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Rethinking epistemic communities twenty years later

Abstract
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.

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

2 Cross Mai'a K. Davis, The European Diplomatic Corps: Diplomats and International Cooperation from Westphalia to Maastricht (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2007); 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); 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. 929–49; Adler Emanuel and Pouliot Vincent, ‘International Practices’, International Theory, 3:1 (2011), pp. 136. 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. 34.

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

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. 1422.

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).

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

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

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, 1981; originally published in German in 1935); Foucault Michel, The Order of Things (New York: Vintage Books, 1973; 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); and Berger Thomas and Luckman Thomas, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (New York: Anchor Books, 1966).

18 Kuhn Thomas, The Structure of Scientific Revolution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962); Holzner Burkhard, Reality Construction in Society (Cambridge, Mass: Schenkman, 1972); 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).

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. 569–70; 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).

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

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

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

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. 185204.

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

29 Adler Emanuel, Communitarian International Relations. The Epistemic Foundation of International Relations (London & New York: Routledge, 2005); 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. 195230.

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. 37100.

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

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. 101–45.

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

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); 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); Peterson John and Bomberg Elizabeth, Decision-Making in the European Union (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1999); Raustiala Kal, ‘Domestic institutions and international regulatory cooperation: comparative responses to the convention on biological diversity’, World Politics, 49:4 (1997), pp. 482509; Peterson John, ‘Decision-making in the European Union: towards a framework for analysis’, Journal of European Public Policy, 2:1 (1995), pp. 6993; 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. 669–94; Hall Peter A., ‘Policy paradigms, social learning, and the state: the case of economic policymaking in Britain’, Comparative Politics, 25:3 (1993), pp. 275–96; Sabatier Paul, ‘The advocacy coalition framework: revisions and relevance for Europe’, Journal of European Public Policy, 5:1 (1998), pp. 98130.

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

43 Toke David, ‘Epistemic Communities and Environmental Groups’, Politics, 19:2 (1999), pp. 97102; 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. 225–6.

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. 323–65; 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. 195230; 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. 6790; Pouliot Vincent, ‘The Logic of Practicality: A Theory of Practice of Security Communities’, International Organization, 62:2 (2008), pp. 257–88; 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. 296.

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. 89.

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

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

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

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

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

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 1–2.

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

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); 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. 317–44.

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. 56.

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. 251–67.

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. 173–8.

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

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. 33.

90 Adler, ‘Emergence’, p. 106.

91 Cross, European Diplomatic Corps.

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

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. 575–6.

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); 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. 331–45.

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.

* I would like to thank Emanuel Adler, Peter Haas, Dan Lynch, John Odell, Nicolas de Zamaroczy, and the anonymous referees for their constructive feedback.

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Review of International Studies
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