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

Journal Article

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.

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Büthe, T

Published Date

  • October 2010

Published In

  • Business and Politics

Volume / Issue

  • 12 / 3

Start / End Page

  • 1 - 64