Brown, 1987), pp. 353–90;Google ScholarBenjamin, Roger and Duvall, Raymond, “The Capitalist State in Context,” in Benjamin, Roger and Elkin, Stephen L., eds., The Democratic State (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1985), pp. 1957Google Scholar; Krasner, Stephen D., “Approaches to the State,” Comparative Politics 16 (01 1984), pp. 223–46;CrossRefGoogle Scholar and Lentner, Howard M., “The Concept of the State: A Response to Krasner,” Comparative Politics 16 (04 1984), pp. 367–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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3. Krasner acknowledges the importance of shared beliefs in explaining the Group of 77 (G-77) cooperation and also discusses the role of shared understanding in regime creation. See the following works of Krasner, Stephen D.: Structural Conflict (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), p. 9;Google Scholar and “Regimes and the Limits of Realism: Regimes as Autonomous Variables,” in Krasner, Stephen D., ed., International Regimes (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1983), p. 368Google Scholar. Keohane notes the possibility that states may learn to recalculate their interests, and Gilpin also acknowledges that states occasionally “learn to be more enlightened in their definitions of their interests and can learn to be more cooperative in their behavior.” See Keohane, Robert O., After Hegemony (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984), pp. 131–32;Google Scholar and Gilpin, Robert, War and Change in World Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), p. 227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

4. The term “epistemic communities” has been defined or used in a variety of ways, most frequently to refer to scientific communities. In this volume, we stress that epistemic communities need not be made up of natural scientists or of professionals applying the same methodology that natural scientists do. Moreover, when referring to epistemic communities consisting primarily of natural scientists, we adopt a stricter definition than do, for example, Holzner and Marx, who use the term “epistemic community” in reference to a shared faith in the scientific method as a way of generating truth. This ignores that such faith can still bond together people with diverse interpretations of ambiguous data. By our definition, what bonds members of an epistemic community is their shared belief or faith in the verity and the applicability of particular forms of knowledge or specific truths. Our notion of “epistemic community” somewhat resembles Fleck's notion of a “thought collective”—a sociological group with a common style of thinking. It also somewhat resembles Kuhn's broader sociological definition of a paradigm, which is “an entire constellation of beliefs, values, techniques, and so on shared by members of a given community” and which governs “not a subject matter but a group of practitioners.” See Holzner, Burkhart and Marx, John H., Knowledge Application: The Knowledge System in Society (Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 1979), pp. 107–11;Google ScholarFleck, Ludwig, Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979; translated from the 1935 edition printed in German)Google Scholar; and Kuhn, Thomas S., The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2d ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970), pp. 174210, with quotes drawn from pp. 175 and 180. Regarding scientific communities, See alsoGoogle ScholarPolanyi, Michael, “The Republic of Science,” Minerva, vol. 1, 1962, pp. 5473.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

5. Other characteristics of epistemic communities that were mentioned or discussed during the preparation of this volume included the following: members of an epistemic community share intersubjective understandings; have a shared way of knowing; have shared patterns of reasoning; have a policy project drawing on shared values, shared causal beliefs, and the use of shared discursive practices; and have a shared commitment to the application and production of knowledge. These phrases were not incorporated in the formal definition listed here; they are simply provided to evoke additional notions that are associated with epistemic communities. a For examples, See Gilpin, Robert, War and Change in World Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Krasner, Stephen D., Structural Conflict (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985)Google Scholar; and Waltz, Kenneth N., Theory of International Politics (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1979).Google Scholar b For examples, See Cardoso, Fernando Henrique and Faletto, Enzo, Dependency and Development in Latin America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979)Google Scholar; Evans, Peter, Dependent Development (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1979)Google Scholar; Evans, Peter, “Declining Hegemony and Assertive Industrialization,” International Organization 43 (Spring 1989), pp. 207–38;CrossRefGoogle ScholarGaltung, Johan, The True Worlds (New York: Free Press, 1984)Google Scholar; and Wallerstein, Immanuel, The Capitalist World Economy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979).Google Scholar c For examples, See Derian, James Der and Shapiro, Michael J., eds., International/Intertextual Relations (Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books, 1989)Google Scholar; and Ashley, Richard K. and Walker, R. B. J., eds., “Speaking the Language of Exile Dissidence in International Studies,” special issue of International Studies Quarterly, vol. 34, no. 3, 09 1990.Google Scholar

6. A number of earlier studies focusing on the interplay between expertise, technical issues, consensual knowledge, and state power have considered the role of epistemic-like communities in the decision-making process. At the level of international organizations, such studies have been undertaken with regard to wide variety of issue-areas and have demonstrated that webs of nonstate actors provided information and were involved in the shaping of agendas and the defining of state interests. While all of these studies cannot be listed here, a few examples show the range of areas analyzed: Russell, Robert W., “Transgovernmental Interaction in the International Monetary System, 19601972,” International Organization 27 (Autumn 1973), pp. 431–64;CrossRefGoogle ScholarAscher, William, “New Development Approaches and the Adaptability of International Agencies: The Case of the World Bank,” International Organization 37 (Summer 1983), pp. 415–39;CrossRefGoogle ScholarCrane, Barbara B. and Finkle, Jason L., “Population Policy and World Politics,” paper presented at the Fourteenth World Congress of the International Political Science Association, Washington, D.C., 28 08 to 1 09 1988Google Scholar; Haas, Peter M., Saving the Mediterranean: The Politics of International Environmental Protection (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990)Google Scholar; Johnson, Barbara, “Technocrats and the Management of International Fisheries,” International Organization 29 (Summer 1975), pp. 745–70;CrossRefGoogle Scholar and Wooster, Warren S., “Interactions Between Intergovernmental and Scientific Organizations in Marine Affairs,” International Organization 27 (Winter 1973), pp. 103–13CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For examples of studies in comparative politics that discuss the role of epistemic-like communities in the development and enforcement of common policies, See Weir, Margaret and Skocpol, Theda, “State Structures and the Possibilities for ‘Keynesian’ Responses to the Great Depression in Sweden, Britain, and the United States,” in Evans, Rueschemeyer, and Skocpol, Bringing the State Back In, pp. 107–68;Google ScholarHall, Peter A., Governing the Economy (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1986), pp. 275 ff.;Google Scholar and King, Anthony, “Ideas, Institutions, and Policies of Governments: A Comparative Analysis” (in 3 parts), British Journal of Political Science 3 (07 and 10 1973), pp. 291313 and 409–23CrossRefGoogle Scholar. With respect to policy coordination, it is worth stressing that even if actors believe that their common understandings will contribute to enhancing the collective good, serious unanticipated consequences are possible; See Evera, Stephen Van, “Cult of the Offensive and the Origins of the First World War,” International Security 9 (Summer 1984), pp. 58107CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For examples of purely national studies that discuss the role of epistemic-like communities in transforming state preferences, see Odell, John, U.S. International Monetary Policy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1982)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Adler, Emanuel, “Brazil's Domestic Computer Industry,” International Organization 40 (Summer 1986), pp. 673705CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Hodgson, Dennis, “Orthodoxy and Revisionism in American Demography,” Population and Development Review 14 (12 1988), pp. 541–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

7. While the transfer of authority to the sphere of the secular and the rational can be traced back to the eighteenth century and the granting of Noblesse de la Robe in France, the integration of scientists and engineers into a new rationalized corporate structure really began with the second industrial revolution of the 1880s. For background information, see Ford, Franklin L., Robe and Sword (New York: Harper, 1953), pp. 248–52Google Scholar. Regarding the acceleration of technically grounded forms of governance and decision making, see Mowery, David C. and Rosenberg, Nathan, Technology and the Pursuit of Economic Growth (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Yates, JoAnne, Control Through Communication (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990)Google Scholar; Chandler, Alfred D., Strategy and Structure.: Chapters in the History of the American Industrial Enterprise (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1966)Google Scholar; Chandler, Alfred D., The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1977)Google Scholar; and Dupree, A. Hunter, ed., Science and the Emergence of Modern America, 1865–1916 (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1963).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

8. Harvey Brooks, “Scientific Concepts and Cultural Change,” Daedalus 94 (Winter 1965), p. 68.Google Scholar

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11. See Majone, Giandomenico, “Regulatory Policies in Transition,” Jahrbuch für neue politische Okonomie (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1984), p. 158Google Scholar. For discussions of the progressive expansion and professionalization of bureaucracies in the United States, see Skowronek, Stephen, Building a New American State: The Expansion of National Administrative Capacities, 1877–1920 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Maier, Charles, ed., Changing Boundaries of the Political (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Galambos, Louis, ed., The New American State: Bureaucracies and Policies Since World War II (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987)Google Scholar; Smith, Bruce L. R., American Science Policy Since World War II (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1990), pp. 2835Google Scholar; Gilpin, Robert and Wright, Christopher, eds., Scientists and National Policy Making (New York: Columbia University Press, 1964)Google Scholar; and Kistiakowsky, George, A Scientist at the White House (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1976).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

12. Dror, Yehezkel, Policymaking Under Adversity (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Books, 1986).Google Scholar

13. Jawaharlal Nehru, arguing that less developed countries must also turn toward science, offered the following rationale: “It is science alone that can solve the problems of hunger and poverty, of insanitation and illiteracy, of superstition and deadening custom and tradition, of vast resources running to waste, of a rich country inhabited by starving people…. Who indeed could afford to ignore science today? At every turn we have to seek its aid…. The future belongs to science and those who make friends with science.” Nehru is quoted by Perutz, Max F. in Is Science Necessary? (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1989), p. vii.Google Scholar

14. See National Science Foundation, Federal Scientific and Technical Workers: Numbers and Characteristics, 1973 and 1983 (Washington, D.C.: National Science Foundation, 1985), pp. 12Google Scholar. During the period from 1973 to 1978, the increase in scientists, engineers, and computer specialists occurred largely outside the Defense Department.

15. See Nelkin, Dorothy, “Scientific Knowledge, Public Policy, and Democracy,” Knowledge Creation, Diffusion, Utilization 1 (09 1979), p. 107Google Scholar. See also Nelkin, Dorothy, “The Political Impact of Technical Expertise,” Social Studies of Science 5 (02 1975), pp. 3554CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For a critical view of the role of scientists in decision making, see Primack, Joel and Hippel, Frank Von, Advice and Dissent (New York: Basic Books, 1974).Google Scholar

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18. See Fromuth, Peter and Raymond, Ruth, “U.N. Personnel Policy Issues,” in United Nations Management and Decision-Making Project (New York: United Nations, 1987), p. 13Google Scholar. See also Williams, Douglas, The Specialized Agencies and the United Nations (London: C. Hurst, 1987), p. 254.Google Scholar

19. See Mango, Anthony, “The Role of Secretariats of International Institutions,” in Taylor, Paul and Groom, A. J. R., eds., International Institutions at Work (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1986), pp. 4043Google Scholar. Based on his survey of 75 percent of the UN's professional staff, Mango concluded that about 4,000 served key functions “in all areas of human endeavor from peace and disarmament to health, nutrition, industry, communications, and the environment.” Thus, for the full 100 percent of the staff, the figure may have reached 5,000.

20. The percentage of the UN budget allocated for specialized agencies steadily rose from 45.1 percent in 1950 to 60.5 percent in 1985. With the adoption of the Kaasebaum amendment, the percentage has remained at the 1985 level. Two specialized areas involving science and technology—that of food and agriculture and that of health—have come to control over 25 percent of the resources of the UN system. See UN document nos. A/1312, A/3023, A/6122, A/7608, A/42/683, and A/10360, UN, New York, 1951, 1956, 1967, 1971, 1976, and 1986, respectively. The highest postwar rates of growth for new international scientific and professional associations (ISPAs) was also in the areas of science and technology, followed by economics and finance. See Crane, Diana, “Alternative Models of ISPAs,” in Evan, William M., ed., Knowledge and Power in a Global Society (Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage, 1981), p. 30;Google Scholar and Feld, Werner, “Nongovernmental Entities and the International System,” Orbis 15 (Fall 1971), pp. 879922.Google Scholar

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32. In Markets and Hierarchies (New York: Free Press, 1975)Google Scholar, Oliver Williamson argues that under conditions of uncertainty, organizations are likely to develop internal methods to generate more and better information instead of turning to external sources.

33. See Kahneman, Daniel, Slovic, Paul, and Tversky, Amos, eds., Judgement Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

34. See Elster, Jon, Explaining Technical Change (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), p. 185Google Scholar. See also Steinbruner, John D., The Cybernetic Theory of Decision (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1974), pp. 1718Google Scholar; and Simon, Herbert, “Rationality as Process and as Product of Thought,” American Economic Review 68 (05 1978), pp. 116.Google Scholar

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37. See the following works by Simon, Herbert A.: Reason in Human Affairs (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1983)Google Scholar; and Human Nature in Politics: The Dialogue of Psychology with Political Science,” The American Political Science Review 79 (06 1985), pp. 293304.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

38. See Schluchter, Wolfgang, “Modes of Authority and Democratic Control,” in Meja, Volker, Misgeld, Dieter, and Stehr, Nico, eds., Modern German Sociology (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987), p. 297Google Scholar. “It seems that in the case of functional authority,” writes Schluchter, “it is the ‘trust’ institutionalized in the internal relations between ‘experts’ that communicates to outsiders faith in the value of specialized knowledge.”

39. According to the definition of epistemic communities employed in this volume, community members have intersubjective, internally defined validity tests. This contrasts with Ernst Haas's usage of the concept of epistemic communities, in which he explicitly mentions that such communities “profess beliefs in extracommunity reality tests.” See Haas, Ernst B., When Knowledge Is Power (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), p. 41Google Scholar. Although there are other differences between his and our usage, they are fairly minor. I believe that this particular difference in emphasis on intracommunity versus extracommunity truth tests springs primarily from differing overarching historical visions. Ernst Haas seeks to demonstrate the evolution of rationality over time, possibly through the gradual intercession of epistemic communities into collective decision making. For such a normative claim to be sustained, the epistemic community must share a common basis for validation of its understanding with the broader policy community. Conversely, I am much more skeptical about such universal validity claims and am content to settle for the less ambitious internal truth tests. While in most cases members outside the epistemic community may concur that validity claims exist, it is less clear that they would be able to identify or evaluate them.

40. According to A. M. Carr-Saunders, “What we now call a profession emerges when a number of persons are found to be practicing a definite technique founded upon specialized training.” Carr-Saunders's classic formulation is cited by Vollmer, Howard M. and Mills, Donald L. in Professionalization (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1966), p. 3Google Scholar. Subsequent sociologists have formulated a fuller definition that includes a reputation for authority, society's sanction, barriers to entry, a regulative code of conduct, and a service orientation. See Wilensky, Harold L., “The Professionalization of Everyone,” American Journal of Sociology 70 (09 1964), pp. 137–58;CrossRefGoogle Scholar and Schluchter, “Modes of Authority and Democratic Control.”

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42. This occurred in the context of efforts to control pollution in the Mediterranean, when several groups of natural scientists allied with the ecological epistemic community. While these scientists shared some of the causal beliefs and policy concerns of the epistemic community, they did not share its full array of normative and causal beliefs. See Haas, Peter M., “Do Regimes Matter? Epistemic Communities and Mediterranean Pollution Control,” International Organization 43 (Summer 1989), pp. 386–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

43. See Allison, Graham T., Essence of Decision (Boston: Little, Brown, 1971)Google Scholar; and Art, Robert J., “Bureaucratic Politics and American Foreign Policy,” Policy Sciences 4 (12 1973), pp. 467–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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46. See Berger, Peter L. and Luckman, Thomas, The Social Construction of Reality (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday Anchor, 1967)Google Scholar. See also Toulmin, Stephen, ed., Physical Reality (New York: Harper & Row, 1970)Google Scholar. Toulmin's book includes a turn-of-the-century exchange between Max Planck and Ernst Mach regarding whether quantum mechanics occurs in the mind or in the world.

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54. See Dickson, David, “Limiting Democracy: Technocrats and the Liberal State,” Democracy 1 (01 1981), pp. 6179Google Scholar; Laird, Frank N., “Limiting Democracy: Participation, Competence, and Energy Policy,” Ph.D. diss., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, 1985Google Scholar; and Sclove, Richard Evan, Technology and Freedom (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, forthcoming).Google Scholar

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60. See Kindleberger, Charles, “The Rise of Free Trade in Western Europe,” Journal of Economic History 35 (03 1975), pp. 2055CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also Goldstein, Judith, “Ideas, Institutions, and Trade Policy,” International Organization 42 (Winter 1988), pp. 179217CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Goldstein, Judith, “The Impact of Ideas on Trade Policy,” International Organization 43 (Winter 1989), pp. 3171CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Odell, , U.S. International Monetary Policy.Google Scholar

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