Skip to main content Accessibility help

Conclusion: epistemic communities, world order, and the creation of a reflective research program

  • Emanuel Adler and Peter M. Haas


Studies in this issue show that the epistemic communities approach amounts to a progressive research program with which students of world politics can empirically study the role of reason and ideas in international relations. By focusing on epistemic communities, analysts may better understand how states come to recognize interests under conditions of uncertainty. According to this research program, international relations can be seen as an evolutionary process in which epistemic communities play meaningful roles as sources of policy innovation, channels by which these innovations diffuse internationally, and catalysts in the political and institutional processes leading to the selection of their shared goals. The influence of epistemic communities persists mainly through the institutions that they help create and inform with their preferred world vision. By elucidating the cause-and-effect understandings in the particular issue-area and familiarizing policymakers with the reasoning processes by which decisions are made elsewhere, epistemic communities contribute to the transparency of action and the development of common inferences and expectations and thereby contribute to policy coordination. International cooperation and, indeed, the development of new world orders based on common meanings and understandings may thus depend on the extent to which nation-states apply their power on behalf of practices that epistemic communities may have helped create, diffuse, and perpetuate.



Hide All

We thank Robert Keohane, Kalypso Nicolaïdis, and M. J. Peterson for their comments on earlier drafts of this article.

1. See Keohane, Robert O., International Institutions and State Power (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1989), p. 173. This quote is drawn from Keohane's 1988 presidential address to the International Studies Association.

2. See Lapid, Yosef, “The Third Debate,” International Studies Quarterly 33 (09 1989), pp. 235–54.

3. See Waltz, Kenneth N., Theory of International Politics (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1979); and Keohane, , International Institutions and State Power, chap. 3.

4. See Lakatos, Imre, “Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes,” in Lakatos, Imre and Musgrave, Alan, eds., Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge: Proceedings of the International Colloquium in the Philosophy of Science, London, 1965, vol. 4 (London: Cambridge University Press, 1970), pp. 91196.

5. Regarding this point, see in particular the following articles in this issue of IO: Peterson, M. J., “Whalers, Cetologists, Environmentalists, and the International Management of Whaling”; Peter M. Haas, “Banning Chlorofluorocarbons: Epistemic Community Efforts to Protect Stratospheric Ozone”; and Ethan Kapstein, “Between Power and Purpose: Central Bankers and the Politics of Regulatory Convergence.”

6. See, for example, Hardin, Russell, Collective Action (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982); Axelrod, Robert, The Evolution of Cooperation (New York: Basic Books, 1984); Oye, Kenneth A., ed., Cooperation Under Anarchy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1986); and Snidal, Duncan, “The Limits of Hegemonic Stability Theory,” International Organization 39 (Autumn 1985), pp. 491517.

7. See Kratochwil, Friedrich and Ruggie, John G., “International Organization: A State of the Art on an Art of the State,” International Organization 40 (Autumn 1986), pp. 753–76. See also Haggard, Stephan and Simmons, Beth A., “Theories of International Regimes,” International Organization 41 (Summer 1987), pp. 491517.

8. See Stein, Arthur A., Why Nations Cooperate (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1990); Jervis, Robert, “Realism, Game Theory, and Cooperation,” World Politics 40 (04 1988), pp. 317–49; and Nicolson, Harold, Diplomacy, 2d ed. (London: Oxford University Press, 1955), pp. 2427.

9. Grieco, Joseph M., “Anarchy and the Limits of Cooperation,” International Organization 42 (Summer 1988), p. 486. See also Keohane, , International Institutions and State Power, chaps. 1 and 7.

10. See Haas, Ernst B., Beyond the Nation State (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1964); and Ruggie, John Gerard, “International Responses to Technology,” International Organization 29 (Summer 1975), pp. 557–84.

11. See the following works of Haas, Ernst B.: “Why Collaborate? Issue-Linkage and International Regimes,” World Politics 32 (04 1980), pp. 357405; and When Knowledge Is Power (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990).

12. For an alternative view, see Keohane, Robert O., “Neorealism and World Politics,” in Keohane, Robert O., ed., Neorealism and Its Critics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), p. 11.

13. See Ashley, Richard K., “The Poverty of Neorealism,” International Organization 38 (Spring 1984), pp. 225–86;Ashley, Richard K. and Walker, R. B. J., “Speaking the Language of Exile: Dissident Thought in International Studies,” International Studies Quarterly 34 (09 1990), pp. 259–68; and Derian, James Der and Shapiro, Michael J., International/Intenextual Relations: Postmodern Readings of World Politics (Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books, 1989).

14. See Augelli, Enrico and Murphy, Craig, America's Quest for Supremacy and the Third World (London: Pinter, 1988), chap. 6. See also Ellul, Jacques, The Technological Society (New York: Knopf, 1964); Galbraith, John Kenneth, The New Industrial State, 3d ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1978); and Mumford, Lewis, Technics and Civilization (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1963).

15. Purely national assessments of the “correct” form of regulation play a role in policy coordination as well, but these are treated below.

16. March, James G. and Olsen, Johan P., “The New Institutionalism: Organizational Factors in Political Life,” American Political Science Review 78 (09 1984), pp. 734–49.

17. Adler, Emanuel, “Cognitive Evolution: A Dynamic Approach for the Study of International Relations and Their Progress,” in Adler, Emanuel and Crawford, Beverly, eds., Progress in Postwar International Relations (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), p. 47.

18. Subsequent invocations of these ideas are subject to historically contingent factors applying at the time of their use. See, for instance, Hall's discussion about the variety of Keynesian interpretations and Haas's discussion about the variety of forms of nationalism and the different ways in which they are applied over time in the following works: Hall, Peter A., ed., The Political Power of Economic Ideas (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1989); and Haas, Ernst B., “What Is Nationalism?International Organization 40 (Summer 1986), pp. 707–44.

19. See Adler, “Cognitive Evolution”; David, Paul A., “Clio and the Economics of Qwerty,” Economic History 75 (05 1985), pp. 332–37; and Krasner, Stephen D., “Sovereignty: An Institutional Perspective,” Comparative Political Studies 21 (04 1988), pp. 7780.

20. For an earlier description of this approach, see Adler, , “Cognitive Evolution,” pp. 5060.

21. Putnam, Robert, “Diplomacy and Domestic Politics: The Logic of Two-Level Games,” International Organization 42 (Summer 1988), p. 434.

22. Ikenberry, G. John and Kupchan, Charles A., “Socialization and Hegemonie Power,” International Organization 44 (Summer 1990), p. 289.

23. There are two prominent features, identified by Waltz, which help ground expectations. According to Waltz, “In itself a structure does not clearly lead to one outcome rather than another. Structure affects behavior within the system, but does so indirectly. The effects are produced in two ways: through socialization of the actors and through competition among them.” See Waltz, , Theory of International Politics, p. 74.

24. See Goldstein, Judith, “The Political Economy of Trade,” American Political Science Review 80 (03 1986), pp. 161–84. See also Destler, I. M., American Trade Politics: System Under Stress (Washington, D.C.: Institute for International Economics, 1986); Bhagwati, Jagdish, Protectionism (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1989); and Ruggie, John Gerard, “Embedded Liberalism Revisited: Institutions and Progress in International Economic Relations,” in Adler and Crawford, Progress in Postwar International Relations, pp. 201–34. Other strong explanations for persistent trade behavior, largely relating it to particularistic interests, are offered in the following works: Krasner, Stephen D., “The Tokyo Round,” International Studies Quarterly 23 (12 1979), pp. 491531; Destler, I. M. and Odell, John S., Anti-Protection: Changing Forces in United States Trade Politics (Washington, D.C.: Institute for International Economics, 1987); and Milner, Helen V., Resisting Protectionism (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1988). However, these works fail to capture the institutional resistance to challenges to free trade.

25. See Rosenau, James N., “Hegemons, Regimes, and Habit-Driven Actors,” International Organization 40 (Autumn 1986), pp. 849–94.

26. For related treatments, see Baumgartner, Tom et al. , “Meta-Power and the Structuring of Social Hierarchies,” in Burns, Tom R. and Buckley, Walter, eds., Power and Control: Social Structures and Their Transformation (Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage, 1976), pp. 215–88; and Gaventa, John, Power and Powerlessness (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1980).

27. Regarding perceptions of pollution, see Douglas, Mary, “Environments at Risk,” in Implicit Meanings: Essays in Anthropology (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975), pp. 230–48. Regarding changes from 1972 to 1982 in leaders' responses to physical evidence of environmental degradation, see Tolba, Mostafa Kamal, ed., Evolving Environmental Perceptions from Stockholm to Nairobi (London: Butterworths, 1988).

28. See Rublack, Susanne, “Controlling Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Waste: The Evolution of a Global Convention,” The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs 13 (Winter 1989), pp. 113–26; and Hilz, Christopher and Radka, Mark, “The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal,” in Susskind, Lawrence E., Siskind, Esther, and Breslin, J. William, eds., Nine Case Studies in International Environmental Negotiation (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT-Harvard Public Disputes Program, 05 1990), pp. 7598.

29. Cowhey, Peter F., “The International Telecommunications Regime,” International Organization 44 (Spring 1990), pp. 169200.

30. See Dell, Sidney, “Economists in the United Nations,” in Coats, A. W., ed., Economists in International Agencies (New York: Praeger, 1986). For a slightly different view that stresses the variation with which Prebisch's ideas were received in different Latin American countries, see Sikkink, Kathryn, Ideas and Institutions: Developmentalism in Brazil and Argentina (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991). See also Rothstein, Robert L., Global Bargaining: UNCTAD and the Quest for a New International Economic Order (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1979).

31. Frankel, Otto H., “Genetic Resources: Evolutionary and Social Responsibilities,” in Kloppenburg, Jack R. Jr, ed., Seeds and Sovereignty: The Use and Control of Plant Genetic Resources (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1988), pp. 1946.

32. See, for example, Socolow, Robert H., “US–Soviet Collaboration in Energy Conservation, Research and Development,” in Proceedings of the Conference on Technology-Based Confidence Building: Energy and Environment (Los Alamos, Calif.: Los Alamos National Laboratory, 11 1989), pp. 402–8.

33. In the case of ozone, as with environmental issues in general, the unexpected onset of environmental degradation generated concern about the unanticipated consequences of human action and the search for new advice. See Brooks, Harvey and Cooper, Chester, Science for Public Policy (New York: Pergamon Press, 1987), p. 8; and Enloe, Cynthia, The Politics of Pollution in a Comparative Perspective (New York: David McKay, 1975), p. 21.

34. Cowhey, , “The International Telecommunications Regime,” p. 172.

35. This occurred in the case involving pollution control in the Mediterranean, as the ecological epistemic community created an agenda for a program sufficiently rich that other groups could benefit from supporting the program. See the following works of Haas, Peter M.: “Do Regimes Matter? Epistemic Communities and Mediterranean Pollution Control,” International Organization 43 (Summer 1989), pp. 384–87; and Saving the Mediterranean: The Politics of International Environmental Cooperation (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990).

36. Oran Young differentiates between integrative bargaining, which is possible during the period of discovery, and zero-sum bargaining, which occurs during the period of actual negotiations over distributional consequences of management. See Young, Oran R., “The Politics of International Regime Formation: Managing Natural Resources and the Environment,” International Organization 43 (Summer 1989), pp. 349–76.

37. See Raymond Hopkins, “Reform in the International Food Aid Regime: The Role of Consensual Knowledge,” in this issue of IO.

38. See the following works of Sebenius, James K.: “The Computer as Mediator: Law of the Sea and Beyond,” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, vol. 1, 1981, pp. 7795; and Negotiation Arithmetic,” International Organization 37 (Spring 1983), pp. 281316.

39. Odell, John S., “From London to Bretton Woods: Sources of Change in Bargaining Strategies and Outcomes,” Journal of Public Policy 8 (0712 1988), pp. 287315.

40. Kahler, Miles, “International Financial Institutions and the Politics of Adjustment,” in Nelson, Joan M. et al. , eds., Fragile Coalitions: The Politics of Economic Adjustment (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Books, 1989), pp. 139–59.

41. See Cowhey, “The International Telecommunications Regime”; Ayres, Robert L., Banking on the Poor (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1983); and Ascher, William, “New Development Approaches and the Adaptability of International Agencies,” International Organization 37 (Summer 1983), pp. 415–40.

42. See Ayres, , Banking on the Poor; and Ascher, “New Development Approaches and the Adaptability of International Agencies.” For a more critical view that dismisses any policy learning which does not promote individual health and equality, see Gran, Guy, “Beyond African Famines,” Alternatives 11 (04 1986), pp. 275–96.

43. Odell, “From London to Bretton Woods.”

44. See Goldstein, Judith, “The Impact of Ideas on Trade Policy,” International Organization 43 (Winter 1989), p. 71.

45. See Adler, , “Cognitive Evolution,” pp. 5054. For other learning approaches, see Haas, “Why Collaborate?”; Nye, Joseph S. Jr, “Nuclear Learning,” International Organization 41 (Summer 1987), pp. 371402; and Haas, , Saving the Mediterranean, pp. 5863.

46. See Kruglanski, Arie E. and Ajzen, Icek, “Bias and Error in Human Judgment,” European Journal of Social Psychology 13 (0103 1983), pp. 144. See also Peter M. Haas, “Introduction: Epistemic Communities and International Policy Coordination,” in this issue of IO.

47. Reynolds, Charles, The Politics of War: A Study of the Rationality of Violence in Inter-State Relations (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989), p. 263.

48. Hall refers to these as “administrative learning, driven by a concern to find technical solutions to policy problems; and political learning, characterized by the evolution of collective moral visions.” See Hall, Peter A., Governing the Economy: The Politics of State Intervention in Britain and France (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1986), p. 275.

49. Katzenstein, Peter J., “International Relations Theory and the Analysis of Change,” in Czempiel, Ernst-Otto and Rosenau, James N., eds., Global Changes and Theoretical Challenges (Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books, 1989), p. 295. While Katzenstein was characterizing the poststructural arguments offered by Richard Ashley in that volume, the point is more general.

50. Haas, , Saving the Mediterranean, chap. 8.

51. See Kaplan, Fred, “Warring Over New Missiles for NATO,” The New York Times Magazine, 9 12 1979, pp. 46, 55, 57, 84, 86, 88, and 90.

52. See Ruggie, John Gerard, “Changing Frameworks of International Collective Behavior,” in Choucri, Nazli and Robinson, Thomas W., eds., Forecasting in International Relations (San Francisco: W. H. Freeman, 1978), p. 386.

53. See Habermas, J., The Theory of Communicative Action: Reason and the Rationalization of Society, McCarthy, T., trans. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1984).

54. Innis, Judith E., Knowledge and Public Policy, 2d ed. (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Books, 1990), p. 34.

55. A power is legitimate to the degree that, by virtue of the doctrines and norms by which it is justified, the power-holder can call upon sufficient other centers of power, as reserves in case of need, to make its own power effective. See Sinchcombe, Arthur L., Constructing Social Theories (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960).

56. See Adler, , “Cognitive Evolution”; and Emanuel Adler. Beverly Crawford, and Jack Donnelly, “Defining and Conceptualizing Progress in Postwar International Relations,” in Adler and Crawford, Progress in Postwar International Relations, pp. 142.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

International Organization
  • ISSN: 0020-8183
  • EISSN: 1531-5088
  • URL: /core/journals/international-organization
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed