International Institutions in Hard Times: How Complexity Increases Resilience


  • Benjamin Faude London School of Economics and Political Science



international institutions, institutional complexity, resilience, sociological differentiation theory


This paper asks how institutional complexity affects the resilience of global governance. By drawing on sociological differentiation theory, it interprets growing levels of institutional complexity as a process of institutional differentiation which allows the “political system of world society” to mirror the increasing complexity of its social environment. More precisely, the paper suggests that growing levels of institutional complexity enhance the resilience of global governance by providing states with a more diverse set of governance tools and by making backup governance tools available. Against this backdrop, it makes two interrelated contributions to the literature on global governance. First, by applying the concept of resilience to global governance, the paper provides the conceptual basis for a novel research agenda on the ability of contemporary global governance to operate under stress. So far, the analytical toolbox of global governance researchers does not contain a concept that enables a theory-driven analysis of international institutions’ ability to facilitate cooperation when confronted with high levels of stress. Second, it offers a sense of how the central structural feature of contemporary global governance—institutional complexity—affects its resilience. With these two interrelated contributions, the paper seeks to start a scholarly conversation on the resilience of contemporary global governance.