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ECPR Journals Virtual Special Issue

Expert Authority of International Public Administrations: Conceptual, Theoretical and Methodolgoical Considerations

Public Administration
International relations
Per-Olof Busch
Universität Potsdam
Per-Olof Busch
Universität Potsdam
Andrea Liese
Universität Potsdam

Scholars in International Relations increasingly observe that intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) enjoy expert authority. This observation raises the question to what extent international public administrations (IPAs), which are embedded in IGOs as distinct entity, enjoy expert authority, too. In our paper, we engage with this basic question and lay the conceptual, theoretical and methodological ground for assessing, comparing, and explaining variations in expert authority of IPAs.
In the first part, we review existing research on expert authority of IGOs and IPAs in International Relations and Public Administration. We focus, first, on conceptualizations and empirical applications of expert authority and, second, on existing explanations. Essentially, we argue that although expert authority has been largely neglected in the study of IPAs and IGOs, existing approaches in the study of authority of IGOs provide a good starting point for conceptualizing and theorizing expert authority of IPAs.
In the second part, we conceptualize and theorize expert authority against the background of the reviewed and other related literature, in particular in political philosophy and sociology. We define, first, expert authority as a specific form of legitimate power and distinguish it from other forms of power. Expert authority manifests itself in a relationship, in which one actor claims expert authority by communicating knowledge-based policy claims. Other actors recognize these claims and feel the need to consider and follow these as a basic premise for further actions and decisions specifically because they originate from that actor. Second, we theorize expert authority on the basis of rationalist, sociological, and critical constructivist strands of theories in International Relations.
In the third part of the paper, we discuss methodological challenges in measuring expert authority and alternatives to overcome these. Essentially, we identify survey-based research as most promising alterantive to measure variations in expert authority.
Co-author: Andrea Liese (
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