This article surveys the literature on transnational governance (TNG) and makes the case that the field of international relations (IR) is underestimating its scholarly value. Three main charges are commonly leveled at TNG scholarship, which broadly analyzes the importance for global governance of rules and rulemaking to coordinate nonstate actors across borders: (1) That TNG scholarship is too descriptive and nontheoretical; (2) that TNG research lacks methodological rigor, and thus its claims and conclusions are unreliable; and (3) that TNG itself is peripheral to what really matters for understanding the power dynamics of world politics. These criticisms seemed largely true for much of the early TNG scholarship from the 1970s to the 1990s. Yet, as the authors argue and document, TNG scholarship since 2000 is converging around explaining three “stages” of TNG—rule emergence, selection, and adoption—and increasingly is theoretically innovative, methodologically rigorous, and speaks to concerns that are central to the larger field of IR. Given this, greater attention to TNG by IR scholars, textbooks, and courses offers many rewards.

Transnational rules govern a dizzying array of our everyday choices and decisions. Take buying a cup of Fair Trade coffee. To gain the Fair Trade label, the coffee would have met a checklist of rules to promote fair pricing and social sustainability. Coffee growers may have adhered to food safety and agricultural standards, such as GLOBAL G.A.P. Assuming the coffee cup is made of paper, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) may have certified it as environmentally sustainable. These are just the ones we might see at the register. Beneath the surface, a standard set by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) would have determined the dimensions of the credit card used to pay for the coffee, while the manufacturer may have adhered to the ISO 9001 quality management standard. The coffee would have been moved in a standardized intermodal freight container bearing a standardized identification number overseen by the International Container Bureau (BIC). The banks that handled the transaction would also have adhered to a range of global standards detailing how to value assets and transfer funds, including those set by the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) and the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT). These are just a few examples of the rules surrounding the purchase of a cup of Fair Trade coffee. Many of these operate in different ways, and they each address different issues. Yet, together they constitute a form of governance that affects transactions occurring millions of times a second, every day, the world over.

The existence of rules, standards, and regulations bridging different political units is hardly novel. Covenants and pacts among families, tribes, cities, and states stretch back to the beginning of recorded history. More recently, the discipline of International Relations (IR) has spent a great deal of time and effort analyzing how intergovernmental institutions facilitate cooperation among states. What is most notable about all of the rules described above, however, is that they are designed to facilitate cross-border cooperation among nonstate actors—large and small firms, banks, insurance companies, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and even individuals. Sometimes municipal or regional governments participate, as well as courts or regulatory agencies of different kinds. But national governments and intergovernmental organizations are generally not directly involved in adopting or enforcing these rules.

Such rules are central to what we, along with many others, call transnational governance (TNG). By TNG we refer to processes in which nonstate actors adopt rules that seek to move behavior toward a shared, public goal in at least two states. The resulting rules differ from intergovernmental institutions, which arise primarily from interstate bargaining and aim to shape government policies, such as border taxes, intellectual property laws, environmental regulations, and weapons sales. Transnational rules, by contrast, aim to steer the choices and actions of nonstate actors. TNG therefore differs from what we might call “intergovernmental governance”—the subject matter of much of IR. The two are related, and interact, but are conceptually distinct. Furthermore, for us, TNG is best understood as one dimension of global governance, which we regard as a more all-encompassing term that includes intergovernmental governance as well as TNG. Our definition of TNG is certainly broad, encapsulating a wide range of rules and actors, yet it is narrower than global governance and altogether different from intergovernmental governance.

Transnational rules have been multiplying over the last two decades and reaching further than ever into our lives. Debates rage over their use and significance. Nonetheless, the study of TNG remains on the margins of IR. Though scholars of TNG trace their concerns back to early debates within some of IR’s most influential journals, in recent years, journals such as World Politics, International Organization, and International Studies Quarterly have provided relatively little coverage. Debates about TNG among IR scholars instead tend to occur in more specialized journals, such as Global Environmental Politics, Regulation and Governance, and Business and Politics. IR textbooks also tend to downplay or ignore TNG. Most now include chapters on nonstate actors, such as NGOs, terrorist networks, and multinational corporations. Yet only a handful of textbooks discuss TNG directly; and almost none do so systematically. Even core IR graduate courses rarely seem to cover transnational relations in any serious way; and TNG is often left out altogether. If IR programs cover it at all, they once again tend to confine the study of TNG to specialized issue-based courses.

Why, with so many scholars of international affairs identifying TNG as a consequential trend, does it remain on the margins of mainstream IR? Subfield scholarship is certainly partly responsible for the disparate and boxed-up conversations across IR. Often, scholars of TNG have focused on debating those who generally share their concerns and empirical focus and have failed to engage the rest of the discipline. This problem is not confined to the study of TNG; it plagues other IR subfields as well. However, the marginalization of TNG within IR is also a product of “mainstream” impressions of TNG scholarship, which, although mostly accurate in the past, are wrong today. In particular, many IR scholars see TNG scholarship as “too descriptive” and “thin” on middle-range theorization, with weak methodological foundations, and, ultimately, regard the phenomena it focuses on as relatively inconsequential for world politics. Daniel Drezner (2007, 22) nicely summarized this perception in a literature review for his book All Politics is Global. “Scholarship to date,” he argues, “has focused far more on descriptive inference than causal inference—and even the description often lacks conceptual clarity.” Most “case studies take the form of ‘easy tests’” and, overall, research “consists of efforts to demonstrate existence rather than pervasiveness” (2007, 20). As a result, he claims that scholars of TNG have tended to greatly overestimate the importance of these new forms of governance and their relevance for understanding contemporary world politics. A more recent review of the literature by Thomas Risse (2012, 442) similarly concludes: “the much acclaimed (and much criticized) ‘rise of private authority’ is probably an overstatement. Private rulemaking and self-regulation of non-state actors, especially companies, still represents the exception rather than the rule in world politics.”

This article synthesizes TNG research and in doing so mounts a defense against such criticisms. We argue, first, that TNG scholarship has deep roots within IR, and within political science more generally, and has risen out of concerns about the changing character of IR and genuine worries about the way we govern important cross-border issues. Second, while agreeing with critics like Drezner that early TNG scholarship did indeed focus on “describing” phenomena, we argue this effort has since given way to a wave of theorizing. In particular, we argue that, despite ongoing divides within TNG scholarship across empirical domains and research traditions, the best research is coalescing around concepts and theories related to three “stages” of TNG: rule emergence, selection, and adoption. Further, the research clustered around each of these stages is increasingly innovative and portable, offering many conceptual and theoretical insights for the rest of the discipline. Third, as this has occurred, we have seen TNG research shifting onto more rigorous methodological ground, utilizing a range of sophisticated small-n, medium-n, and large-n approaches that support stronger descriptive and causal inferences. Finally, the latest research has convincingly shown the pervasiveness of TNG and uncovered its far-reaching distributional consequences. For us, then, TNG is all about politics and deserves far more attention within IR than it currently receives.

The Origins of TNG in IR

The roots of TNG as a field of inquiry trace back to conceptual innovations that transformed IR in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Back then, realist thought generally demarcated the boundaries of IR. Leading scholars of the day, such as Hans Morgenthau, Morton Kaplan, and Kenneth Waltz, focused on states as unitary actors pursuing “interests defined as power” within an anarchic international system (Morgenthau 1948). By conceiving of IR in this way, they did much to establish IR as a distinct field within political science (Guzzini 1998). However, by the 1970s, such IR scholarship was under attack. Graham Allison’s 1971 book, Essence of Decision, was especially influential, disaggregating the state to argue for the explanatory power of bureaucratic and organizational models of foreign policy decision making over the rationalist, unitary-state model espoused by realists (Allison 1971).

That same year Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye’s special issue of International Organization (1971), released in 1972 as the edited book Transnational Relations and World Politics, launched a second series of blows against realism. Inspired by Raymond Vernon’s work on multinational corporations, Keohane and Nye ignited research on transnational and transgovernmental relations. Transnational relations, argued Keohane and Nye, were not new; states were becoming more sensitive to them as a result of changes to communication and transportation technology and, somewhat paradoxically, as governments sought more control over societies through interventionist economic policies. Increasingly, transnational actors were shaping the costs and benefits of state action—presenting a fundamental challenge to the state centrism of IR. They called for a “World Politics Paradigm” to unpack the state and broaden the range of actors within IR analyses. Their 1977 book Power and Interdependence elaborated on these themes, articulating a theory of world politics in contrast to realism: “complex interdependence.”

States as actors would continue to dominate research on complex interdependence, as well as the emerging subfield of international political economy (IPE) that Keohane and Nye’s research would help to pioneer (Guzzini 1998; Cohen 2008). Transnational relations and actors had to be taken into account, to be sure, but mainly to explain state behavior more effectively. Scholars did little to investigate the role of nonstate actors as independent “global governors,” especially in American political science departments. Conceptually, in this early period, research by Susan Strange at the Royal Institute for International Affairs (Chatham House) came closest to present-day studies of TNG. With several colleagues, she built on the conceptual innovations of Keohane and Nye, analyzing how transnational actors, independently of states, shaped rules within particular industries and issue areas, such as finance, oil, and shipping (Strange 1976a, 1976b).

Many of the insights from the transnational relations/complex interdependence research paradigm fell to the wayside following the publication of Waltz’s Theory of International Politics and Robert Gilpin’s War and Change in World Politics (Waltz 1979; Gilpin 1981). By turning realist “thought” into neorealist theory by injecting insights from microeconomics, these books put IR on a new footing. Doing so, however, relegated domestic politics and transnational relations to an essentially ancillary (and theoretically problematic) role (Legro and Moravcsik 1999). Even Keohane shifted away from the themes of the 1970s, at least in emphasis. In After Hegemony, he drew on the “new institutionalism” in economics to demonstrate that international regimes could facilitate interstate cooperation by enhancing the informational setting in which states operated in ways that Waltz, Gilpin, and their followers did not predict. Nonetheless, in response to the theoretical power and parsimony of these new neorealist theories, he did so on their terms, taking on board the key assumption of states as rational unitary actors (Keohane 1984).

Waltz, Keohane, and others accepted in principle the importance of domestic politics and transnational relations. Yet their theories did not systematically integrate these in the way that Keohane and Nye had called for in the early 1970s; at best, they only helped to explain residual variation in otherwise systemic accounts of interstate affairs. This proved problematic. The frequency with which domestic and transnational factors were brought into systemic explanations in a relatively ad hoc fashion suggested to a growing number of theorists that either purely systemic explanations could only effectively explain a small subset of state behavior or domestic politics would have to be fully integrated into the systemic theories that had been developed (Moravcsik 1993, 8–9; Legro and Moravcsik 1999). Some, mainly in security studies, appeared to limit analyses to retain a neorealist lens. Far more, particularly in IPE, worked to integrate domestic politics. Aiming to maintain the analytical and deductive power of neorealist and neoliberal theories, scholars combined domestic and systemic theories of state behavior (Evans, Jacobson, and Putnam 1993; Milner 1997; Moravcsik 1998). Building on these insights, Moravcsik also put forth a “scientific” liberal theory of international politics, which, by conceptualizing individuals rather than states as the primary actors in world politics, provided a foundation for IR theories with nonstate actors at their core (Moravcsik 1997).

Liberal theories of international politics enabled more careful theorization of transnational relations—so neglected by this time that Risse-Kappen would title a 1995 edited book, Bringing Transnational Relations Back In, aping the title of Evans, Rueschemeyer, and Skocpol’s book, Bringing the State Back In, which a decade earlier had called for the return of the state in comparative and international politics (Evans, Rueschmeyer, and Skocpol 1985; Risse-Kappen 1995). Risse-Kappen’s book sought to explain the conditions under which transnational relations influenced interstate relations by analyzing the interaction between transnational actors and states, as mediated by domestic political structures. Others theorized the impact of transnational actors largely within the liberal-constructivist critique of rationalist theory, developing new ways to analyze the role of nonstate actors in socialization processes, such as the “boomerang” and “spiral” models (Keck and Sikkink 1998; Price 1998; Risse, Ropp, and Sikkink 1999). Research on the European Union (EU) also explored the role of nonstate actors in so-called “multilevel” governance processes, which opened up opportunities for interest groups to influence EU policymaking and stimulated new transnational social movements (Hooghe and Marks 2001; Tarrow 2005). As in the 1970s, most of this early work tried to demonstrate how nonstate actors could directly influence state behavior through nonviolent campaigning, framing, and “naming and shaming.” The (re)widening of disciplinary boundaries during the 1990s, however, also opened space for theories of transnational politics “beyond the state.” Wapner, for example, analyzed the ways in which civil society groups attempted to influence individuals, corporations, and groups other than states, often through activism and normative change, but also by developing cross-border rules that defied “conventional” models of interstate diplomacy (Wapner 1995).

Although not the first to take such a focus, Wapner was at the forefront of a new wave of IR scholars striving to assess the importance of emerging “transnational” forms of governance. Their motivations were several. For some, such as Susan Strange, the growing power of nonstate actors in international affairs signaled the “retreat” of the state. The authority of states, she claimed, had “leaked away, upward, sideways, and downward” (Strange 1995, 56). It was not states, but intergovernmental organizations, local governments and, above all, market actors, especially multinational corporations, banks, accounting firms, and insurance companies, which now had the power to set the rules governing the world economy. Others, such as Peter Evans and David Held, saw the relationship between state and nonstate authority as more synergistic. Held argued, for example, that we were witnessing a transformation or re-articulation—not usurpation—of state power (Held 2000; see Evans 1997 for a similar view). In many respects, in fact, states were more powerful than ever. Yet, at the same time, globalization was presenting new challenges that they were ill-equipped to handle. These new problems demanded unconventional governance strategies, including mechanisms to share rulemaking authority with nonstate, substate, and supranational actors. The overall importance and intricacies of these governance arrangements were still unclear in 2000, in part because so many changes were still afoot. Since then, however, a growing number of scholars have been exploring the causes, dynamics, and effects of these new forms of cross-border governance, and our understanding of them has improved significantly.

The Rise of TNG Scholarship

Throughout the early 2000s, TNG scholarship rose from a relatively obscure research area populated by a small group of scholars to a burgeoning field of study within the discipline of IR, with its own questions, theories, and empirical subject matter. Like any field of research in its early stages, scholars were initially concerned with mapping the world of TNG and developing basic categories and concepts. Some early research on TNG did engage in theory building, but most was inductive or simply applied “off-the-shelf” IR theories. Scholars primarily relied on case studies to gain insights and illustrate basic ideas, as Drezner correctly observed. Since then, however, TNG scholarship has become much more theoretically innovative and methodologically rigorous. As we show next, the field is now coalescing around explaining three conceptually distinct “stages” of TNG: rule emergence, selection, and adoption. The first concerns the circumstances in which TNG is likely to appear, and, when it does, what form it is likely to take. The second analyzes how the content of different kinds of transnational rules is determined and why we see convergence on particular transnational rules in some areas and a host of competing rules in others. The third then examines questions about compliance and the impact of transnational rules on the underlying problems that they aim to solve. Of course, to some degree, each of these stages is interlinked. Outcomes in one may impact outcomes in another. The expected effects of adopting transnational rules, for instance, may help to explain which rules become dominant in a given domain, as well as why they emerge in the first place. This highlights the fact that the three stages we identify are analytical categories that help us navigate the complex empirical and theoretical terrain of TNG. Indeed, we think, in the future, scholars could gain much by exploring precisely how outcomes in one stage influence those in others. To keep our analysis manageable, however, in what follows we describe the evolution of research on each stage as if each was independent of the other. And, in doing so, we hope to also counter the three core criticisms of TNG research that we described in the introduction.

Emergence: The Rise of Transnational Rulemaking

Why have nonstate actors started to behave as “global governors”? Why has TNG become a more prominent feature of the global political landscape? When can we expect transnational rules to arise within a given issue area? These kinds of first-order questions have important normative implications, stemming directly from the concerns of scholars such as Strange, Held, and Evans. Whether transnational rules arise because nonstate actors usurp authority from public actors or because states delegate, devolve, and share authority with private global governors clearly makes a big difference to our overall assessment of the significance of TNG (Dauvergne and Lister 2012, 2013). As such, these questions have been among the most prominent in IR, constituting an area where scholars have made great strides. Scholarship on the “emergence” of transnational rules has moved from describing overall patterns of governance to advancing more subtle theories that focus on dynamics among states, intergovernmental organizations, and the capacities and motives of nonstate actors in discrete issue areas. To some extent, this effort has tempered the bolder claims that scholars initially made about the “retreat” or “eclipse” of the state. But, in doing so, it has yielded an impressive theoretical foundation for scholars to build upon.

In general, there have been two major approaches to explaining the emergence of transnational rules. The first (and earliest) emphasized the importance of major historical shifts in the technological, social, and economic structures of global politics. The details of such accounts vary from scholar to scholar—and generally defy quick summation—but converge on a common narrative. In each historical period, they argue that a constellation of social forces, public and private power, or state and market power, as Strange puts it, is supported by an underlying economic and social structure. As this base structure changes over time, the rulemaking power of public and private actors—or, alternatively, the legitimacy of certain modes of cross-border governance—tends to shift, giving one primacy over the other in different historical periods. In the modern era, it is largely the process of globalization—made possible by new technologies that led to decreasing costs of quickly moving goods, people, and information across long distances—and the rise of neoliberalism that many accounts regard as the critical independent variables bringing about the present restructuring of global politics. Simplifying somewhat, they do so by (1) lowering the willingness and ability of states to intervene in markets, as market actors gain opportunities for “exit” and “voice” with the increase in the cross-border mobility of capital and goods; (2) raising nonstate actors’ capacities for cross-border organization; and (3) shifting the global ideational superstructure toward ideas and norms that support modes of governance dominated by private actors.

As such, structural theories attempt to explain broad shifts in the nature of global governance over time. They identify different modes of governance associated with distinct historical periods and, as a result, emphasize the fact that TNG is not simply a modern phenomenon. As Claire Cutler (2003) argues, for instance, present-day transnational merchant law dates at least as far back as the Middle Ages. The location of rulemaking authority, in her view, has since swung back and forth between public and private spheres. Too often, this kind of longue durée perspective is missing from more recent theories that emphasize the uniqueness of transnational rules, and therefore structural accounts make a valuable contribution to debates about TNG. At the same time, however, this wide lens proved to be their most significant shortcoming. Explaining such big, complex historical trends with a small number of (admittedly, big and important) variables makes it difficult to see the many smaller motors and cogs that actually drive transnational rulemaking. Structural accounts have been most helpful for describing the overall patterns of transnational rulemaking within the global economy in a particularly compelling fashion and for emphasizing nonstate actors’ changing capacities, but less useful when we want to explain precisely why TNG has become a dominant force in certain domains.

The second major strand of explanation—largely functionalist in nature—goes some way toward this objective, explaining the rise of transnational rules by pointing to the material and ideational benefits that accrue to the actors that create them (Abbott and Snidal 2001; Busch 2011). Transnational rules arise, in this view, because they help to solve certain collective action problems faced by nonstate actors trying to transact across borders (Abbott and Snidal 2001; Busch 2011). Above all, they can reduce transaction costs (Kindleberger 1983; Spruyt 2001). Product standards, such as the various ISO standards for intermodal freight containers, increase the interoperability of goods and thereby facilitate cross-border commerce. Common weights and measures, such as the International System of Units, ensure that the standards that individuals use for quantifying market transactions are identical. Currencies, likewise, provide a common medium of exchange and measure of value. Other benefits of transnational rules include their capacity for facilitating credible commitments and, more controversially, attaining distributional gains (Prakash and Potoski 2006; Busch 2011; Büthe and Mattli 2011). For example, certifications, accreditations, and licenses of various kinds—which require a large investment of time, skill, or money to attain—can help to signal difficult to observe characteristics of goods, firms, and persons; they can also define what it means to be an actor, exclude certain firms or individuals from a group, or extract rents by raising the price of producing or consuming certain goods and services.

In contrast with structural accounts, functionalist theories have offered a finer set of tools. Importantly, they help explain the rise of TNG across different issue areas by identifying the kinds of problems that generate a need for such rules. They also help to account for the specific form that such rules take—the implications of which we discuss more fully in the following section. The specific nature of the collective action problems that actors confront can help to explain not only the appearance of transnational rules but also the way they operate and their enforcement characteristics (Potoski and Prakash 2009). At the same time, however, these theories of TNG tend to omit the state and broader social structures as important variables (Bartley 2007, 2011). Many depict a world in which firms, NGOs, and individuals seem to act almost entirely independently of governments. Yet, as structural theories have emphasized, these variables matter a great deal because they affect the capacities that actors have to establish transnational rules in the first place. Even in the presence of acute market failures, transnational rules are unlikely to appear if it is too costly or risky for nonstate actors to create them.

For this reason, the most advanced theories of the emergence of transnational rules now tend to integrate insights from structural theories with functionalist explanations. An example is the work on “private authority” by Jessica Green (2013). To understand when private authority arises, she argues, there must be “demand” for such authority as well as actors willing and capable of “supplying” it. Her account of demand is essentially functionalist. It stems from the anticipated benefits of private authority, which include reduced transaction costs, credible commitments, first-mover advantages, and improved reputations. This demand will only be met, however, if a public agent cannot supply the same benefits as a private agent, either because a public actor lacks expertise, public institutions overlap and compete with one another (and thus fail to gain authority), or there is greater confidence about the expertise or track record of a private actor relative to a public one. In other words, a private actor must have some comparative governance advantage, which usually is closely connected to their moral standing, independence, or expertise.

When there is both demand for private authority and actors capable of supplying it, we can expect it to arise. But, according to Green, this can actually occur in several different ways. She discusses two: states can delegate authority, giving rise to “delegated authority”, or it can arise as a result of the independent initiative of nonstate actors, producing what Green refers to as “entrepreneurial authority.” Two variables, in turn, explain the form of private authority that will emerge: the preferences of leading states and the presence or absence of a focal institution that can monitor private agents. Together, they shape the context—or social structure—within which private actors engage in transnational rulemaking. If the preferences of leading states converge on a way forward (meaning they can agree on a focal institution and instruct an agent), they are more likely to delegate authority to a nonstate “global governor.” On the other hand, they are less likely to do so if they disagree and/or if there is no focal actor. In such circumstances, a form of entrepreneurial authority is more likely to appear.

Green’s theory is particular noteworthy for its effort to combine insights from both structural and functionalist explanations to develop testable hypotheses about the emergence of TNG. But, it has also proven valuable as a foundation for cumulative theorizing. For example, Hale and Roger (2014) have argued that even though Green’s theory advances earlier efforts, it has limits. It only seeks to understand the factors that lead to delegated authority, a governance solution that establishes a “hierarchical” relationship between public and private actors, or entrepreneurial authority, a purely private form of “horizontal” governance. It does not theorize the emergence of nonhierarchical “hybrid” forms of governance involving both public and private actors (Koenig-Archibugi 2002; Börzel and Risse 2005). Observing this, Hale and Roger have tried to extend her theory to include what Abbott and Snidal (2009) call “orchestration,” which occurs when states or intergovernmental organizations seek to strengthen or catalyze TNG without an explicit act of delegation. Specifically, they build on Green’s theory by arguing that when the preferences of states diverge, entrepreneurial authority is not necessarily the only outcome. Moreover, entrepreneurial authority often fails to materialize because of high-transaction costs, insufficient resources, and asymmetric information. Under certain conditions, however, intergovernmental organizations or states may step in to help “unlock” the agency of nonstate actors by resolving such problems and facilitating the creation of transnational rules—provided that they possess the authority, autonomy, and capacity to do so.

Green’s theory has also offered a useful template for studies that seek to explain TNG in different issue areas and historical periods. While Hale and Roger’s theory offers an example of cumulative theoretical development, it examined the same empirical subject matter—transnational climate governance. Hale (2015), by contrast, builds upon and advances the theory to explore an entirely different issue area, transnational commercial arbitration, and different periods. To do so, he again incorporates notions of hybrid governance and moves beyond functionalist determinants of “demand” by focusing on the distributive implications of commercial dispute resolution. His research is also especially interesting because it explores an area that had originally been the focus of structural theorists, such as Claire Cutler, and systematically demonstrates the relative value of the new crop of mid-range theories of TNG (Cutler 2003; Hale 2015).

Thus, an array of scholars have focused on questions related to the emergence of TNG, and over time, there has been a degree of convergence on at least the basic elements of an answer. The most advanced efforts explain, in a relatively parsimonious manner, a wide range of outcomes—not only the rise of TNG across different issue areas but also the specific form that it is likely to take. Our ability to explain patterns of global governance has correspondingly improved. Part of this accomplishment has rested on a shift in the nature of research. Early efforts—largely those offering structural explanations—focused on describing the shifts that were taking place. They emphasized the uniqueness of transnational rulemaking and the various factors that underpinned it in different historical periods. This was an essential service, since good explanation is predicated on good description (King, Keohane, and Verba 1994). Functionalist explanations, to some degree, went to the opposite extreme in terms of their neglect of broader social structures but injected a useful dose of deductive theory. The most recent mid-range theories are able to strike a helpful balance between the two. They provide a robust theory that focuses on the capacities of, and three-way interactions among, states, intergovernmental organizations and nonstate actors, yet they do so in a way that facilitates cumulative theoretical developments and portability across domains and time.

Selection: The Choice of Transnational Rules

Research on rule selection, as mentioned above, focuses on explaining the processes through which the content of transnational rules is determined; that is, why some are strong and others are weak, or why some take one shape and others take another. This is distinct from research on rule emergence, which generally aims to explain why transnational rules arise in the first place—not what the particular transnational rules are likely to be. It is also distinct, as we shall see, from the process of rule adoption, which takes the existence and content of rules as given and explains why actors comply with a particular transnational rule—or not—and what the effects of doing so are likely to be. That said, like these two other areas of analysis, research on rule selection has made considerable advances in recent years. Initially, scholars sought to catalogue the wide variety of transnational rules that were appearing, and they offered accounts of the processes that gave rise to them. They investigated in great detail the histories of various transnational rules—who created them, why they did so, what they sought to accomplish, and the challenges or resistance they faced. However, in recent years, a common set of questions and theories have crystallized that attempt to explain the ways in which transnational rules are determined. In particular, two kinds of rule selection mechanisms—one market-based, the other nonmarket-based—have become the primary focus of inquiry. The two are, in fact, not always so clearly distinguishable in practice. Yet the analytical distinction helps to differentiate the ways in which the content of dominant transnational rules is determined. Perhaps most importantly, it has forced scholars to consider the deep distributional issues involved and to re-conceptualize the sources of power that actors leverage to shape transnational rules, generating useful insights that can be extended to other fields of IR in the process. We consider each variety of governance in turn.

Market-based TNG primarily refers to voluntary certification schemes (often referred to as “voluntary programs”), but can also include a number of other functionally similar phenomena, such as accreditations, credit ratings, corporate social responsibility programs, and various transparency initiatives (Potoski and Prakash 2009). Such schemes are “market-based” first because they operate by creating economic incentives for businesses to provide public goods “voluntarily,” such as a clean environment, improved labor conditions, or reduced conflict. But, these transnational rules are themselves in some ways “products” that businesses can “buy” and which transnational standard development organizations (SDOs) “sell.” Each offers more or less stringent rules, various levels of brand recognition, and different monitoring arrangements. They then compete with each other in a market-like fashion to gain adherents, arguably with the ultimate aim of becoming the dominant or de facto set of rules governing behavior in a given field. From such basic assumptions, scholars have subsequently developed models that attempt to explain how the content of such rules is determined, and why one or a small few may become dominant in a market.

We can begin to see how this has occurred by examining the problem they address. The underlying collective action problem that most market-based governance schemes aim to resolve is a classic collaboration game. Engaging in socially desirable behavior beyond what is legally required is often difficult for businesses, since they are typically only able to capture a small share of the public benefits they would help to create by doing so. Although everyone would be better off if all firms contributed to certain public goods, they tend not to do so because of fears that some will “free ride” to gain a competitive edge. This is the familiar prisoners’ dilemma problem. But it can be overcome, to some extent, if consumers can be persuaded to pay a premium for goods or services with socially desirable properties. Payment for this service would allow businesses to capture a greater share of the benefits they help to create. This is only possible, however, if consumers have a credible, low-cost mechanism for discriminating between “good” and “bad” products or firms. Without a way to ensure that they make the right choice, they will not be willing to pay the kinds of premium prices that can create an incentive for firms to shoulder the costs of selling “good” products.

Scholars of market-based governance have understood this underlying problem for some time. But, Matthew Potoski and Aseem Prakash were arguably the first to specify precisely the way in which market-based TNG helps to resolve it. Their book, The Voluntary Environmentalists, proposes understanding market-based schemes as akin to “clubs,” which the authors define as “impure” public goods that are nonrival but excludable. Consumption of a club good (like a film) does not reduce the amount available to others, but those who own or provide the good (the theater owners) can control or limit the number who can consume it. They specify a rule for admittance to the club: those who purchase a ticket get to see the film. Likewise, market-based voluntary programs can “certify” large numbers of firms—generating a known reputation with consumers that businesses can “buy” into—while setting strict rules on who can be certified. Membership in this kind of club requires that businesses meet certain standards (often at great cost), which, when strictly monitored and enforced by third parties, can help to signal important information about firms to consumers. Consumers are then likely to be more confident that the product they are buying is in fact “good” and therefore more likely to pay the premium price that a firm may charge for it. This then resolves the collective action problem described above. Both the criteria for club membership and the mechanisms for monitoring and enforcement can be more or less stringent, however, allowing different “quality” signals to be sent to consumers and providing a basis for market competition among clubs (voluntary programs) that offer different “products” to businesses.

As a first cut, scholars of market-based standards therefore wanted to know why these rules are designed the way they are. Why, for instance, did some actors design rules that were relatively stringent and strictly enforced while others did not? Initial thoughts about this question focused on the identities and interests of the actors involved. When public actors, such as states or intergovernmental organizations, created voluntary programs, they were hypothesized to have a strong incentive to establish rules that are more stringent. Scholars also generally thought NGOs had a strong incentive to make relatively stringent rules: failing to do so would lower their credibility or legitimacy in the eyes of relevant stakeholders. By contrast, corporate actors, such as firms and business associations, were believed to have less incentive to create stringent, or rigidly monitored, rules, since this would allow them to show an outward commitment to providing public goods while requiring few changes on their part. To some extent, these predictions were borne out in early studies, such as that by Kolk, van Tulder, and Welters (1999). But, over time, they have given way to nuanced analyses that provide more compelling but also subtler hypotheses. Fransen (2011a), for instance, has argued that the stringency of private standards depends on a number of factors (including the preferences of the actors involved in establishing them, their bargaining power, and the historical context in which bargaining takes place, which influence what aspects of transnational rulemaking are taken as “given”). The preferences of actors are, in turn, more complex. Firms may be influenced by their desire for profit but also by their positions in supply chains and the external social pressures they face. Under certain circumstances, they may prefer quite stringent rules. The literature has therefore moved from relatively simple assumptions about actor preferences to problematizing those preferences and showing how they aggregate to produce the outcomes we see.

The ways such rules subsequently evolve after they have been created and, especially, how individual voluntary programs have become dominant in an issue area has been another important avenue of research. Initially, scholars focused on describing patterns of market competition and dominance. The market for voluntary sustainable forestry programs, for instance, followed a particular pattern, with a diversity of business-led governance schemes proliferating in reaction to the stringent multi-stakeholder standards that initiated the market. This was then followed by a period of relative convergence as the more and less stringent standards adjusted their requirements upward and downward in an effort to gain adherents to their particular rules (Cashore, Auld, and Newsom 2004; Bernstein and Cashore 2007). Several different patterns of development, including “races to the bottom” (where less stringent rules become dominant in a market) and “races to the top” (where more stringent rules become dominant in a market), as well as interesting intermediate outcomes, were also identified in markets for carbon-offset standards, building codes, and transnational labor standards, among others (Smith and Fischlein 2010; Fransen 2011b; Fransen and Conzelmann 2014). To explain these, scholars then focused on developing deductive explanations of the patterns they saw and testing them more rigorously. A number of important factors have been identified, such as industry concentration (in which the leadership of a few large adopters can play a significant role in facilitating convergence on a particular standard) and the institutional design of “first-movers” (which heavily influences the uptake of rules as a market is formed, as well as subsequent contestation) (Fransen and Conzelmann 2014). Each of these factors gives some firms and SDOs the power to determine which kind of standard subsequently becomes dominant in a market. Others have noted that governments have played a role in determining which rules become dominant as well (Levin, Cashore, and Koppell 2009; Lister 2011; Hale and Roger 2014). By intervening in the market—becoming promoters, supporters, or even users of more stringent market-based TNG—they have been shown to be able to induce a “race to the top,” driving out less stringent standards. Thus far, these patterns and mechanisms have mainly been explored within the context of TNG, but they have analogies at the intergovernmental level (among public actors) and therefore insights from this body of research have the potential to be extended elsewhere (see Büthe and Mattli 2011, 18–41).

In contrast to the collaboration problem that market-based governance attempts to resolve, nonmarket-based governance generally arises when actors face a coordination problem. That is, it occurs when actors have a strong incentive to agree to a single rule and have little incentive to defect from the rule once it is established. This kind of strategic situation has been most commonly associated with technical standards for products and processes in areas such as financial accounting, electrical hardware design, measurement units, and so on. In each of these areas, actors often need to devise a single rule for all to use when transacting internationally, and once one is set it gets “locked in” due to network effects that quickly raise the cost of unilateral noncompliance. For instance, once firms agree that a credit card should be a particular size and a vast infrastructure of automated teller machines, point-of-sale terminals, and leather wallets emerges, a manufacturer has little reason to make a different kind of card. Thus, unlike market-based governance, constant monitoring of compliance is not crucial to the operation of nonmarket-based TNG, and we do not see the same proliferation of competing rules.

Instead, in contrast with market-based governance, where competition over the content of rules occurs after they are set, competition over the content of nonmarket-based rules generally occurs beforehand. Rule selection occurs through a process of bargaining over the specific rules or standards and over the standard-setting forum itself. In most cases, a single SDO provides a focal point for the diffusion of standards in different domains. Those most commonly discussed have been IASB, ISO, and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), a closely related SDO. However, a wide range of rival SDOs sometimes exists, and scholars have shown how a process of “forum shopping” can occur as firms and other entities search for rulemaking fora with advantageous features, such as different voting rules or membership composition (Austin and Milner 2001). The larger organizations, such as ISO, generally comprise a vast network of committees, subcommittees, and working groups that serve as focal points for the negotiation of individual standards. Their members are usually national standard-setting bodies, but often simply serve as conduits for national firms and industry groups that do the real negotiations; their secretariats simply coordinate the negotiation process and attempt to ensure that only a single standard emerges, although they also occasionally play an important agenda-setting role as well (Yates and Murphy 2008; Murphy and Yates 2009).

Initially, accounts of such international standard-setting processes were heavily influenced by the writings of economists, sociologists, and practitioners, who envisioned a process of rational consensus building around efficiency-improving standards (Loya and Boli 1999). This gave the impression of an inherently apolitical and anodyne rulemaking process. However, as political scientists have subsequently pointed out—most notably Büthe and Mattli—such theories fail to capture important dynamics of the rule-selection process (Büthe and Mattli 2011). Specifically, they argue that though all actors may agree that a single standard will make the conduct of business easier, the distribution of benefits may in fact be highly uneven. Depending on what standard is set, subsequent adoption may entail only benefits for some firms (if the standard requires few or no adjustments) or it may entail considerable costs (if major adjustments to product lines or production processes are required). In some extreme cases, the costs of adoption may even be sufficient to exclude certain firms from participating in a market, or, when adjustment does not take place, it may encourage markets for goods that can “translate” otherwise incommensurable standards, thereby pushing these adjustment costs onto consumers. The stakes can, therefore, be very high, and firms have strong incentives to engage in intense bargaining over which set of rules becomes the de facto international standard.

Accounts that view the underlying coordination problem as riddled with distributional implications have emphasized the role of power in determining outcomes (Büthe and Mattli 2011). Some “realist” theories, such as those inspired by Drezner’s (2004) work on international regulatory regimes, have suggested that power in transnational rulemaking is derived, essentially, from the size and diversity of national markets. Others argue, however, that such accounts do not help to explain why firms in different states or regions have been able to project power effectively in certain rulemaking forums but not in others: why, for example, US interests have generally prevailed in IASB but not ISO, where outcomes have been more closely aligned with the preferences of European industry (Büthe and Mattli 2011). To explain such variation, Büthe and Mattli have put forward an innovative theory of nonmarket-based rule selection where power is instead a function of the degree of “institutional complementarity” between global SDOs and the national (or regional) bodies that facilitate relations between SDOs and industries, which help them achieve first-mover advantages in standard-setting fora. Where national or regional bodies are relatively coherent and their authority is uncontested, Büthe and Mattli demonstrate that they are able to facilitate early and effective representation of industries and disseminate information about the global standard-setting process more efficiently; their power in global standard setting, in short, is greater. Where national standard-setting is more fragmented, with several organizations competing for authority, there is less incentive to diffuse information quickly to national firms, and it is more difficult to represent national business interests at the global level; power in global standard-setting fora is thus reduced.

Alongside the work of Potoski and Prakash and others on market-based governance, then, research on nonmarket-based governance by Mattli and Büthe offers a prime example of the development of innovative theories that analyze and explain similar phenomenon across very different issue areas. With respect to both kinds of TNG, they have put forward theories of rule selection that are not simply extensions of realist or constructivist IR theories, but that are tailored to the study of TNG and even incorporate ideas from fields that have thus far been on the edges of IR theory, such as historical institutionalism (Farrell and Newman 2014). As with theories of rule emergence, discussed above, these approaches have helped analysts to better understand the ways in which TNG operates, laid the basis for further refinements, and opened new avenues of research. But theories of transnational rule selection also usefully demonstrate the extent to which power and distributional issues have become central to the study of TNG. They have shown that it is difficult to account for the content of rules, as well as which rules become dominant in a “market for virtue” (Vogel 2005), if we are not aware of the deep distributional implications that structure interests and do not develop a rich understanding of the sources of power that actors can leverage. Indeed, as scholars of TNG have realized this, they have generated new insights into the nature of power in the global economy that can—and should—extend to the rest of IR.

Adoption: Compliance and the Effects of Compliance with Transnational Rules

The final body of research that we consider focuses on the process and effects of rule adoption. In this stage, the existence and content of transnational rules are taken as given, and nonstate actors choose either to comply with, or “adopt,” a transnational rule or not. The focus of research is on determining why this choice is made and what effect adoption has on actor behavior, if any. As with the other two stages of TNG, we show that research on compliance and effectiveness has developed an increasingly coherent and innovative set of theories. However, the research on this particular stage of TNG is exemplary for its methodological sophistication. This contrasts sharply with earlier research, which primarily utilized case studies to illustrate basic ideas. Generally, scholars did not “test” the theories that were being developed or derived from them, and therefore our confidence in the claims made by scholars was fairly low. Yet, over the past ten years, research on the adoption of transnational rules has moved through what appears to be a classic research cycle, beginning with more rigorous case studies that produced initial theoretical insights and tentative causal inferences, moving toward large-n analyses that test theories across a large population of cases, identifying anomalous outcomes, refining our theories, and repeating. Through this iterated process, models of compliance and effectiveness became more carefully specified, and our estimates of the causal effects of compliance and the overall impact of transnational rules on the underlying problems they aim to solve have become more conclusive.

Studies that attempt to explain why actors choose to comply with transnational rules in the first place most clearly demonstrate this pattern. The first generation of research in this field began from the assumption that nonstate actors adopted transnational rules either because they had a material incentive to do so, or because doing so was seen as normatively appropriate. The material incentives that scholars believed to be important included gains from product differentiation, risk management, improved reputations, and access to information and resources. Nonmaterial motivations included “other-regarding” concerns about the welfare of animals, humans, or the environment, or about conformance with prevailing organizational norms. In theory, a whole range of factors could then motivate nonstate actors to adopt transnational rules. However, initially, scholars tended to emphasize the international dimensions of these variables, especially actors’ levels of “connectedness” or integration into the international system. They saw international trade, foreign direct investment (FDI), networks of NGOs, and other pathways as transmitting the material and social pressures to comply with transnational rules.

Much of this early research developed these claims through small-n analyses. Garcia-Johnson (2000), for example, argued that environmentalism in the form of adherence to Responsible Care, a voluntary program developed by the chemical industry, was being “exported” to developing states by large multinational corporations. She showed that because of more stringent regulations in their home country (the United States), such corporations had a strong incentive to promote compliance with Responsible Care in host countries in order to level the playing field with local rivals who were less strictly regulated. The corporations therefore used their dominant downstream position in the market to place pressure on their local competitors and suppliers, and the extent of this pressure was hypothesized to determine the local chemical industry’s subsequent adoption rate. Garcia-Johnson explored this dynamic through well-researched case studies of the chemical industries in two countries, Mexico and Brazil, with which the US chemical industry was integrated to varying degrees. She showed that the posited causal relationship appeared to hold. Follow-up studies then greatly enhanced our confidence in this inference by examining the same dynamic using quantitative methods. Potoski and Prakash, for example, have demonstrated across a much wider range of countries that levels of adherence to ISO 14001, a standard for environmental management systems, are closely correlated with trade and FDI flows from countries with already high ISO 14001 adoption rates (Prakash and Potoski 2006, 2007). The same result (linking the uptake of various voluntary standards to adoption rates in trade and investment partners), as well as others focusing on the effect of business travel, have been shown to hold by a swath of other studies that have used a range of increasingly advanced statistical techniques.

Many scholars subsequently returned to small-n approaches in order to interrogate anomalous results. They were particularly critical of the limited extent to which theories of transnational rule adoption integrated domestic political variables, such as government policies and political institutions. Careful case studies of FSC certification and other voluntary standards in countries such as Indonesia, Brazil, and Argentina showed that though transnational diffusion mechanisms were important, uptake also hinged on fairly specific local factors, such as property rights over forests, which had thus far been overlooked (Espach 2006; Bartley 2010). Research on adherence to transnational rules in China and other Asian countries also showed that governments sometimes actively promoted or obstructed their adoption and that the weakness of activist civil society groups under authoritarian regimes hindered participation as well (Drezner and Lu 2009; Hale and Roger Forthcoming). As these findings accumulated, scholars made efforts to carefully integrate the hypotheses generated by such case studies into existing models of adoption and then to test these models quantitatively using increasingly fine-grained data. This has led to an entire second generation of statistical research on rule adoption that more carefully demonstrates the precise role of domestic policies and institutions in conditioning the transnational diffusion mechanisms that previous researchers had found to be important.

Studies that focus on the effects of transnational rules, once adopted, have become equally theoretically and methodologically sophisticated over time. Early studies, in general, simply examined whether adoption of a particular standard was associated with a change in behavior, such as less pollution or higher labor standards. Inferences were largely based on single case studies, or small-n analyses of initiatives, firms, or countries. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the causal effects of adoption were found to be highly varied, with some schemes appearing to be much more impactful than others, having uneven effects across firms and geographic locations. This led to widely divergent views about the overall utility of transnational rules as alternative means of cross-border governance. But even when results were positive, scholars rightly questioned the validity of findings. They worried, rightly, about endogeneity problems and the potential for spurious relationships that early studies suffered from. Were more sustainable firms simply more likely to adopt environmental standards due to lower adjustment costs, or was there some third factor that made firms more likely to both adopt voluntary standards and engage in “green” production practices? Existing studies could not tell.

Answering such questions constituted the subsequent research agenda of most second-generation quantitative studies of the effects of adoption. One path was to develop more carefully specified models that predicted precisely when a transnational rule, such as a voluntary certification scheme, would have an effect. Building on the “club” theory advanced by Potoski and Prakash, many argued that institutional design made a major difference. A scheme that was relatively stringent and required rigorous third-party verification, for example, was hypothesized to be more likely to result in genuine changes in behavior, whereas those without third-party verification were not—helping instead to “greenwash” a firm’s activities. Those arguing along these lines also believed that other design features, and various combinations of design features, were important to the effectiveness of transnational rules, and numerous quantitative studies have accumulated to substantiate these hypotheses. Potoski and Prakash have shown that adoption of ISO 14001 systematically improves compliance with government regulations and that this effect is related to levels of brand recognition, the stringency of rules, and the need for third-party verification (Prakash and Potoski 2006). Locke et al. have added to these findings by demonstrating that auditing of compliance with labor standards improves labor conditions in supply chains, but mainly when combined with other interventions in the workplace to build capacity (Locke, Qin, and Brause 2007; Locke, Amengual, and Mangla 2009). Others have shown, using fine-grained firm-level data, that where third-party verification is absent—as was the case with Responsible Care—the effect of adopting voluntary transnational rules is essentially nil when controlling for firms’ previous levels of environmental stewardship (King and Lenox 2000; Rivera and de Leon 2004). Finally, in a striking parallel with studies of compliance, research has also increasingly demonstrated that design is not everything—context matters a great deal, too. For example, adherence to stringent voluntary standards, such as ISO 14001, has been shown to lead to relatively greater reductions in pollution by firms when environmental laws are lax (Prakash and Potoski 2014). While compliance rates may be higher when environmental laws are strong, the overall effect on rates of pollution is much weaker.

A second approach to the study of effects has involved the use of experimental and quasi-experimental research designs to reduce concerns about endogeneity. Arnould, Plastina, and Ball (2009) have, for example, examined the effects of Fair Trade certification in Peru, Nicaragua, and Guatemala and found quite significant effects resulting from adoption. Their study—one of the most ambitious thus far—randomly surveyed over 1,200 certified and noncertified farms and found that those in the certified group received higher prices for their coffee and sold greater quantities of coffee than those not certified. Others have followed up on their research, used alternative statistical techniques and corrections for various biases and confounds, and found more modest but generally similar effects on income. Other experimental research has examined the effect of consumer labeling on consumers’ propensities to purchase environmentally or socially sustainable products (Hainmueller and Hiscox 2015a, 2015b). Using randomized control trials in collaboration with stores such as Banana Republic and Gap Inc., several studies have found that consumer labels do in fact increase sales of such goods among certain segments of shoppers (sometimes quite substantially), even in outlet stores where low prices are likely to be a primary concern.

In each case, therefore, theory has advanced in lockstep with methodological improvements. Research focusing on the adoption of transnational rules, as well as the other two “stages” we have discussed, has developed increasingly coherent and innovative theories, built upon past studies, and extended these insights to explain the adoption of transnational rules across an expanding array of issue areas. But, crucially, this has coincided with, and in many respects depended on, increasing attention to methodological issues. When testing theories, scholars of TNG now utilize a wide range of sophisticated approaches to inference. These include small-n case studies based upon meticulous fieldwork, such as those undertaken by Garcia-Johnson and Locke; state of the art econometric studies employing original, painstakingly collected large-n data; and experimental research designs, often made possible by collaborating with organizations that use or promote transnational rules. Thus, as theory has developed, confidence in the validity of causal inferences has improved dramatically. While it is safe to say that early research on TNG was well behind the methodological frontier, as would be expected of a relatively young field, the standards of research at the forefront of today’s field are no less rigorous than those employed in the rest of IR.

Conclusion

From its origins in the 1970s to the present day, research on transnational rules and rulemaking has turned into a major scholarly industry. Initially, researchers focused on developing basic questions and concepts and describing and categorizing phenomena—all to make sense of the new world of at once promising and threatening cross-border governance that appeared to be crystallizing. Then, as researchers focusing on different arenas of TNG coalesced around core questions, concepts, and categories related to the three different stages of TNG—rule emergence, selection, and adoption—the field accumulated a range of innovative theories, began to explore increasingly complex distributional issues, and, at the frontier, deployed new analytical tools and adhered to the highest standards of causal inference. Our hope is that, by showing how this process has played out and countering some of the claims made about the field, this survey of the literature will help IR scholars to see developments in the area in a new light.

This is particularly important because we believe research on TNG has a range of insights to offer the rest of the discipline. Conceptually, it has offered new understandings of the role of institutions in projecting power in the global economy and distinguished new kinds of authority—delegated, entrepreneurial, hybrid—that can help make sense of the behavior of nonstate actors in a range of domains. These can also contribute to our understanding of other phenomena, such as interstate bargaining and transgovernmental networks, which seem to arise in a manner akin to private authority—with some being delegated, some arising spontaneously, and others taking a hybrid-form, nested within more traditional intergovernmental institutions. The notion of market-based governance also has relevance to the rest of discipline, particularly for research on so-called “regime complexes,” which has been a major area of research in recent years but has thus far lacked a way of theorizing the dynamics at work. Greater awareness of research on TNG can therefore reinvigorate the rest of the discipline.

However, the field offers other benefits as well as it highlights phenomena that nearly all IR theorists must now consider in order to explain the world effectively. Collectively, researchers have demonstrated that TNG is not simply a peripheral phenomenon; it is one that now reliably rises up to fill some of the gaps left behind by failed or inadequate interstate cooperation. If it is still not the “rule” in most domains of world politics, it is the main game in many. Arguably, one cannot provide an accurate assessment of global environmental politics or the politics of global production, banking, or international trade without taking TNG into account. It is also a governance strategy that states and intergovernmental organizations have actively encouraged or sought to shape when it suits their needs (Hale and Roger 2014; Abbott et al. 2015). Indeed, TNG offers a striking example of the way that the rise and proliferation of new technologies of governance can transform the way that more traditional actors behave, adding to the menu of strategies for managing global issues. When confronted with cross-border problems, delegating responsibilities to nonstate actors to foster or shape existing transnational rules can offer important benefits relative to other mechanisms, such as formal and informal intergovernmental agreements and organizations. The choice set available to states has expanded. Knowing that nonstate actors will likely fill some of the governance gaps that arise when intergovernmental agreements are not reached also changes, subtly, the calculus of interstate cooperation. Today, therefore, the pervasiveness and importance of TNG mean that we can no longer neglect to incorporate it into our theories and empirical understandings of world politics.

1One of the earliest recorded treaties was between the Sumerian city-states of Umma and Lagash, described on the Cone of Enmetena, dating back to c. 2500 BC, see Altman (2012).
2It is important to note that we reserve the concept of TNG to rules that link private nonstate actors, such as businesses, NGOs, and individuals. Our definition excludes “substate” public actors, such as cities and regional governments, which have been the subjects of an equally large literature on “multilevel” or “trans-local” governance. See, for instance, Betsill and Bulkeley (2006), Curtis (2014), and Lee (2015). Much of the literature on TNG uses the term more loosely to describe both varieties of cross-border governance. However, we exclude a discussion of substate public actors in multilevel governance since we regard this as a distinct form of transgovernmental relations.
3A number of studies have documented the unprecedented rise of transnational rules across a range of issue areas, including Hale and Held (2011), Green (2013), Bulkeley et al. (2014), and Hale and Roger (2014).
5Key early studies that performed this function include Cutler, Haufler, and Porter (1999) and Hall and Biersteker (2002).
6It is important to note as well that research on each of these stages has not occurred in consecutive fashion since TNG research began to take off in the late 1990s.
8Often these constellations of power are conceived as “historic blocs,” following the work of Robert Cox (and, of course, Antonio Gramsci).
9Prominent examples include Haufler (2005), Prakash and Potoski (2006), and Baron (2009).
10This is most explicit in the work of David Baron (2009), who excludes “public politics” from his “private politics” model of credence standards.
11For a theory that also combines structural and functionalist explanations in a relatively similar fashion, see Pattberg (2007). Note that, here, we roughly equate the concept of “private authority” with TNG more broadly. This does not seem problematic since Green implies that when private authority arises, this entails the emergence of rules or standards created by nonstate actors that other actors defer to.
13This terminology largely derives from Cashore (2002) and Büthe and Mattli (2011). Again, it is important to emphasize that we use the term “selection” to refer to the processes through which the content of a rule is determined or why some rules become dominant, not why actors choose to adopt a particular rule or not. Of course, these acts may be intertwined, but they have thus far been studied independently.
14Of course, as this example suggests, club goods are rarely perfectly nonrival. Only a limited number of people can fit into a movie theater. At a certain point, therefore, the consumption of some does impinge on others when a club becomes “congested.” Club standards of the kind Potoski and Prakash describe, however, may actually exhibit increasing returns to club membership—that is, the value of adopting a voluntary program increases with the total number of adopters, much as the value of owning a telephone increases as more people possess telephones.
15Another study by van der Ven (2015) also shows that the role of business in creating standards is subtler than earlier studies implied. His work is particularly interesting because it disaggregates best practices into a number of dimensions and moves beyond the simpler stringent/nonstringent dichotomy. He shows, for instance, that standards created with greater industry involvement are not any less likely to adhere to best practices, overall, but are less likely to score well on the dimensions of “relevance” and “rigor.”
16On the role of governments in inducing “races to the top,” see Boyd and Salzman (2011). Also see Michaelowa and Michaelowa (2016), who provide statistical evidence showing that state “orchestration” is associated with higher quality voluntary programs in the field of climate change.
17One study counts as many as 250 international standards consortia in the IT industry, see Busch (2011, 196).
18A more recent account of this kind can be found in Murphy and Yates (2009).
19The ubiquitous “power adapter”—sold at exorbitant prices in airports around the world—is an example.
21The idea here largely derives from the varieties of capitalism literature; see Hall and Soskice (2001).
23For a discussion of this trend, see Bartley (2011). Another branch also focused on factors internal to firms, such as the role of institutionalized “policy champions” who pushed for the adoption of a voluntary program from within even when a clear economic rationale did not exist. See Prakash (2000). Again, one can see the same pattern in this field as early research developing these insights through case studies eventually gave way to statistical analyses and more sophisticated hypotheses.
24See, for example, Perkins and Neumayer (2010) and the citations contained therein.
27See, for example, the chapters contained in Potoski and Prakash (2009).
28An especially careful study of the conditions under which transnational rules are effective is Locke (2013).

Grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC reference numbers 410-2009-1741 and 435-2014-00115) supported the research for this article. The authors appreciate as well the feedback from the anonymous reviewers for International Studies Review.

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