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Business and Politics

Editor-in-Chief: Aggarwal, Vinod K.

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Engineering Uncontestedness? The Origins and Institutional Development of the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC)

Tim Büthe1

1Duke University

Citation Information: Business and Politics. Volume 12, Issue 3, ISSN (Online) 1469-3569, DOI: 10.2202/1469-3569.1338, October 2010

Publication History

Published Online:
2010-10-28

Private regulation often entails competition among multiple rule-makers, but private rules and regulators do not always compete. For substantial parts of the global economy, a single private body (per issue) is recognized as the focal point for global rule-making. The selection of the institutional setting here effectively takes place prior to drawing up the specific rules, with important consequences for the politics of regulating global markets. In this paper, I develop a theoretical explanation for how a private transnational organization may attain such preeminence—how it can become the focal point for rule-making—in its area of expertise. I emphasize the transnational body's capacity to pursue its organizational self-interest, as well as timing and sequence. I then examine empirically a particularly important body of this kind, which today is essentially uncontested as the focal point for private regulation in its area, even though its standards often have substantial distributive implications: the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). I analyze the persistence and changes in the IEC's formal rules or procedures and informal norms, as well as the broadening scope of its regulatory authority and membership over more than a century.

Keywords: regulation; private governance; technology; institutional development

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