Enriching Rational Choice Institutionalism for the Study of International Law

40 Pages Posted: 13 Jul 2007


Over the past 20 years, the rational choice (RC) approach has produced a remarkable flowering of Institutionalist theory in International Relations (IR) and a substantial body of scholarship analyzing international law as a unique institution. Yet over the same two decades international governance has become far more complex than the Institutionalist model of interstate interactions, especially through the increasing influence of non-state actors and a growing array of hard and soft norms, organizations and policies. IR has evolved accordingly, with theorists focusing on multiple actors and sources of behavior.

This article continues an ongoing effort to enrich Institutionalist theory for explanation and prescription. The article is organized around important aspects of international law and governance: creating, ratifying and enforcing international rules; soft alternatives to international law; the interplay between international and domestic actors in international regimes; efforts by international institutions to enlist support from domestic publics and to strengthen the hands of supporters; and the growth of private norms for non-state actors. Drawing on relevant IR literatures and examples of innovative governance arrangements, the article suggests how scholars can incorporate into RC Institutionalism insights from Liberal IR theory, which emphasizes non-state actors and domestic politics, and, more tentatively, from Constructivist IR theory, which emphasizes social and subjective influences such as shared beliefs, norms, perceptions of legitimacy and identities.

JEL Classification: K 33

Suggested Citation

Abbott, Kenneth Wayne, Enriching Rational Choice Institutionalism for the Study of International Law. University of Illinois Law Review, Vol. 1, 2008; U. of St. Gallen Law & Economics Working Paper No. 2007-14 . Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1000187

Kenneth Wayne Abbott (Contact Author)

Arizona State University ( email )

Box 877906
Tempe, AZ 85287-7906
United States
480-965-5917 (Phone)

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