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Ahrne, Göran; Brunsson, Nils; Kerwer, Dieter (2016): The Paradox of Organizing States. A Meta-Organization Perspective on International Organizations. In: Journal of International Organization Studies, Vol. 7, No. 1: pp. 5-24
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Abstract

In order to conceptualize international governmental organizations (IGOs) as powerful actors, international relations scholars increasingly resort to approaches that present these organizations as behaving like modern corporations or bureaucracies. Although we agree with the underlying assumption that it is useful to understand IGOs as organizations, we find these approaches only give partial answers. We argue that the key to a more complete under-standing of international organizations is to conceptualize them not as standard forms of orga-nizations with individuals as their members but as meta-organizations comprising organized actors as members. Meta-organizations are paradoxical constructions: autonomous actors with autonomous actors as members. An international organization is permanently competing for actorhood with its member states, and this competition has far-reaching implications for the ways they perform as agents of global governance. Meta-organization theory explains why international organizations are less powerful actors than standard organizations are—why it is more difficult for them to make decisions and to achieve coordination and organizational action. Yet international organizations are strong in other respects. Meta-organization theory explains why they are easily established, why they can place strong demands on new members, and why their existing members are slowly transformed by their membership. Overall, many international organizations are influential but in a different way than suggested by standard theories of organizations.