Published online by Cambridge University Press: 02 July 2009
What some scholars deplore as a loss in coherence and theoretical purity, others applaud as an innovative and necessary response to the regulatory challenges posed by globalization. Both camps agree, however, that we are currently witnessing a creative explosion in the diversity of regulatory frameworks policymakers design to govern issues on the domestic and international level. Within these scholarly discourses on trends in regulatory design, the term “legalization” has taken on two different, but closely related, connotations. To some, legalization refers primarily to the tendency of social conflicts to be transformed into legal or quasi-legal conflicts that are settled through institutionalized procedures. Brütsch and Lehmkuhl (2007: 9), for instance, define legalization as a move to law – a “complex set of transformations creating a multitude of overlapping, at times complementary, at times contradictory legal realms, or ‘legalities’.” This understanding deviates from the connotation this study focuses on, which sees in the concept of legalization a heuristic tool for describing and comparing the design of international institutions based on features considered particularly salient to the functioning of these institutions. This latter notion of legalization builds directly upon the theoretical framework developed by Abbott et al. (2000). This group of scholars identified three design features – that is, obligation, precision, and delegation – as central to the different ways international institutions function.