32 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 3 Aug 2011
Date Written: 2011
One of the major empirical challenges in the study of international institutions and organizations is assessing their impact on state policy and behavior. As social scientists, political scientists focus on inferring the causal effect of institutions from observed patterns of behavior. However, in the operationalization of the effects of institutions, much empirical work has chosen to borrow a legal concept, compliance, as the measured outcome variable. This essay evaluates and critiques the empirical literature on compliance, while drawing lessons from this literature for the systematic study of institutional effects. The concept of compliance, while central to the analysis of lawyers and of legal scholars, is inappropriate as a measure of institutional effects and has led to misallocation of research resources. Instead, political scientists need to return to more standard approaches to assessing causal effects, including clear specification of counterfactuals.
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