Published online by Cambridge University Press: 17 June 2020
The selection process leading to the appointment of Antonio Guterres as Secretary-General of the United Nations gave way to unprecedented practices in world politics, such as public hearings with candidates. A textbook case of what historical institutionalism calls “layering,” this episode of institutional development features intriguing puzzles, including its timing, form, and limits. Drawing on historical institutionalism and practice theory, I develop a “pulling” theory of agency that complements intentionalist accounts. The webs of practices that agents find themselves in afford certain actions over others, orienting the push of interests. I infer three mechanisms—relational crossover, competence transfers, and pushback—and show how a set of nine practices, available at the UN in 2015–2016 but not in earlier episodes, account for the specifics of the recent renewal of the Secretary-General's selection procedure. A full explanation of this critical case of institutional change is impossible without understanding how agents struggled with one another under the pull of the UN web of practices, affording some innovations but not others.