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The political international society: Change in primary and secondary institutions

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 December 2014

Abstract

This article intends to contribute to the theorising of institutional change. Specifically, it asks how dynamics in the ‘deep structure’ of international society correspond to changes in more specific institutions as embodied by regimes and international organisations. It does so by taking up the distinction of primary and secondary institutions in international society advocated by scholars of the English School. It argues that, while the differentiation offers analytical potential, the School has largely failed to study secondary institutions such as international organisations and regimes as autonomous objects of analysis, seeing them as mere materialisations of primary institutions. Engaging with the concepts of structuration and path dependence will allow scholars working in an English School framework to explore more deeply the relation between the two kinds of institutions, and as a consequence devise more elaborate theories of institutional change. Based on this argument, the article develops a theoretical model that sees primary and secondary institutions entangled in distinctive processes of constitution and institutionalisation. This model helps to establish international organisations and regimes as a crucial part of the English School agenda, and to enlighten the political mechanisms that lead to continuity and change in international institutions more broadly.

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Copyright © British International Studies Association 2014 

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93 Buzan, Introduction to the English School, p. 169.

94 For an alternative typology of institutional change in international society, see Holsti, Taming the Sovereigns, pp. 12–17.

95 See Wendt and Duvall, ‘Institutions and international order’, p. 65.

96 Keal, Paul, European Conquest and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: The Moral Backwardness of International Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Keene, Beyond the Anarchical Society; Thelen, ‘Historical institutionalism in comparative politics’.

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