Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home
Hostname: page-component-5c569c448b-ph4cd Total loading time: 0.284 Render date: 2022-07-03T18:22:19.926Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true } hasContentIssue true

Rethinking epistemic communities twenty years later

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 April 2012

Abstract

The concept of epistemic communities – professional networks with authoritative and policy-relevant expertise – is well-known thanks to a 1992 special issue of International Organization. Over the past twenty years, the idea has gained some traction in International Relations scholarship, but has not evolved much beyond its original conceptualisation. Much of the research on epistemic communities has been limited to single case studies in articles, rather than broader comparative works, and has focused narrowly on groups of scientists. As a result, it is often assumed, erroneously, that epistemic communities are only comprised of scientists, and that the utility of the concept for understanding International Relations is quite narrow. Consequently, an otherwise promising approach to transnational networks has become somewhat marginalised over the years. This article revisits the concept of epistemic communities twenty years later and proposes specific innovations to the framework. In an increasingly globalising world, transnational actors are becoming progressively more numerous and influential. Epistemic communities are certainly at the forefront of these trends, and a better understanding of how they form and operate can give us a clear demonstration of how knowledge translates into power.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © British International Studies Association 2012

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

References

1 Haas, Peter, ‘Do Regimes Matter? Epistemic Communities and Mediterranean Pollution Control’, International Organization, 43:3 (1989), pp. 377403CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Adler, Emanuel, ‘The Emergence of Cooperation: National Epistemic Communities and the International Evolution of the Idea of Nuclear Arms Control’, International Organization, 46:1 (1992), pp. 101–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Haas, Peter, ‘Banning Chlorofluorocarbons: epistemic community efforts to protect stratospheric ozone’, International Organization, 46:1 (1992), pp. 187224CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Zito, Anthony, ‘Epistemic communities, collective entrepreneurship and European integration’, Journal of European Public Policy, 8:4 (2001), pp. 585603CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Verdun, Amy, ‘The role of the Delors Committee in the creation of EMU: an epistemic community?’, Journal of European Public Policy, 6:2 (1999), pp. 308–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Gough, Clair and Shackley, Simon, ‘The respectable politics of climate change: the epistemic communities and NGOs’, International Affairs, 77:2 (2001), pp. 329–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Youde, Jeremy, ‘The Development of a Counter-Epistemic Community: AIDS, South Africa, and International Regimes’, International Relations, 19:4 (2005), pp. 421–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2 Cross, Mai'a K. Davis, The European Diplomatic Corps: Diplomats and International Cooperation from Westphalia to Maastricht (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2007)Google Scholar; Cross, Mai'a K. Davis, Security Integration in Europe: How Knowledge-based Networks are Transforming the European Union (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Sandal, Nuhket A., ‘Religious Actors as Epistemic Communities in Conflict Transformation: The Cases of South Africa and Northern Ireland’, Review of International Studies, 27:3 (2011), pp. 929–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Adler, Emanuel and Pouliot, Vincent, ‘International Practices’, International Theory, 3:1 (2011), pp. 136CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Some of the comparative public policy literature has followed this agenda as well, but has used the advocacy coalition framework instead of the epistemic communities framework.

3 Brathwaite, John, and Drahos, Peter, Global Business Regulation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 34Google Scholar.

4 Graz, Jean-Christophe and Nölke, Andreas (eds), Transnational Private Governance and Its Limits (New York: Routledge, 2008), p. 4Google Scholar.

5 Braithwaite and Drahos, Global Business Regulation, p. 5.

6 Djelic, Marie-Laure and Quack, Sigrid, Transnational Communities and Governance: Shaping Global Economic Governance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), pp. 1422CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

7 Graz and Nölke, Transnational Private Governance and Its Limits, pp. 12–14.

8 Ibid., p. 2.

9 Slaughter, Anne-Marie, A New World Order (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004).Google Scholar

10 Keck, Margaret and Sikkink, Kathryn, Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998)Google Scholar.

11 Adler, Emanuel and Pouliot, Vincent, ‘International Practices’, International Theory, 3:1 (2011), pp. 136CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

12 Brathwaite and Drahos, Global Business Regulation, p. 3.

13 Ibid., pp. 3–4.

14 Ibid., p. 7.

15 Eleni Tsingou, ‘Transnational policy communities and financial governance: the role of private actors in derivatives regulation’, Center for the Study of Globalisation and Regionalisation, Working Paper No. 111 (2003).

16 Graz and Nolke, Transnational Private Governance, p. 2.

17 Fleck, Ludwik, Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981Google Scholar; originally published in German in 1935); Foucault, Michel, The Order of Things (New York: Vintage Books, 1973Google Scholar; originally published in French in 1966). Other influential works included Mannheim, Karl, An Ideology and Utopia: An Introduction to the Sociology of Knowledge (International Library of Psychology, Philosophy and Scientific Method, 1936)Google Scholar; and Berger, Thomas and Luckman, Thomas, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (New York: Anchor Books, 1966)Google Scholar.

18 Kuhn, Thomas, The Structure of Scientific Revolution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962)Google Scholar; Holzner, Burkhard, Reality Construction in Society (Cambridge, Mass: Schenkman, 1972)Google Scholar; Haas, Ernst, Williams, Mary, and Babai, Don, Scientists and World Order: The Uses of Technical Knowledge in International Organizations (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977)Google Scholar.

19 Haas, Williams, and Babai, Scientists and World Order.

20 Ruggie, John Gerard, ‘International Responses to Technology: Concepts and Trends’, International Organization, 29:3 (1975), p. 569–70CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Foucault, The Order of Things.

21 Ruggie, ‘International Responses to Technology’, p. 570; Ruggie also cites Holzner, Reality Construction in Society.

22 Ruggie, ‘International Responses to Technology’, p. 570.

23 Haas, Peter, Saving the Mediterranean (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990)Google Scholar.

24 Adler, Emanuel, The Power of Ideology: The Quest for Technological Autonomy in Argentina and Brazil (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1987)Google Scholar.

25 Haas, Peter, ‘Introduction: Epistemic Communities and International Policy Coordination’, International Organization, 46:1 (1992), p. 3CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

26 Keck, Margaret and Sikkink, Kathryn, Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998), p. 2Google Scholar.

27 Johnstone, Ian, ‘The Power of Interpretive Communities’, in Barnett, Michael and Duvall, Raymond (eds), Power in Global Governance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), pp. 185204Google Scholar.

28 Collins, Randall, The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998)Google Scholar.

29 Adler, Emanuel, Communitarian International Relations. The Epistemic Foundation of International Relations (London & New York: Routledge, 2005)Google Scholar; Adler, Emanuel, ‘The Spread of Security Communities: Communities of Practice, Self-Restraint, and NATO's Post–Cold War Transformation’, European Journal of International Relations, 14:2 (2008), pp. 195230CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

30 Adler, ‘Emergence’, p. 101.

31 Drake, William and Nicolaïdis, Kalypso, ‘Ideas, interests, and institutionalization: “trade in services” and the Uruguay Round’, International Organization, 46:1 (1992), pp. 37100CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

32 Ikenberry, John, ‘A world economy restored: consensus and the Anglo-American postwar settlement’, International Organization, 46:1 (1992), pp. 289321CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

33 Adler, Emanuel, ‘The emergence of cooperation: national epistemic communities and the international evolution of the idea of nuclear arms control’, International Organization, 46:1 (1992), pp. 101–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

34 Peterson, M. J., ‘Whalers, cetologists, environmentalists, and the international management of whaling’, International Organization, 46:1 (1992), pp. 147–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Haas, Peter, ‘Banning chlorofluorocarbons: epistemic community efforts to protect stratospheric ozone’, International Organization, 46:1 (1992), pp. 187224CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Barnaby Kapstein, Ethan, ‘Between power and purpose: central bankers and the politics of regulatory convergence’, International Organization, 46:1 (1992), pp. 265–87CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

35 Interestingly, the concept was developed further and is still used in other disciplines, such as Education, Management Science, History of Science, and others.

36 Verdun, ‘The role of the Delors Committee in the creation of EMU’.

37 Zito, ‘Epistemic communities, collective entrepreneurship and European integration’, p. 586.

38 Ibid., p. 600.

39 Zito, ‘Epistemic communities, collective entrepreneurship and European integration’, pp. 587–9.

40 Sabatier and Jenkins-Smith focus draw upon the advocacy coalition framework, but as Zito notes, both advocacy coalitions and epistemic communities use knowledge to influence policy, and the former does offer some valuable insights for the latter.

41 Haas, Saving the Mediterranean; Drake and Nicolaïdis, ‘Ideas’; Radaelli, Technocracy in the EuropeanUnion; Richardson, Jeremy, ‘Actor-based models of national and EU policy making’, in Kassim, Hussein and Menon, Anand (eds), The European Union and National Industrial Policy (London: Routledge, 1996)Google Scholar; Sabatier, Paul, and Jenkins-Smith, Hank, ‘The advocacy coalition framework: an assessment’, in Sabatier, Paul A. (ed.), Theories of the Policy Process (Oxford: Westview Press, 1999)Google Scholar; Peterson, John and Bomberg, Elizabeth, Decision-Making in the European Union (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1999)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Raustiala, Kal, ‘Domestic institutions and international regulatory cooperation: comparative responses to the convention on biological diversity’, World Politics, 49:4 (1997), pp. 482509CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Peterson, John, ‘Decision-making in the European Union: towards a framework for analysis’, Journal of European Public Policy, 2:1 (1995), pp. 6993CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Jordan, Andrew and Greenway, John, ‘Shifting agendas, changing regulatory structures and the “new” politics of environmental pollution: British coastal water policy, 1955–1995’, Public Administration, 76 (1998), pp. 669–94CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Hall, Peter A., ‘Policy paradigms, social learning, and the state: the case of economic policymaking in Britain’, Comparative Politics, 25:3 (1993), pp. 275–96CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Sabatier, Paul, ‘The advocacy coalition framework: revisions and relevance for Europe’, Journal of European Public Policy, 5:1 (1998), pp. 98130CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

42 Dunlop, Clair, ‘Epistemic Communities: A Reply to Toke’, Politics, 20:3 (2000), pp. 137–44CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

43 Toke, David, ‘Epistemic Communities and Environmental Groups’, Politics, 19:2 (1999), pp. 97102CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Krebs, Ronald R., ‘The Limits of Alliance: Conflict, Cooperation, and Collective Identity’, in Lake, Anthony and Ochmanek, David (eds), The Real and the Ideal (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2001), pp. 225–6Google Scholar.

44 Toke, ‘Epistemic Communities and Environmental Groups’.

45 Krebs, ‘Limits’, pp. 225–6.

46 Sebenius, James K., ‘Challenging Conventional Explanations of International Cooperation: Negotiation Analysis and the Case of Epistemic Communities’, International Organization, 46:1 (1992), pp. 323–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Dunlop, ‘Reply’.

47 Dunlop, ‘Reply’.

48 Krebs, ‘Limits’, pp. 225–6.

49 Dunlop, ‘Reply’.

50 Krebs, ‘Limits’, pp. 225–6.

51 Adler, , ‘The Spread of Security Communities: Communities of Practice, Self-Restraint, and NATO's Post-Cold War Transformation’, European Journal of International Relations, 14:2 (2008), pp. 195230CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Adler, Emanuel, ‘Europe as a Civilizational Community of Practice’, in Katzenstein, Peter (ed.), Civilizations in World Politics: Plural and Pluralist Perspectives (New York and London: Routledge, 2009), pp. 6790Google Scholar; Pouliot, Vincent, ‘The Logic of Practicality: A Theory of Practice of Security Communities’, International Organization, 62:2 (2008), pp. 257–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Adler and Pouliot, ‘International Practices’. Interestingly, outside of International Relations and political science, there is actually a vast literature that seeks to compare epistemic communities and communities of practice.

52 Adler and Pouliot, ‘International Practices’, pp. 5–6.

53 There is an emerging literature that focuses on the episteme. Adler and Bernstein define it as ‘the “bubble” within which people happen to live, the way people construe their reality, their basic understanding of the causes of things, their normative beliefs, and their identity, the understanding of self in terms of others’. Adler, Emanuel and Bernstein, Steven, ‘Knowledge in Power: The Epistemic Construction of Global Governance’, in Barnett, Michael and Duvall, Raymond (eds), Power in Global Governance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), p. 296Google Scholar.

54 Eleni Tsingou, ‘Transnational policy communities and financial governance: the role of private actors in derivatives regulation’, Center for the Study of Globalisation and Regionalisation, Working Paper No. 111 (2003), p. 8.

55 For an example of this, see Cross, European Diplomatic Corps; Cross, Security Integration in Europe.

56 Marsh, David and Rhodes, R. A. W. (eds), Policy Networks in British Government (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), pp. 89CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

57 Ruggie, John Gerard, ‘What Makes the World Hang Together? Neo-utilitarianism and the Social Constructivist Challenge’, International Organization, 52:4 (1998), p. 856CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

58 Wendt, Alexander, ‘Anarchy is what states make of it: the social construction of power politics’, International Organization, 46:2 (1992), pp. 391425CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

59 Haas, Peter, ‘Policy Knowledge: Epistemic Communities’, in International Encyclopedia of Social and Behavioral Sciences (Elsevier, 2001), p. 11579Google Scholar.

60 For a good overview of this, see: MacDonald, Keith, Introduction, The Sociology of the Professions (London: Sage Publications, 1995)Google Scholar; Abbott, Andrew, Introduction, The System of Professions: An Essay on the Division of Expert Labor (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1988)Google Scholar.

61 Sarfatti Larson, Magali, The Rise of Professionalism: A Sociological Analysis (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977)Google Scholar.

62 Abbott, The System of Professions, p. 19.

63 Abbott, The System of Professions, pp. 20–30.

64 Goertz, Gary, Social Science Concepts: A User's Guide (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005), chaps 1–2Google Scholar.

65 Checkel, Jeffrey, ‘Why Comply? Social Learning and European Identity Change’, International Organization, 55:3 (2001), p. 563CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

66 Cross, European Diplomatic Corps.

67 Mai'a K. Davis Cross, ‘Cooperation by Committee’, EU Institute for Security Studies, Occasional Paper 82 (2010).

68 There is a literature that delves into the various philosophical underpinnings of uncertainty, which could be helpful in making distinctions about the relationship between epistemic communities and different types of uncertainty. However, I argue that uncertainty is not as strong of a causal force for epistemic community influence as has been assumed.

69 Haas, ‘Policy Knowledge’, p. 11581.

70 Furthermore, the literature on crises increasingly stresses their socially constructed and hence contested role, making one person's crisis another's status quo. See, for example, Habermas, Jürgen, Legitimation Crisis, trans. McCarthy, Thomas (Boston: Beacon Press, 1973)Google Scholar; Hay, Colin, ‘Crisis and the structural transformation of the state: interrogating the process of change’, British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 1:3 (1999), pp. 317–44CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

71 Haas, ‘Banning Chlorofluorocarbons’; Peterson, ‘Decision-making in the European Union’.

72 New York Times, Global Edition, Asia Pacific (17 November 2010).

73 Youde, Jeremy, AIDS, South Africa, and the Politics of Knowledge (Hampshire: Ashgate, 2007), p. 56Google Scholar.

74 Adler, ‘Emergence’, p. 106.

75 Pierson, Paul, ‘Increasing Returns, Path Dependence, and the Study of Politics’, American Political Science Review, 94:2 (2000), pp. 251–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

76 Krebs, ‘Limits’, p. 225.

77 Menkoff, Thomas, Evers, Hans-Dieter, and Chay, Yue Wah, Governing and Managing Knowledge in Asia (Hackensack, NJ: World Scientific Publishing, 2010), pp. 173–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

78 Cross, Mai'a K. Davis, ‘An EU Homeland Security? Sovereignty vs. Supranational Order’, European Security, 16:1 (2007), pp. 7997CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

79 Adler's arms control epistemic community was initially selected by the US government. Adler, ‘Emergence’.

80 Drake and Nicolaïdis, ‘Ideas’, p. 39.

81 Haas, ‘Introduction’, p. 3.

82 Drake and Nicolaïdis, ‘Ideas’, p. 39.

83 Haas, ‘Policy Knowledge’, pp. 11580–1.

84 Ibid.

85 Gough and Shackley, ‘Respectable Politics’, p. 332.

86 Haas, ‘Policy Knowledge’, pp. 11578–9.

87 Author interviews of EUMC military representatives, February–June 2009.

88 Cross, Security Integration in Europe, pp. 177–85.

89 David Spence first put forward this suggestion. Hocking, Brian and Spence, David, Foreign Ministries in the European Union: Integrating Diplomats (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2002), p. 33CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

90 Adler, ‘Emergence’, p. 106.

91 Cross, European Diplomatic Corps.

92 Slaughter, Anne-Marie, A New World Order (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004)Google Scholar.

93 Cross, Security Integration in Europe.

94 Sandal, ‘Religious Actors’.

95 Adler, ‘Emergence’, p. 107.

96 Antoniades, ‘Epistemic Communities, Epistemes and the Construction of (World) Politics’, p. 27.

97 Haas, Peter, ‘When does power listen to truth? A constructivist approach to the policy process’, Journal of European Public Policy, 11:4 (2004), pp. 575–6CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

98 Haas makes a similar point, but emphasises the primacy of scientific knowledge because he argues that scientific method, peer review, and publication gives true scientists more social prestige than other knowledge-based experts. I would disagree with this more narrow interpretation of knowledge because there is nothing that is inherently special about ‘scientific’ knowledge, and regular people, including politicians, cannot always differentiate between real scientists and people claiming to be scientists.

99 There is a literature on expertise that sheds light on modern and pre-modern expertise as well as the basis of authority in different settings. See, for example, Fischer, Frank, Technocracy and the Politics of Expertise (Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1990)Google Scholar; Radaelli, ‘The public policy of the European Union’; Wilkinson, Katy, Lowe, Philip, and Donaldson, Andrew. ‘Beyond Policy Networks: Policy Framing and the Politics of Expertise in the 2001 Foot and Mouth Disease Crisis’, Public Administration, 88:2 (2010), pp. 331–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

100 Establishing the motives of transnational network members can be done through careful and extensive interviews of those involved and those who interact with them regularly. They can also be deduced from the founding documents of a network or the phrasing in other kinds of public statements.

101 Youde AIDS, South Africa, and the Politics of Knowledge, pp. 55–6; Adler, ‘Emergence’, pp. 110–5.

164
Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Rethinking epistemic communities twenty years later
Available formats
×

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Rethinking epistemic communities twenty years later
Available formats
×

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Rethinking epistemic communities twenty years later
Available formats
×
×

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *