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International Organization Networks: a complementary perspective


International Organization Networks
'Network' in practice
Social networks
'System' versus 'Network'
Complementarity of system and network perspectives
Network model
Data availability
Data collected
Directions for analysis
Predictive possibilities
Network design
Policy implications

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Printed in A J R Groom and Paul Taylor (Eds). International Organizations: a conceptual approach. Frances Pinter, 1977, pp. 381-413. Also appeared in Anthony Judge. From Networking to Tensegrity Organization: collected papers. Brussels, Union of International Associations, 1984, pp. 121-130


This chapter first discusses briefly the extent to which an inter-organizational perspective is currently used in connection with the theory or practice of international organization. The distinction between 'network' and 'system' is then examined and the complementarity of the two perspectives in relation to a structure-process continuum is emphasized. An attempt is made to sketch out a network model of society and the challenge it poses for data collection. The availability of data on organizational and related networks is then discussed before reporting on one extensive data collection exercise which demonstrates the feasibility of the approach. Some directions for analysis, and the possibility for predicting various kinds of network growth, are then considered. Finally, the question of network design and various policy implications are examined.

The conventional approach to the analysis of organizations, and especially international organizations, has focussed on individual organizations. (1) These have either been studied in isolation as particular cases (embedded in an environment of pressures and processes) or considered as members of a set on which some form of quantitative analysis could be performed (members, personnel, budget, and the like). Both these approaches tend to avert attention from the pattern of linkages between existing international organizations or to the 'international organization' which emerges from any relatively stable pat tern of linkages across national boundaries.

Clearly there are exceptions to this statement. For example, Edward Miles has undertaken a number of studies of the complex of international organizations concerned with special issue areas (e.g. space, law of sea). However, he is more concerned with the particular case and less with the general problems of analyzing and describing such patterns of structural interaction. There has also been much work on the analysis of transactions or exchanges across national boundaries and on the formation of coalitions between nation states. The former tends naturally to emphasize the flows rather than the pattern constituted by the set of flows. The latter is, of course, primarily concerned with the nation state as air actor, and the power blocs constituted by such coalitions, rather than their fine structure.

William Evan, in his introduction to a reader on inter-organizational relations (2), makes the point that:

    "One basic assumption, however, has unified researchers from diverse disciplines and vantage points, viz., that a significant amount of the variance of organizational phenomena can be accounted for by concentrating on intra-organizational variables... In recent years, one can detect a rising tide of discontent with the predominantly intra-organizational focus of organizational research. One expression of this discontent is as follows: 'Too much sociological theory arid research has been based mainly on the model of a single organization, and attention has been focused on its internal processes. by and large. Surely this dominant model is not sufficient to analyze newer arid more complex organizational forms such as the interlocking networks of organization in the civil service, the multi-campus state university, regional consortia of educational institutions, multi-outlet distributive organizations in business, and multi-plant industrial concerns. Having become rooted in its social and technological environment arid more complex ways, organizations find themselves both constraining and being constrained by these environments in new ways. Yet investigators of formal organizations have barely begun to attack these new relationships."
There has of course been no lack of studies of the 'international system' but these have tended to focus on aggregated quantitative data relating to geographical areas or individual nation states rather than to organizational 'fine structure' which is the vehicle for the international system Where a network orientation has been specifically used, it has been applied to the network of relations between nation states as in the case Harary and Miller, Schofield or Vaughn (3)

Although Vaughn, in fits analysis of the EEC, also includes enterprises and the Commission itself. Where individual organizations or groups of organizations have been considered, they tend either to have been studied in terms of their use as control mechanisms for the international system (e.g. the United Nations) or as being limited in their activities by features of that system. Again the richness and diversity of the interacting organizational forms has been ignored (for example, the variety of forms discussed in Chapter 2 of this volume). Efforts to move towards a broader perspective have been made: by various people advised by Chadwick Alger, focusing on problem-area organization networks; by Elise Boulding, in connection with women's organizations and religious groups (4); and by Diana Crane, in extending her work on discipline-related networks of scientists and the invisible colleges to networks of international scientific and professional associations (5). The author, partly in collaboration with Kjell Skjelsbaek, has explored possibilities of tracking evolving networks of international organizations. (6) This resulted recently in the establishment of a data base on networks of organizations, problems. treaties, disciplines, and the like, which was used to produce the Yearbook of World Problems and Human Potential.

Before considering the contribution of research on social networks or the distinction, if any, between 'system' and 'network', it is useful to note the emergence of the use of 'network' in the practice of international organizations.

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