This chapter introduces the key axes of contestation over the rules of the game in the cotton trade and outlines a theoretical framework to understand them. A new approach to governance in the global economy is proposed: a theory of institutional change within the global capitalist system. This framework builds on recent variants of institutionalism by Djelic, Quack, Carruthers, Halliday, Mahoney, Thelen, Streeck, and others that focus on incremental yet transformational institutional change but demonstrates the limits of these accounts in their treatment of power and conflict. Drawing on the institutional political economic approaches of Polanyi, Wallerstein, Arrighi, and others, the chapter argues that institutional change must be understood in relation to historically specific institutional and systemic power relations. As coalitions of powerful firms and states create institutions to expand the scale and scope of the global economy, they unleash new competitive dynamics that both give rise to new rivals that seek to wrest control of these institutions and generate marginalized actors that seek to challenge their destructive effects. Rivals, marginalized actors, and dominant actors develop distinct strategies to reconstitute existing institutions given their particular positions within broader patterns of capital accumulation. This conflict-driven process generates incremental change and hybrid institutions.
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