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ABSTRACT: Recently, political science has seen an intense debate about the phenomenon of “governance”. The aim of this paper is to clarify the basic concepts that are at the heart of this debate, notably “governance” and “modes of governance”. It argues that most contributions share a common concern for the relationship between state intervention and societal autonomy. But different strands of the literature highlight different facets of this continuum. Existing understandings may be classified according to whether they emphasise the politics, polity or policy dimensions of governance. We use these categories to present a structured overview of different dimensions of modes of governance as they may be found in the literature. In this context, we argue that the classification of modes of governance as “old” or “new” is of little analytical value. Some modes of governance may have been relatively new in some empirical contexts. But the same governing modes may turn out to be long-established practice in other areas. Moving from individual dimensions to systematic classification schemes and typologies of modes of governance, the paper highlights a number of shortcomings of existing schemes and suggests an approach that could avoid these weaknesses. As a first step in this approach, we take a closer look at different policy properties of governance and develop a systematic typology of four modes of governance in the policy dimension: coercion, voluntarism, targeting and framework regulation.