McNamara, Kathleen and Newman, Abraham. (2009) The European Union as an Institutional Scavenger: International organization ecosystems and institutional evolution. In: UNSPECIFIED, Los Angeles. (Unpublished)
In this paper, we offer an alternative explanation for international organizational change, one that couples insights from organizational sociology with historical institutionalism. The core argument rests on two assumptions. First, we note that international institutions sit in a broader organizational ecosystem. This ecosystem develops over time and can provide the building blocks of change and evolution in particular organizational sites. As this ecosystem is a fundamentally social environment, understanding IO change requires attention to the cultural materials that make up that environment and provide the building block for institutional change, as highlighted in sociological approaches. Second, the capacity to engage in institutional genesis is conditioned by the temporal sequencing of previous institutional trajectories. Choice is bound and shaped by past decisions, which form the distinct branches available for future moves. Here, insights from the historical institutionalist approach give us leverage over the ways in which institutions are likely to change and evolve. From these foundational assumptions, we derive two ideal typical paths to international organizational change: institutional layering, and institutional incorporation. In the former, an international institution can compensate for internal limitations by layering its perspective or goals over another organization. In the latter, an international institution does a wholesale incorporation of another institution’s policies, in both form and/or content. While the two may at times merge or overlap in the real world of empirical examples, we draw out the two pathways as distinct mechanisms by which the external environment may open up possibilities for internal institutional change (while at the same time conditioning the parameters of such evolution). Our ‘institutional scavenger’ perspective has important implications for understanding international organizational change. Rather than assuming that political actors come to solutions for their functional challenges with a blank slate, or adapt in instrumentally abstract ways, we argue that the process of institutional change is always rooted in the social or cultural ecosystem within which these organizations are nested. The solutions that actors reach for when challenges are perceived are in large part conditioned on the broader organizational ecosystem in which they find themselves. This historically conditioned account means that these solutions often come with the pathologies inherent in adapting previous remedies to new situations. But it also may mean that, if successful, institutions can borrow the form and content of certain organizations to increase their legitimacy, authority, and ultimately, power. As an initial effort to develop the institutional scavenger argument, we examine two cases of European Union institutional evolution. In particular, we look at the relationship between the Western European Union and the Common Foreign and Security Policy as well as the development of higher education policy in light of the Bologna Process. In both cases, the European Union reached outside the EU to existing, external organizational solutions to resolve internal policy demands. We examine how institutional layering (in the Bologna Process) and institutional incorporation (in the case of the WEU) occurred and then assess the repercussions of this institutional pattern of change for EU governance.
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