Democracy Is Democracy Is Democracy? Changes in Evaluations of International Institutions in Academic Textbooks, 1970–2010


  • Klaus Dingwerth is Assistant Professor in Political Theory of Global Governance at the University St. Gallen, Switzerland (email:; Ina Lehmann, Ellen Reichel, and Tobias Weise are research fellows at the Institute for Intercultural and International Studies, University of Bremen, Germany (email:;; This paper is part of the broader research project “Changing Norms of Global Governance” ( funded as a part of the Emmy Noether Program of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, Grant No. DI1417/2-1). We gratefully acknowledge the support from the DFG. We also thank Felix Anderl, Marret Bischewski, Benjamin Brast, Nicole Gonyea, Nele Kortendiek, and Helge Staff for their excellent research assistance; Eric Duchesne, Kristina Hahn, Nina Hall, Monika Heupel, Nico Krisch, Bernd Schlipphak, the anonymous reviewers as well as the participants of the “Institutional Dynamics in World Politics: Explaining variation in the scope, pace, and direction of international institutional change” (Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin, Germany, April 7–8, 2011), “Global Governance as Public Authority: Structures, Contestation, and Normative Change” (Hertie School of Governance, Berlin, Germany, April 15–16, 2011), and “Institutional Change in Intergovernmental Organization” (ULB-UGent, Brussels, Belgium, May 27–28, 2011) workshops for comments on earlier versions.
  • [Corrections added February 5, 2015, after original online publication: grammatical changes have been made to this article to improve clarity.]


This article examines what democracy means when it is used in academic textbook evaluations of international institutions and how the meaning of the term “democracy” in such evaluations has changed over time. An analysis of 71 textbooks on international institutions in the policy areas of international security, environmental, and human rights politics leads us to several answers. We observe slight changes in relation to three aspects. First, the range of democracy-relevant actors expands over time, most notably in relation to nonstate actors as important participants in (or even subjects of) international policymaking. Second, representational concerns become more relevant in justifying demands for greater participation in international institutions. Third, international organizations are increasingly discussed not only as subjects that enhance the transparency and accountability of the policies of their member states, but also as the objects of democratic demands for transparency and accountability themselves.