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Peer-Reviewed Article

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Informal institutions are important platforms for renegotiating global governance, but there is disagreement on how they operate and challenge the United States (US). Realists view some informal institutions like Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) as counter-hegemonic entities, while rational institutionalists focus on their structure and performance in specific areas. However, neither approach explains the internal dynamics that make these institutions robust and potentially counter-hegemonic. To fill this gap, we first develop a new convergence approach for analysing informal institutional dynamics, and then we apply this approach to examine BRICS robustness and BRICS–US relations. Our BRICS Convergence Index measures policy convergence of the BRICS states using a novel data set of BRICS cooperation on 47 policy issues between 2009 and 2021. Using data on US policy preferences on the same issues, we also identify the key sites of BRICS–US contestation. We find an overall increase in BRICS policy convergence and limited divergence from US preferences across a wide range of policy issues. However, since BRICS has engaged with more security issues after 2015 and substantively deepened its cooperation, its capability to counter US influence has grown. Our convergence-focused analysis of informal institutions embraces members’ agency and pathways for institution building, while identifying the issues that bind rival countries. As such, it helps explain how informal institutions gain robustness and provides empirical insights into the rise of new powers and global governance reform efforts.


This article is open access under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 License

Pre-published online July 13, 2023



Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License



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