Project Project
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The Politicization of International Institutions (Book Project)

Subject Matter and Relationship to the Research Unit’s Program

The observation that actors on the international stage increasingly challenge the power and legitimacy of global governance provides the jump-off point for our politicization hypothesis. These actors are prepared to such a degree to exercise criticism of and resistance to global politics and policies that international organizations (e.g., World Bank), supranational institutions (e.g., European Union), and multi /transnational enterprises (e.g., Adidas) have come under noticeable pressure. At the same time, actors on the international stage also use international organizations and forums in pursuit of their own political aims. “Politicization” can thus be defined as a societal process through which the power, procedures, and policies of such organizations become “public matters.”

The TKI research unit catapulted this hypothesis into the international relations arena and discussion with two articles, the first appearing in Zeitschrift für Internationale Beziehungen (1/2007) and the second in Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte (20-21/2007). This provoked a wave of constructive-critical responses from the scientific community; reactions included inter alia four articles – detailed rejoinders – by venerated scholars, which appeared in the spring 2008 issue of the Zeitschrift für Internationale Beziehungen In that same issue of ZIB, the research unit also published a formal reply to the rejoinders, taking a decisive stance on politicization.

As a result of this initial response, the research unit began to undertake more intensive empirical research on the politicization issue, in order to more strongly underpin the basic hypothesis. A number of sub-projects were generated, which include the following. The TKI-DSL joint project on “The Denationalization of Problem Perceptions and the Assignment of Responsibility to Political Institutions” (Matthias Ecker-Ehrhard, Michael Zürn, TKI; Bernhard Wessels, Wolfgang Merkel, DSL) deals with the socio-psychological foundations of the politicization theory. Four case studies on politicization provide the field in which the theory will be tested and further developed, namely, the examples of politicization in (1) the United Nations Security Council (Martin Binder), (2) the World Health Organization (Lora Viola), (3) the sustainability policy of the World Bank (Helmut Weidner), and (4) the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s taxation system (Thomas Rixen). In particular what will be investigated is (a) the claim of the politicization thesis that stronger societal criticism of the legitimacy deficit in international institutions occurs, and (b) whether this critique actually leads to institutional change (and, if so, in what form). The final contribution to the project will address the conceptual, theoretical-analytical aspects of politicization (Michael Zürn).

The preliminary results of this research were presented and discussed at the workshop, “Gesellschaftliche Politisierung internationaler Institutionen,” held in 03 2008, generously supported by the Thyssen Foundation and hosted by the TKI research unit. Workshop participants and contributors included eminent scholars from the fields of international relations, sociology, political science, and the humanities. The outcome of this project and the workshop will be a high-powered anthology, published by the Edition Suhrkamp, scheduled to appear in 2010.


Michael Zürn et al. (Hg.) (2009), Gesellschaftliche Politisierung internationaler Institutionen Edition Suhrkamp, forthcoming.

Michael Zürn, Matthias Ecker-Ehrhardt, Martin Binder (2008). Ordnung wider Willen – Eine Antwort auf unsere Kritiker, in: Zeitschrift für Internationale Beziehungen 15 (1), 101-112.

Michael Zürn, Martin Binder, Matthias Ecker-Ehrhardt, Katrin Radtke (2007). Politische Ordnung wider Willen, in: Zeitschrift für Internationale Beziehungen 14 (1), 129-164.

Matthias Ecker-Ehrhardt, Michael Zürn (2007). Die Politisierung internationaler Institutionen, in: Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte, Heft 20-21/2007, 24-30, HTML , PDF