Best, Jacqueline. (2012) Ambiguity and Uncertainty in International Organizations: A History of Debating IMF Conditionality. International Studies Quarterly, doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2478.2012.00744.x
© 2012 International Studies Association
How do international organizations deal with the persistent challenge of uncertainty? The most intuitive answer is through regulation. Yet, rules are not always the best solution in times of uncertainty or in dealing with complex and diverse problems. More ambiguous policies that leave room for interpretation, can often be more functional for an international organization (IO); moreover, ambiguities can also be a source of power—and are therefore often a subject of conflict among institutional actors. Focusing on the case of International Monetary Fund conditionality policy, this article provides several key insights into IO practices. It provides an account of the different forms that ambiguity can take in international organizations and develops an explanation for why institutional ambiguities appear and persist. Looking inside the IO black box, the study examines how interests, institutional culture, and legitimacy concerns shape actors’ support for ambiguity, and how these preferences combine with broader structural factors to produce a predisposition toward institutional ambiguity. Finally, this article points toward certain implications of organizations’ tendency toward ambiguity, suggesting that this may play an important role in enabling institutional expansion.