Various strands of recent IR literature that share the common trait of viewing the international order as social have highlighted the stratification of global relationships (notably Keene 2013, 2014; Brems Knudsen and Navari 2019; Buzan and Schouenborg 2018; Bially also speaks on hierarchies) -Mattern and Zarakol 2016; Hobson and Sharman 2005; Pouliot 2016; Viola 2020a, b). With these concepts of stratification / hierarchies, they reflect sociological findings that relate to the unequal distribution of resources between social groups and point to inequalities between state (and other) actors. Building on these strands of theory and attempting to contribute to their further development, several IR scholars – including us – have recently begun to examine the specific roles that international organizations (IOs) play within stratified global orders. In this article we explain why this question is important, how it can change our view of international institutions and organizations, and how concepts and ideas from sociological inequality research can enrich the study of IOs.
Like the authors mentioned above, we take sociological theories of inequality and stratification as a starting point for analyzing global relationships. We are particularly interested in IOs as they have become central actors in world politics because of their involvement in negotiations between states, setting the agenda and various areas of global governance. We argue that through these activities IOs help to reproduce (or possibly transform) global social inequalities. By categorizing global issues, distributing unequal social rewards among different categories, and providing unequal access to decisions about these categorization and distribution schemes, they fulfill essential functions that we also encounter in national stratification systems. Within a global order characterized by multidimensional inequalities, IOs are so central to regulating access to different types of energy resources that we can understand them as constitutive for a key dimension of stratification. institutional power.
With these proposals we try to systematize and establish the investigation of inequality-reproducing or inequality-transforming effects as a standard analytical perspective on international institutions and organizations. In the past, the (mainstream) IR scholarship for studying international institutions and organizations was mainly interested in the results of IOs in order to assess their ability to achieve collaborative outcomes such as norms, contracts or commitments. Sociologically inspired perspectives on international organizations came closer to our perspective by recognizing that IOs are both shaped by and, in turn, represent a broader social environment in which they are embedded. While these perspectives avoided the explicitly functionalist arguments of liberal institutionalists (e.g. Koremenos et al. 2001), they also concentrated on cooperative organizational results such as socialization or norm diffusion (e.g. Checkel 2007; Finnemore and Sikkink 1998; Risse) et al. 1999). The question of the reproduction / transformation of inequality by IOs has therefore long been ignored or overridden by concerns about the possibility of collaboration and “best results” in the IR literature dealing with international institutions and organizations.
More recently, some IR institutionalists have shown a greater interest in unequal order without fundamentally rethinking the collaborative paradigm. They either frame IOs and regime complexes as being used and manipulated by dominant powers, which leads to distortions of their cooperative results (Gruber 2004; Stone 2011); Or they emphasize the functionality of institutionalized inequality, for example by claiming that a hegemon is needed to solve cooperation problems (e.g. Ikenberry 2001; Lake 2009) or that special rights for some states are justified on the basis of their responsibility (Bukovansky et al. 2012 ): 58).
With a few notable exceptions (Pouliot 2016; Viola 2013), institutional research in IR seems to lack a perspective that – without reducing IOs to mere agents of state power – goes beyond (generally understood) functionalist thinking in order to identify and Understand the inequality effects of institutional rules and practices at the macro level of the global order. The perspective we propose focuses only on this “missing link” so that we can see how seemingly functional inequalities in institutional “cooperation processes” are linked to broader, multi-dimensional power hierarchies in the social environment of organizations. Our focus is therefore also on the effects of the actions of IOs. In view of a possible conflict between cooperative outcomes and gender equality goals, we will in the following advocate enriching our thinking on the effects of IOs by drawing on the conceptual apparatus of sociological inequality research. We will illustrate our conceptual arguments using a number of empirical examples to reflect on how concepts such as stratification, multidimensionality, capital transformation and social mobility can be translated into thinking about international relations and what role IOs play in relation to them (see also Missing and Freistein) 2020a, 2020b).
As a form of differentiation between subjects (along with segmentation and functional differentiation, e.g. Albert et al. 2013), stratification refers to an unequal distribution of socially valued resources between classes and other social groups. These inequalities are created socially through stratification systems, that is, through complexes of social rules that define who has access to different social positions and reward packages (Crompton 2008; Grusky 2001; Kerbo 2006). Stratification systems can be characterized by different degrees of rigidity or social closure. A rigid system is characterized by stratification rules that make it unlikely for individual members of society to experience social mobility by attaining a higher (or lower) social position in their life (Grusky 2001: 6).
Sociologists from Max Weber to Pierre Bourdieu have found that social inequalities can occur in different dimensions. Marxists emphasize the dominance of economic stratification and class differences, which are often the starting point for many sociological theories. Max Weber’s distinction between class, status and party introduces the idea of multi-dimensional stratification (Weber 1946), but also recognizes Marx’s insights. According to Weber, individuals and groups are unequal not only in terms of their class positions, but also in terms of lifestyles with different social prestige (status) and in terms of their share of political authority as belonging to a political party. The three dimensions of stratification, which are all aspects of the distribution of power in society, are different but interrelated: class, status and party positions influence one another, but do not determine them. In addition to Weber, Bourdieu shows how individuals accumulate different forms of capital in the course of their lives in order to maintain or improve their position in different, hierarchically structured social fields – generated by struggles for capital, the conversion of some forms of capital into others. Cultural (symbolic) capital (manners, taste, lifestyle, etc.) plays a central role in the distinction between class and status, but is rarely independent of the possession of economic capital (Bourdieu 1984).
Global stratification Translated in and by international organizations
If we apply these sociological assumptions to the global realm, which cannot fully reflect those applied to domestic societies, we argue that international society is characterized by multi-dimensional stratification, that is, several overlapping but different forms of inequality, the unequal Distributions of different international groups reflect valued goods and different dimensions of power in international society (similar to Keene 2014). These multidimensional inequalities are created, reproduced and (less often) changed by rule-based processes of resource allocation that link different reward packages with different social positions and global issues.
In today’s world politics, international organizations govern more and more subject areas with increasing depth of regulation (Alvarez 2006; Zürn 2018) and therefore play a central role in the distribution of vital material and immaterial goods. Global organizations make decisions about the recognition of states and non-state actors or about military and judicial interventions, distribute financial loans, subsidies or emission rights and set restrictions on the possession and use of strategically important weapons and that states have a reputation as “responsible” members of the build international society. All of these material and immaterial rewards are relevant in the thematic context that individual institutions are supposed to govern, but also have a broader meaning as sources of power in international society as a whole.
In the context of institutional rule and decision-making, international organizations construct explicit or implicit social categories of global subjects who are granted unequal access to these internationally valued goods (Fehl and Freistein 2020a; Müller 2019; Viola 2020a, 2020b). For example legal rights (e.g. pollution rights), economic resources (e.g. aid, loans, payments for “stability funds” in the EU), access to influential diplomatic networks or social prestige (e.g. perception as a member of the Community of “civilized” states) are assigned to differently recognized / unrecognized states, public / private actors, major / medium / small powers, industrialized / developing countries, democracies / autocracies or members / non-members of political communities such as the European Union (EU ).
These categorization and assignment schemes are in turn characterized by formal and informal procedural rules that determine who is allowed to influence decision-making in IOs. The procedural influence can therefore be seen as a second-order good that enables access to primary material and immaterial goods. Like these primary goods, it is often very unevenly distributed among different categories of governmental and non-governmental subjects. In addition to the most obvious example of the UN Security Council, which frozen a configuration of material power after the Second World War (Müller 2019), many other international organizations and diplomatic forums are characterized by unequal decision-making structures.
Some organizations, such as the European Union (Peters 2020), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, assign different voting weights to their members. As the example of the World Bank shows, the categories on which such weighted voting systems are based are just as important for the effective distribution of institutional influence as the formal weighting of votes. In the World Bank’s 2011 voting reform, the electoral reform was based on a reassessment of the underlying categories that propped up divisions, such as “Developing and Transition Countries” (DTCs). While the “voting reform” gave the developing and transition countries around 5% more votes and the industrialized countries 5% fewer votes, this did not – as announced – reduce the inequality of voting rights. Vestergaard and Wade (2013: 153) argue: “In reality, the shift was much more modest, as the DTC category includes several high-income countries that should not belong to the developing countries category and do not borrow from the bank. Including only low- and middle-income countries – the bank’s borrowers – developing countries’ voting rights rose (literally) from 34.67% to only 38.38%, while developed (high-income) countries retained more than 60 % ”. In addition, low-income countries – a special group of borrowers in the World Bank context, often faced with harsh conditions – have not benefited from it, so that the general goal of redressing inequalities in the world economic system has not been achieved.
Other forums, ranging from the G20 (Viola 2020b) to informal arms export control clubs (Fehl 2014), are still limited to exclusive circles of influential states, although the rules they set have an impact far beyond their membership.
In still other cases, it is the informal decision-making practices employed by and within international organizations that raise inequality charges. While the World Trade Organization (WTO) was founded on the principle of equality of votes on the basis of previous experience, the “Green Area” consultations within the WTO, or similarly, demonstrate the recent practice of the UN Security Council in issuing resolutions on “legislation” that are informal Inequalities can result from formal attempts to balance the relationships (Zangl et al. 2016). As protests against Bretton Woods, but also against other IOs show, inequalities in access and influence are an important topic in current global political debates. Several global institutions such as the International Criminal Court or the annual climate summit have been criticized by states in the Global South and beyond for offering unequal opportunities for participation and decision-making.
In a multi-dimensional framework, we can think of IOs as the management of various performance dimensions. Through categorization and distribution schemes as well as procedural rules that distribute the influence on these schemes, they grant and deny access to goods that stratify the global social system in different ways. Because of this crucial role institutional power, understood as the ability to benefit from and shape the activities of IOs, can in itself be viewed as an attractive social reward and a key dimension of stratification in the current global social order.
While organizational processes that take place in and through IOs sometimes affect only one dimension of power, institutional categorization and resource allocation schemes often create links between dimensions that allow resourceful members of international society to create some form of capital (e.g. economic prosperity ) to “convert” into other forms (e.g. voice weight). As in the weighted voting procedures mentioned above, the possibility of capital conversion can be regulated by formal rules, but can also result from informal norms and practices. As Thomas Müller shows in the historical case of the League of Nations, the nominations for non-permanent seats in the league council reflected the prevailing understanding of great power (Müller 2020). In a contemporary example it was shown that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) rewards US allies with privileged access to credit (Dreher and Jensen 2007). As we will explain in the next section, the possibility of capital conversion across dimensions influences the chances for social mobility within the global class order.
Social mobility and institutional reproduction of inequalities
Institutional categorization and resource allocation systems, including capital conversion rules, can lead to social mobility or social closure depending on the rigidity of the global stratification order. In a rigid order, institutional rules benefit established elites, while a more permeable order also rewards the capital accumulation of “newcomers”. For example, the emerging economies known by the acronym BRICS have long been severely disadvantaged by the distribution of voting rights in the IMF. The Fund’s recent quota reform is making the global stratification system a little less rigid by ensuring that the BRICS ‘growing economic power is more clearly (if not fully) reflected in their share of institutional power. In a less prominent case, Katharina Coleman (2020) shows how both formal and informal peacekeeping rules for the United Nations have enabled limited levels of social mobility by rewarding top financial and troop contributors with increased influence on peacekeeping decisions.
It is important that a decrease in stiffness does not mean that the stratification system becomes less uneven overall. The question of social mobility is linked, but not identical, to the question of reproducing inequality. Since topic-specific international organizations are embedded in a larger social context, which is always already structured by socially generated or controversial inequalities, this represents a “given” status quo at a certain point in time. International institutions lead to social results that address these already existing inequalities Affirm or transform in the topic-specific context in which they operate and in international society as a whole.
In a rigid system with low social mobility, IOs reproduce inequality: results systematically privileges elite members of international society such as rich industrialized countries, nuclear powers or states in general over non-state actors. This privilege can be based on explicit capital conversion rules, as in the case of the allocation of seats of the UN Security Council to “great powers” (Hurd 2008; Simpson 2004), but it can also be implicit and indirect. For example, if democratic status is the key to gaining social prestige or top jobs in international institutions, these rewards are not explicitly linked to possession of any power, but benefit (among other things) the developed Western states, while those that are predominantly disadvantaged come from developing countries. As this example shows, a change in the formal criteria for the allocation of rewards (e.g. from “great power status” to “democratic status”) does not necessarily mean a change in the stratification pattern, but can actually help the established elite keep track of the World to retain hierarchies.
In a less rigid stratification system, the overall degree of inequality is not necessarily less, but the strata are more permeable, which allows a partial change in existing stratification patterns. New members are accepted into the social elite, but at the same time inequalities between them and the rest (e.g. between the BRICS countries and other developing countries) are reproduced and increased. The rise of a few would not necessarily be an indicator of a permanent loosening of the stratification system, as exceptions to the rule are almost always possible even in a rigid stratification system.
Finally, IOs can also actively counter the reproduction of existing inequalities by redistributing capital to less powerful members of international society. For example, the inclusion of civil society groups in negotiations was a step in this direction. Supporting IOs such as the International Labor Organization for the decolonization of the world order would also be a measure aimed at partially redesigning the stratification system (Maul 2012: 227-58). These cases could be viewed as at least partial transformations of inequalities. Development aid through international institutions, trade privileges for developing countries and the principle of shared but differentiated responsibility in the UN climate regime are examples of measures for the institutional allocation of resources that are expressly aimed at reducing existing inequalities. In the area of global climate governance in particular, other measures aimed at systematically giving disadvantaged groups a head start over more privileged groups were compared with domestic measures to improve social mobility (Prys-Hansen 2020).
The argument we have developed so far is subject to an important limitation: We do not claim that processes of reproduction and transformation of global inequalities take place exclusively in institutional settings. We neither deny the analysis that an unequal world order has historically developed in and through colonialism, imperialism and other forms of violent exploitation and rule (Golub 2013; Hobson 2014), nor do we deny that both exploitative global production processes and military exploitation continue to be important in contemporary world affairs. We argue, however, that since routine processes of decision-making, redistribution and norm-setting take place in institutionalized settings, international organizations are central to the reproduction of inequality and are reasons for fighting for more equality. While IOs are often designed to serve privileged states, they can also become important allies of disenfranchised states to advance their agendas.
Conclusion: Rethink “cooperation” through IOs
Based on these findings, we therefore propose a change of perspective vis-à-vis international organizations, which aims to correct the (explicit or implicit) functionalist tendency of the established institutionalist theorization in IR. Theorists from many different theoretical schools have focused on identifying and comparing cooperation patterns or norm dynamics in individual IOs and policy areas, but have hardly linked these observations to the question of how global politics approaches disparate outcomes of institutional processes. However, cooperative outcomes do not necessarily contribute to equal relations between states. On the contrary, the distribution results of institutional negotiation processes can be markedly unequal and have an impact on the relationships between the subjects concerned – in a way that is only insufficiently captured by a realistic focus on state power and the instrumentalization of IOs. While IR research at international institutions has taken important steps to open the proverbial “black box” of institutionalized collaboration, it has also tended to “darken the space in which the boxes are located in the unequal global order.” “.
This is not an argument against cooperation, but for the analytical perception of possible compromises between inequality and cooperation that arise in processes of international politics. While states or even non-state actors have often criticized the systematic relationship between lower / higher status in the overall global order and the design and practices of specific international organizations, IR institutionalists have rarely considered the reproduction of systemic inequalities within and between institutions. Her focus on topic-specific outcomes has made it difficult to see that the global stratification and relative status of subjects are inherently linked in institutionalized processes. If we change our perspective on IOs from the expectations of outcomes in a particular policy area, e.g. Trade, energy security or the global environment In a perspective in which the results are viewed as a general distribution of the rewards according to criteria derived both from the environment of the IO and from internal organizational processes, the processes that reproduce the existing stratification become visible or transform. Furthermore, we might even assume that global cooperation can be improved by creating an equal order so that the two perspectives can be aligned towards the same goal.
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