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“It’s The End Of The World As We Know It”: World Politics and Climate Governance in a Post-Governance World


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In this paper, we content that practices and reflections of global governance in general and climate governance in particular are moving into different directions at the same time. We propose a 'post-governance' perspective to capture and make sense of this multiplicity of concurrent, overlapping and competing developments. Just like post-punk followed early punk, provided new energy and experimental creativity, and broke with conventions and confinements, post-governance is characterized by the concurrence of different regulatory and conceptual models. These are no longer subject to a particular teleology. As such, 'post-governance' does not offer a new paradigm to study world order. Rather, it is a post-paradigmatic view that takes the plurality of global governance seriously and aims to capture differentiations in the practice and thinking thereof. Bringing real-world developments and the way we think about them together, 'post-governance' allows us to consider the persistence of 'traditional' forms of global governance as well as the simultaneous emergence of new approaches. Instead of framing disparate developments into one singular theoretical narrative, we provide a more differentiated picture of global governance and climate governance. We thus introduce and discuss 'post-governance' as a mode to do and study world politics in a post-paradigmatic world, full of creative and dynamic governance yet inconsistent and without apparent teleology to the observer. We advance this argument by outlining what 'post-governance' entails for us, by taking stock of current debates seen from a post-governance perspective, and by applying it to climate governance.
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Paper prepared for the DVPW-Kongress 2018, 25-28 September, Frankfurt
Panel: Climate governance and renationalization: Operating at the frontiers of democracy?
“It’s The End Of The World As We Know It”.
World Politics and Climate Governance in a Post-Governance World
Work in progress – Please do not cite without authors’ permission – Comments are most welcome!
Matthias Hofferberth (University of Texas at San Antonio,
Daniel Lambach (Universität Frankfurt am Main,
In this paper, we content that practices and reflections of global governance in general and climate governance in
particular are moving into different directions at the same time. We propose a ‘post-governance’ perspective to
capture and make sense of this multiplicity of concurrent, overlapping and competing developments. Just like post-
punk followed early punk, provided new energy and experimental creativity, and broke with conventions and
confinements, post-governance is characterized by the concurrence of different regulatory and conceptual models.
These are no longer subject to a particular teleology. As such, ‘post-governance’ does not offer a new paradigm to
study world order. Rather, it is a post-paradigmatic view that takes the plurality of global governance seriously
and aims to capture differentiations in the practice and thinking thereof. Bringing real-world developments and
the way we think about them together, ‘post-governance’ allows us to consider the persistence of ‘traditional’
forms of global governance as well as the simultaneous emergence of new approaches. Instead of framing disparate
developments into one singular theoretical narrative, we provide a more differentiated picture of global governance
and climate governance. We thus introduce and discuss ‘post-governance’ as a mode to do and study world politics
in a post-paradigmatic world, full of creative and dynamic governance yet inconsistent and without apparent
teleology to the observer. We advance this argument by outlining what ‘post-governance’ entails for us, by taking
stock of current debates seen from a post-governance perspective, and by applying it to climate governance.
With the breakthrough of bands like The Ramones, Sex Pistols and The Clash, the birth of punk
rock as a musical genre is generally dated to 1976 (Reynolds 2006). Initially a rebellion against
rock music, punk rock itself quickly established its own orthodoxy and a rather limited musical
template to be followed. Thus, for obvious reasons and as early as 1978, artists started to diverge
from the new punk mainstream, articulating a ‘post-punk’ approach. This new approach picked
up some elements of punk, like the DIY culture, the spirit of innovation, its angst and anger as
well as the rejection of both musical and social conventions. At the same time, it left behind
more rigid rules and emphasized new creative freedoms to experiment. Unsurprisingly, this
attracted many musicians, which quickly branched out into several new music styles and
approaches, laying the groundwork for new wave, gothic rock, industrial music, house music,
neo-psychedelia, new romantic and synthpop, to name just a few of the many influential genres
of the 1980s. At the same time, punk itself developed into sub-genres like hardcore, Oi! and
anarcho-punk, as well as melodic and skate punk which, in turn, created the foundation for later
genres like noise rock, alternative rock, and grunge. As such, we understand the introduction of
post-punk both as a ‘coming-to-terms’ with what was as well as a creative opening into what
will be.
In this paper, we contend that global governance, both as an idea and a practice, has experienced
and thus reflects similar processes of differentiation and branching out. We therefore argue that
the best way to intellectually grasp its current manifestation is to refer to it as post-governance.
To be sure, challenging disciplinary and political orthodoxies itself at the time, global
governance from its very beginning included a wide range of different voices and perspectives.
These different voices, however, overall agreed on the idea that governance was no longer only
provided by the state but could also be found in complex multistakeholder arrangements. More
recently, though, this original idea translated into new variant forms and versions. We use the
term ‘post-governance’ to reconstruct and structure this advancing differentiation in both the
scholarship and the practice of global governance.1 Analogous to post-punk emerging from the
confines of punk, we witness new forms of thinking and doing world politics beyond what we
thought we knew as global governance. These new modes and frameworks are partly
1 Without discussing the different meanings of global governance, we develop our argument by considering global governance
in its two mutually constitutive dimensions: For one, global governance is practical (i.e. it represents ways of doing world
politics). For another, global governance is theoretical (i.e. it represents modes of thinking world politics). While casting the
notion in ambiguous terms (Finkelstein 1995), these two dimensions arguably make global governance, despite its lack of
conceptual precision, so attractive within IR discussions (Hofferberth 2015; Dingwerth and Pattberg 2006).
overlapping and reinforcing, partly contradicting and confusing. Overall, though, we see strong
dynamics of differentiation and thus reject the teleology expressed in early reflection and
applications of global governance.
Against these dynamics, coming to terms with global governance, both practically and
theoretically, at this point in time can best be described as trying to catch up with complexity.
In its practical dimension, global governance’s orthodoxy of cooperative multistakeholderism
with its heavy emphasis on private actors continues to evolve, sometimes reinforcing it and
other times unraveling it, as policy innovators in different domains adapt these ideas into new
regulatory models in their respective fields. In its theoretical dimension, academics have come
up with a startling number of different descriptions and explanations for such developments,
adding heuristic tools and conceptual frameworks such as judicialization (Zangl 2008),
networked politics, regime complexes and inter-organizational relations (Biermann 2011),
fragmentation (Cerny and Prichard 2017), and orchestration (Pegram 2015), while extending
research to the past (Mitzen 2013) and even turning the concept upside down (Weiss and
Wilkinson 2018) to study and make sense of current global governance manifestations.
While a diversity of ideas is not new to global governance, it has arguably reached a new quality
recently. In fact, described and discussed as “gridlock” in practical terms (Hale et al. 2013) and
as “interregnumin theoretical terms (Pegram and Acuto 2015), both practitioners and scholars
have recently advanced alarmist diagnoses of global governance. Arguably, this criticism
resonates with a more general debate about multilateralism and the liberal world order, both of
which seem to be under threat from the rise of illiberal powers as well as a resurgence of
geopolitics and great power competition. Connecting this perception of global governance in
crisis to our post-punk analogy, we argue that grand narratives deployed in these debates to
make sense of global governance, both in practical as well as in theoretical terms, have always
been too simple and too sweeping to capture the multiplicity of governance forms and models
of interaction across the many fields of global politics. Instead of trying to hold on to one master
narrative with teleological implications, we argue that heterogeneity is the new standard and
that our discussions and conclusions about global governance thus will always remain
unfinished. Much like post-punk, post-governance describes a pluralistic approach
characterized by experimentation and expanding differentiation. As an analytical approach,
post-governance looks at the totality of global policy-making but rejects the ambitious notion
to find one unifying narrative or a theory to explain it all. Rather, global governance manifests
itself in diverse ways as it has become the in-between and the un-defined of what we currently
experience and discuss in world politics.
None of this is to argue that the notion of global governance should be discarded altogether.
Rather, since we do not understand it as a regressive theoryunable to theorize conflict, power
politics and transitions (Terhalle 2015), we propose post-governance to expand our thinking
and application of the original concept. That said, our arguments also do not diminish the
ingenuity of scholars involved in global governance in the past and present, which each at their
time significantly contributed to the development of the notion. As such, taking a cue from the
Exploited, ‘Global Governance is not dead’ but rather alive and well.2 However, we caution
against any kind of orthodoxy or straightforward, one-dimensional terminology either claiming
to be at the core of or having understood the essence of global governance in a teleological
fashion. Just like post-punk opened new opportunities and introduced new musical genres, we
like to think of post-governance as a constructive and creative intervention, recognizing and
fostering the emergence of new approaches. This intervention can help us take stock of where
we are and develop new ideas that might help us make sense of the practical diversification that
we witness and its parallel pluralization of theoretical understandings of global governance.
Reading in particular the development of climate governance through a post-governance lens,
in this paper we hope to offer some structure to the empirical and theoretical developments of
this rather complex field. As such, we echo the bewildering complexity others have diagnosed
(Kuyper et al. 2018). At the same time, we intend to outline and justify a perspective that
recognizes and embraces this complexity and its diverse approaches, both theoretically and
practically. In order to achieve this, we first introduce the notion of post-governance in detail.
We then outline the post-governance perspective by introducing taxonomies of real-world
manifestations as well as academic reflections and approaches. This discussion is followed by
an application to climate governance. Finally, the conclusion summarizes how post-governance
might be able to improve global governance.
2 The reference here is obviously to their debut studio album Punks not Dead which was released in 1981 and explicitly went
against post-punk. Ironically, the album benefited from the post-punk momentum, made it into the Top Twenty UK Charts
and thus further popularized if not mainstreamed punk. Ultimately, it also contributed to its further differentiation in the post-
period and inspired many new genres itself.
Post-GovernanceWhat and Why?
Global governance, both in practice and theory, has evolved considerably since its early
formulations. In fact, it has conceptually grown so much that its very meaning, like an empty
signifier, has become contested (Hofferberth 2015). Unsurprisingly, practitioners and scholars
of world politics thus offer different narratives on global governance and its future trajectory.
Weiss and Wilkinson (2014a) for example, in a deliberatively provocative fashion, argue that
global governance will rescue the otherwise sterile and limited field of International Relations.
In a more recent attempt of structuring global governance narratives (in a form of yet another
narrative itself, like the one we are offering here), Coen and Pegram (2018) suggest that global
governance scholarship should be seen as a reflection of global governance practice in three
generations. Being aware of the danger of “arbitrary categorization or labeling, the authors
employ their generational metaphor “to indicate trajectory, points of analytical transition and
legacies” (Coen and Pegram 2015). More specifically, they propose a trajectory from “[a] first
generation of global governance research, principally in IR, focused almost exclusively on
formal mechanisms of interstate relations within public multilateral institutions” towards a
more eclectic second generation still rooted in IR but “informed by research activity in cognate
fields such as sociology, international law, economics, public policy and business management”
(Coen and Pegram 2015). The task for the third generation, which they call for, will be to
integrate cross-disciplinary scholarship, micro and macro perspectives as well as pragmatic and
theoretical concerns.3
While we are sympathetic to Coen and Pegram’s attempt to provide orientation to an ever more
confusing paradigm, their generational metaphor to us overstresses the notions of trajectory and
legacy, specifically since it evokes a teleological sense of progress. To emphasize both
innovation and the reinventing of the old without fully replacing it as well as ambiguity and
potential regress, we propose to think of current practices and theories of global governance as
being in a post-period. ‘Postin this context should not be read in its temporal dimension such
as ‘after’, ‘behind’, ‘later than’, ‘subsequent to’ (Griffin 2017). Rather, we use the prefix to
describe the paradigm as going through an intense period of differentiation as it moves on and
‘beyond’, much like post-punk broke away from punk to create new genres while still being
influenced by it. In this sense, post-governance does not assess whether practices and theories
of global governance are disappearing or failing. Instead, we introduce this idea to reveal shifts
3 More specifically, they identify four areas of inquiry that a third generation should focus on: establish (spatial and functional)
boundaries of governance, clarify the range of theorization, focus on the politics of implementation, and improve governance
outputs (Coen and Pegram 2015).
and dynamics in global governance, which are not captured by any unified trajectory or legacy.
Put simply, classic modes and models of multistakeholderism persist but are now paralleled,
supplemented and challenged by other approaches, some of which refer back to ideas articulated
before global governance even began to capture our attention (Weiss and Wilkinson 2014b).
To capture the ongoing differentiation of and within global governance, we must first define it
in in a broad sense. Following Rosenau (1995), we think of global governance as “systems of
rule at all levels of human activity from the family to the international organization in which
the pursuit of goals through the exercise of control has transnational consequences”.
Accordingly, for Ruggie (2014), global governance refers to all “systems of authoritative
norms, rules, institutions, and practices by means of which any collectivity, from the local to
the global, manages its common affairs”. In other words, in its practical dimension, global
governance for us encompasses the totality of attempts to govern and regulate problems of
cross-border nature through the establishment of rules and the pursuit of goals, either
collectively or at least in the awareness of others being involved and affected by it. Governance
as such is therefore not hierarchical but features all sorts of different actors and different types
of resources, authorities and powers. At the same time, our open definition helps us to refrain
from limiting global governance to those contexts in which cooperation prevails. To the
contrary, we argue that global governance for the most part is highly conflictual (Lake 2010).4
Against this broad definition, we evoke the analogy of punk and post-punk in order to (1) come
to terms with practical and intellectual developments of and within global governance and then
(2) provide dynamic taxonomies to structure current discussions in and on global governance.
Just like punk drew on proto-type genres such as garage rock to assault a stifling and confined
society and establish a new genre, global governance drew on existing ideas such as
interdependence and transnationalism in the liberal tradition and the English School to question
predominant approaches and their paradigmatic, self-absorbed discussions of anarchy and
competition (Zürn 2018a). To continue with the analogy, both punk and global governance as
an idea were highly successful and characterized by a vibrant energy in their early years. As
such, despite lacking artistic skills (punk) or conceptual clarity (global governance), both
changed their respective worlds. Global governance in particular triumphantly established itself
as a new paradigm, achieving ‘near-celebrity status’ in IR by the mid-2000s (Barnett and
Sikkink 2008; Barnett and Duvall 2005a). In other words, thinking world politics in terms of
4 Arguably, ignoring the political and thus contested nature of global governance is dangerous (Sinclair 2012), which is why we
include instances of power politics and attempts to dominate in our discussion as well as instances of cooperation.
multistakeholderism and multi-level approaches in the 1990s became just as fashionable as
wearing offensive t-shirts or sporting unusual haircuts throughout the 1980s. Just like Green
Day, The Offspring and Blink-182, global governance gained widespread popularity and
entered the disciplinary mainstream. And just as these bands were criticized for ‘selling out’,
there were discussions whether global governance could truly deliver as a paradigm without
conceptual over-stretch (Hofferberth 2015; Dingwerth and Pattberg 2006). Concisely,
following the initial euphoria of a new idea and then stretching this to the point that its content
became rather unclear with seemingly endless variation and inspiration in other genres, punk
and global governance both entered their respective post-stages. Thus, just as punk had its
heyday but we no longer label artists inspired by it as ‘punk’, we need something new and more
precise to describe and make sense of current manifestations of global governance and more
recent experiences such as the financial crisis, cyber collusion, new forms of terrorism and their
securitization, and the rise of populism. After all, both punk and global governance represent
“a yearning of some sort” (Sinclair 2012) which is why we cannot think of them in dogmatic
or teleological fashion.
Reflecting these new experiences and creating space to recognize the heterogeneity among
them, our post-governance approach acknowledges and appreciates the plurality and diversity
of regulatory models across policy domains and their intellectual reflections across disciplines
and departments. Post-governance is thus as much a disciplinary intervention to structure
discussions as it is a normative argument to embrace and come to terms with differentiation,
both intellectually and practically, for the sake of intellectual progress and global policy. Just
as schisms and diversification overcame punk and created space for new creative music, there
is great potential in rethinking global governance as it transitions into a period of plurality and
differentiated approaches. In the sense of anti-paradigmatic and engaged pluralism, i.e.
maintaining that there are different legitimate ways of knowing and doing science with their
own logic which scholars have to converse among (Eun 2016; Jackson and Nexon 2013;
Kratochwil 2003), a post-governance lens reveals the diversity of global governance beyond
simple narratives and sweeping accounts. In other words, post-governance supports the
conclusion that theorizing world politics has to be pragmatic and eclectic by default. In other
words, theorizations of global governance must be advanced ‘locally’ and in the spirit of being
problem-driven rather than attempting to develop macro-paradigms which try to explain
everything. We hold such a position to be a promising attempt to realize “the potential for intra
and cross-disciplinary learning [and for] taking advantage of insights gained at both the macro
and micro-level” (Coen and Pegram 2018).5
Consequentially, we argue against overestimating the rigidity and seemingly obvious nature of
any governance subsystem and their respective problems. Rather, we are in favor of decoupling
approaches, problems, and governance fields in order to rethink their boundaries and to allow
productive debates such as those on, system governance, the governance of
planetary boundariesand the ‘green transformationof the world economy, whose boundary-
crossing potential has been scarcely realized so far. In other words, post-governance does not
relate to a particular field. Rather, it assumes that different modes of governance will coexist
and continue to evolve within any given field. From a scholar’s perspective, post-governance
is about recognizing these different modes and providing theoretical explanations for them. As
such, the shift towards post-governance enables scholars to develop and harness post-
paradigmatic perspectives on global governance. Instead of either following different IR
paradigms and applying them to global governance (Ba and Hoffman 2005) or attempting to
develop its own unified theoretical framework (Hewson and Sinclair 1999), post-governance
helps us to accept and come to terms with advanced differentiation and the existence of multiple
ontologies of global governance (Rosenau 1999). From a practitioner’s perspective, it is about
becoming aware of options and choices. As such, post-governance connects to metagovernance
understood as the capability to make choices about which kind of governance should be
implemented for particular problems and problem constellations (Torfing et al. 2012).6
To elaborate our perspective and in order to recognize the new beyondof post-governance in
greater detail, the next two sections provide summary discussions of global governance as
practice and scholarship as seen from a post-governance perspective respectively. Despite
structuring the paper like this, we strongly believe in the mutually constitutive relationship
between these two dimensions. More specifically, given that we never experience global
governance in a direct way and that it emerged as a “shotgun wedding between academic theory
and practical policy in the 1990s” in the first place (Weiss 2011), we argue that modes of
thinking global governance are deeply informed by the narratives that we derive from real-
5 Following this argument, it should be clear that global governance should not harbor any ambition to ‘play with the big boys’
and establish itself as another contender for IR’s grand theory. The type of theorizing that is rather needed would be inspired
by Swedberg (2014) and Jackson and Nexon (2013), which emphasize process rather than substance in theory.
6 Metagovernance in this context describes the governance of governance as it determines choices between different possible
options and scenarios (Holzscheiter et al. 2016). As a preliminary hypothesis for respective choices in particular fields, we
assume that the need for technical expertise promotes modes of governance that include private actors. We consider internet
governance and the regulation of financial markets as illustrative examples of this argument.
world politics and yet at the same time influence these very narratives. Post-governance as an
alternative perspective and normative intervention helps us to reconsider the practice and theory
of global governance and how both relate to each other.
Global Governance Practices Seen Through the Post-Governance Lens
In this section, we discuss four ideal-type regulatory models practiced in global governance, all
with their own sub-variants as states reassert themselves in some areas while other fields
continue to follow the ‘original’ global governance mantra. In other words, while we might still
witness a “transition away from the dominance of sovereignty and the international system”
defined in state terms, we also see new forms of governance emerging, some of which are not
as multilateral and cooperative as suggested in previous takes on global governance (Pegram
2015). The first ideal-type, multistakeholderism 2.0, is closest to the traditional idea of global
governance and brings together constituencies from different levels in search of cooperative
solutions for issues of common concern. The second, intermediary governance, is characterized
by actors like states and international organizations using intermediary actors from the private
sector or civil society to affect a target’s behavior, through either classic principal-agent
relationships or more indirect forms of orchestration. The third, resurgent
intergovernmentalism, refers to an updated version of classic multilateralism. Where earlier
forms were traditionally built upon bilateral and multilateral diplomacy, newer approaches
complement this with extensive transgovernmental networks, global summitry and systematic
consultation with non-state actors. The fourth form reflects a return of power politics which
also finds an expression in debates about state sovereignty under conditions of globalization.
Given that these are analytical ideal-types, different fields are governed through different,
potentially even contradictory models at the same time. Between these ideal-types, we wish to
stress that there is no evolutionary or teleological process. In addition, committed to analytical
rather than evaluative thinking, we do not assess their respective problem-solving capacities
nor their legitimacy or performance in terms of democratic inclusion. In other words, contrary
to early global governance expressions and their leaning towards inclusiveness and cooperation
(Rosenau 1995; Ruggie 1992), we do not see any obvious sequence or hierarchy between them.
Finally, we do not think of our own ideal-types as static. Rather, their precise meaning and
implications for global governance practice is dynamic and context-specific as they change over
time and become influenced by prior manifestations. For example, the return to power politics
in some fields is not simply an attempt to return to classic expressions reminiscent of the 1980s
– on the contrary, the use of power politics in the 2010s has been changed by the experience of
global governance and adapts some of its instruments, practices and language. In other words,
it has become a hybrid combination of seemingly contradictory ideas as states compete with
each other while including different stakeholders in the process and thus opening themselves to
transnational influence (Terhalle 2016)just like New Wave originated from punk, it presented
itself in very different ways and appeared to be something completely different.
Multistakeholderism 2.0
Our first ideal-type represents an updated version of multistakeholderism, which was the central
innovation of global governance. Committed to engaging with all stakeholders in a participatory
and open decision-making process and working across all levels from the global to the local,
multistakeholderism is driven by a different vision of regulation from the traditional multilateral
model of interstate diplomacy. Most prominently expressed in the report by the UN
Commission on Global Governance (1995), the vision empowered private actors, such as
business, non-governmental organizations and epistemic communities, by granting them access
to political fora, leading to a veritable explosion of new forms of private or public-private
governance in fields like environmental protection, business standards, financial regulations
and even public security (Pattberg 2005; 2010).
However, multistakeholder approaches today are not the same as they were during
multistakeholderism’s Golden Age in the 1990s. For one, the very prevalence of institutions
devoted to global governance has changed the playing field. As regime complexes(Alter and
Meunier 2009) proliferate, their management, as well as the management of interfaces between
regime them, is gaining increasing relevance for coherent and effective global governance
(Gehring and Faude 2013). Same with institutions and organizations, which are increasing in
number and scope, and whose interactions need to be managed (Zelli 2011). These new inter-
organizational networks and their systems of interlinked institutions have changed the scope
conditions for multistakeholderism and transnational influence (Tallberg et al. 2013).
For another, while there has been a dramatic increase in non-state actors participating in global
governance overall, this increase has been unevenly distributed and does not imply a single
model of governance. In other words, NGOs and transnational corporations, due to new
technologies facilitating communication and access to information, the neoliberal preference
for privatization and deregulation, and the rise of a “pro-NGO norm(Reimann 2006), have
expanded their activities and representation in some fields and for a few selected governance
issues. This does not, however, reflect the same depth and quality of multistakeholderism across
the board with multi-sector approaches, little formal oversight and few legal constraints still
being favored for the most part (Weiss et al. 2013).7
Multistakeholder approaches are assumed to be effective because they bring together different
interests, resources and knowledge. The different actors involved are thought to be
representative of their respective constituency, not unlike a modernized version of the Estates
General with participants drawn from and speaking on behalf of governments, international
organizations, the private sector, civil society and academia. Schneiker and Joachim (2018) as
well as Tsingou (2015), however, use the notion of ‘club governance’ to show how
multistakeholderism and its representation of different groups of actors creates exclusion rather
than inclusion. Their concept of ‘club’ refers to a set of actors which is held together by elite
peer recognition, common and mutually reinforcing interests, and an ambition to provide global
public goods in line with values its members consider honorable(Tsingou 2015). As such,
clubs bring together like-minded people who want to regulate a governance issue and are not
solely motivated by maximizing individual payoffs, although they will favor solutions that are
in line with their interests and ideational predispositions. In terms of exclusion, “members place
a limit to the range of actors involved in the making of policy and define what type of actors is
relevant, with high entry rules based on prestige and position(Tsingou 2015). Club governance
thus is in many ways a degenerate, dysfunctional variation of multistakeholderism: it is
exclusive, non-participatory and closed-minded. This is why, as Schneiker and Joachim argue,
actors from different sectors might have interests that are more closely aligned than we would
imagine, and that multistakeholder initiatives bring together like-minded rather than
oppositional actors whose prealignment is consequential for global governance(Schneiker and
Joachim 2018). In other words, multistakeholderism 2.0 suffers from the very same
shortcomings as traditional multistakeholderism as it seems inclusive, representative and
effective in theory while the reality of any particular initiative is more complicated than that.8
Nevertheless, expanded and deepened forms of multistakeholderism can be found in very
different policy domains. In the case of global environmental governance (GEG), for example,
7 Following the scandals of the 1990s, transparency, corporate security and human rights, for example, has become one of those
areas where the extractive industry together with NGOs became highly active during the 2000s. Other issues, such as corporate
environmental impact and their overall role in development, however have been somewhat neglected at the same time
(Dashwood 2012; Hofferberth 2011).
8 A particular criticism towards multistakeholderism has been that it traditionally ignores differences in power and that it mostly
just reinforces existing power relations rather than opening up discourses (Carr 2015).
we see a broad and comprehensive shift from multilateralism to multistakeholderism (Newell
et al. 2012). While the 1990s saw a zenith of multilateral norm-setting like the 1992 Rio
Conventions on Biodiversity, Climate Change and Desertification, the system stagnated as it
entered the new millennium. Since then, we have seen a proliferation of actors, new governance
mechanisms and an intensified interaction across governance levels, leading to a plethora of
private and transnational institutions, public-private partnerships, private norms, and global
public policy networks addressing environmental issues. As a result, we witness the emergence
of a patchwork of governance arrangements at all levels of the world political system(Pattberg
and Widerberg 2015).
Large parts of internet governance on the other hand have taken a different path towards
multistakeholderism. Here, forms of private and public-private governance have managed the
manifold interdependencies by developing and harmonizing technical standards and regulatory
norms through a host of committees, fora and working groups which were often dominated by
private actors, especially technical experts (Antonova 2011). Since the mid-2000s, as states
have become more prominent actors in internet governance, processes and institutions have
become somewhat more formalized (Carr 2015). Overall, internet governance has been
dominated by a hegemonic discourse of multistakeholderism that fits well with libertarian and
neoliberal interests and that defends again sovereigntist discourses which demand more state
control over critical infrastructure (Chenou 2014). However, as the next section shows, some
parts of internet governance work according to a different logic.
Intermediary Governance
Our second ideal-type represents governance via intermediaries. This refers to situations where
actors involved in governance can be classified into functional roles where the regulating actor
and the target of regulation are connected by an intermediary. At first glance, intermediary
governance may be mistaken for multistakeholder governance because similar actors are
involved. The difference, though, is in the way these actors interact. In a multistakeholder
setting, formal status is de-emphasized and decision-making tends towards the consensual. In
intermediary governance, formal hierarchies persist and decision-making happens at the top
and is then directed downwards. Intermediaries and targets of regulation may be offered a
consultative role but authority remains with the actors at the top.
Intermediaries can take many different forms, ranging from profit-making firms such as
inspection companies and credit rating agencies, to NGOs such as human rights advocacy
groups, to transgovernmental networks of regulatory agencies(Abbott et al. 2017). Abbott,
Levi-Faur and Snidal further define an intermediary in their influential RIT (Regulator-
Intermediary-Target) model as “any actor that acts directly or indirectly in conjunction with a
regulator to affect the behavior of a target(Abbott et al. 2017). Regulators draw on
intermediaries because intermediaries may have capacities and expertise that regulators
themselves lack or because intermediaries may have more autonomy and enjoy greater
legitimacy in a field. Intermediaries a) interpret and translate rules during implementation, b)
monitor compliance, c) mediate between regulators and targets, creating a community of
practice, and d) provide feedback from targets to regulators.
While intermediary governance is well known in domestic politics, e.g. in corporatist systems,
there are many examples in global governance as well which may take somewhat different
forms. Where regulators are groups of states, they will take a more directive approach, using
the “shadow of hierarchy” to empower and/or coerce intermediaries into implementing policies,
e.g. when European states pressured the SWIFT consortium to implement European sanctions
against Iranian banks in 2012, which is similar to a principal-agent or delegation model of
regulation. International organizations may also act as regulators, but without the formal
legitimacy of sovereign states, they usually have to take a ‘softer’ approach to intermediaries.
In what has become known as orchestration, an IGO enlists and supports intermediary actors
to address target actors in pursuit of IGO governance goals(Abbott et al. 2015). Here, the
intermediary plays an even more prominent role because it has capabilities that the IGO is
lacking, such as local information, technical expertise, enforcement capacity, material
resources, legitimacy and direct access to targets(Abbott et al. 2015). In contrast to more
directive relationships where the regulator has legal authority over an intermediary,
orchestration is premised on voluntary participation and non-binding instruments (Pegram
2015). While this blurs the line between orchestration and multistakeholder governance
somewhat, there is a crucial difference in that an orchestrating IGO is still clearly the regulator,
whereas the same role is shared among all participants in a multistakeholder arrangement.
Intermediary governance plays an important role in many policy domains, with certain aspects
of internet governance being a prominent example (DeNardis 2014), especially in fields like
the control of objectionable content. Many states lack the technical expertise and the necessary
infrastructure to establish a machinery of access denial, and even powerful states like China or
the United States generally find it easier to use legislative or commercial pressure on
intermediaries to achieve their ends (Deibert and Rohozinski 2010). These intermediaries are
usually large corporations that provide specialized internet services, such as Facebook or
Google, who are susceptible to state pressure because not complying with state demands
represents a significant commercial risk to their operation, not just in powerful states but also
in less powerful states like Thailand and Turkey, which also routinely censor content.9
Beyond internet governance, similar approaches can be found in other fields. For example, in
certain arenas of security governance, the use of private contractors as intermediaries has
become a defining feature of security assemblages and new governance networks (Avant 2016;
Abrahamsen and Williams 2009; Lippert and O'Connor 2003). However, this should not be
seen as an erosion of state capacity but as a rearticulation of private/public relationships. Private
actors usually take subsidiary roles in policing, security provision and law enforcement fields,
working with authority delegated to them by state agents. While echoing some of the same
neoliberal principles, contrary to multistakeholderism, non-state actors thus come in only as
service providers rather than as partners in policy-making (Gould 2015).
Resurgent Intergovernmentalism
Global governance was originally conceived as an explicit rejection of multilateralism, which
was seen as too limiting, too exclusive and too stratified to deal with transnational and global
problems.10 However, while much of global governance is indeed characterized by multi-
stakeholder approaches or at least organized through intermediaries, there are also fields that
are less participatory and inclusive, or have become so in recent times. In fact, some domains
have always been multilateral, as Fehl (2014) demonstrates for the case of arms control. In other
fields, multistakeholder approaches have been abandoned or downscaled recently. However,
once again, the resurgent intergovernmentalism that we see today from a post-governance
perspective is different from the state-to-state multilateral diplomacy of earlier times. Thus, we
are not witnessing a simple return to classic multilateral approaches, except for some very few
9 The hearing of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in the US Senate and the European Parliament in May 2018 and the lack of
a level playing field between him and the politicians indicate some of the limitations that intermediary governance faces in the
field of internet regulation.
10 This criticism, arguably, had been somewhat unfair to multilateralism in the first place, which had been changing in response
to shifting international problems. Ruggie (1992), for example, demonstrated that interstate diplomacy during the twentieth
century moved from bilateral towards multilateral negotiations, that formalized international institutions replaced more
informal networks and that multilateralism tended to be organized via institutions with a broad thematic scope like the League
of Nations and the United Nations rather than via single-issue negotiations.
‘high politics’ issues, usually in the security field, like the negotiations that led to the 2015 Joint
Comprehensive Plan of Action (the so-called ‘Iran nuclear deal’). Instead, governments are
adopting new approaches to deal with the inefficiencies of multilateralism, via (1) deepening
transgovernmentalism, and/or (2) limiting access via “minilateralism(Patrick 2015; Eckersley
Multilateralism was traditionally organized through exclusive meetings at the executive level,
e.g. the meetings of the heads of state in the G-7. Today, these exchanges are paralleled and, in
many cases, preceded by ‘transgovernmental’ meetings between mid-level officials and
bureaucrats and by consultations with non-state actors. Alexandroff and Brean (2015) propose
the concept of global summitryto describe the confluence of traditional diplomacy and the
ongoing collaborative interaction between state and non-state actors within structures of global
governance. Where leader’s meetings are merely the visible part of the intergovernmental
iceberg, a vast international machinery operates beneath the surface: “a system of meetings and
the work of ministers, and their ministries, working groups, international institutions but also
transgovernmental organizations and regulatory networks with formal and informal regulatory
actors(Alexandroff and Brean 2015). In their view, global summitry is characterized by a rise
of informal, transgovernmental diplomacy meetings of ministers, officials, and central
bankers with interested and informed actors from other sectors.
In addition to committing to global summitry throughout the governance process, states have
also turned to “minilateralism(Eckersley 2012). Being arguably nimbler and hence more
effective, minilateral approaches only include the minimum number of participants necessary
to agree on a solution to an issue and prefer to work through less institutionalized settings.
While minilateral approaches could be observed as far back as the 1970s, the informal
arrangements described thereby have become both more numerous and more important.
Accordingly, Patrick argues that instead of the United Nations and Bretton Woods systems,
states increasingly prefer to negotiate through parallel frameworks that are ad hoc and
temporary rather than formal and permanent(Patrick 2015). The Coalition of the Willing’,
forged by the Bush administration to gain international support for the Iraq invasion in 2003,
can be considered as an example of minilateralism: After having failed to gain UN and NATO
support, the US administration in a rather informal and loose fashion reached out to states
willing to commit in the military engagement and thus avoided the formalities of
multilateralism otherwise dominating security policies (Wivel and Oest 2010).
Obviously, multilateralism through global summitry and the new form of minilateralism raise
issues of justice – by resorting to informality, by increasing the resources needed to participate
and by limiting access to a chosen few in the first place, others, potentially affected by
governance, are excluded.11 The G-system, arguably, best reflects these dynamics of
informality, ongoing yet ad hoc interaction through global summitry and minilateralism
(Conzelmann 2012). In the wake of the 2007-2008 global economic and financial crisis, the G-
20 took up important regulatory functions to prevent the crisis from spreading. While doing so,
the G-20 moved beyond simple intergovernmentalism. Among others and parallel to the
meetings of the heads of states, the G-system included conferences for the secretaries of finance
which received less media attention but arguably constituted the real work of the G-20. Their
most important contribution was to facilitate further discussion about issues of common
concern, with the group mainly relying on the orchestration of other regulatory bodies like the
IMF and the Bank for International Settlements to implement its agreements (Viola 2015).
However, only the most ‘important’ actors were invited to the discussion how to save the global
financial system (Cooper 2010). Furthermore, the high-level meetings were only the visible part
as the politics of the G-20 also involved “institutionalised transnational and transgovernmental
webs of formal and informal policy making activity” (Slaughter 2017). Over the years, the G-
20 have reached out to various constituencies business (first in 2010), labor, science, civil
society, youth (2013), women (2015) –, bringing in representatives from these sectors chosen
by the host government of the summit into various fora. This is slowly changing the nature of
multilateral policy-making in the G-20, towards a situation where the informal high-level
meetings are increasingly embedded in a multitude of supplementary summits and transnational
and transgovernmental activities (Slaughter 2017).12
The Backlash: Sovereigntism and the Return of Power Politics
The fourth and final form of governance we distinguish is the return of power politics. This is
characterized by a renewed emphasis of national sovereignty and borders as well as
confrontational politics between states who use their power resources to achieve their aims at
the expense of other states’ interests. We are aware that this kind of interaction goes beyond
11 This echoes some of the concerns made by opponents of polycentric governance (Jordan et al. 2015).
12 It is also noteworthy that the G-20 has not limited its deliberations to financial and economic issues but also discussed topics
like terrorism or climate change and steadfastly remains a mostly informal group with no official decision-making power
(Slaughter 2017).
what some would consider as global governance (Terhalle 2015; Sterling-Folker 2005), but it
represents a crucial part of our taxonomy in that it allows us to capture cases where policy fields
move from cooperative multilateralism towards more conflictual, zero-sum exchanges.
Obviously, such governance appears as crises if measured by the traditional idea of cooperation
and collective action advanced in the original paradigm. However, even these exchanges still
produce governance ‘outputs’ relating to cross-border challenges which underscores the need
to include them in our framework rather than considering them to be beyond its scope.
The overall argument of global governance being in crisis is often paralleled with the ‘death of
the liberal world order’ argument which was characterized, inter alia, by Western powers
attempting to shift international relations away from zero-sum issues towards win-win ones
(Mead 2014). For Mead, the main challenge to this project comes from revisionist powers such
as China and Russia who force a geopolitical logic onto issues of contention which the West
had thought was a thing of the past, a stance that is encapsulated by the ‘End of History’ school
of thinking about the post-Cold War world (see also Mittelman 2013). In contrast, Ikenberry
(2014) takes a more optimistic view on the ability of the West to withstand these challenges.
His main points are that what Mead calls revisionist powers are less revisionist than they seem
and are too weak and disorganized to present an alternative vision. Whatever the merits of these
respective positions, Mead and Ikenberry see an external challenge to the Western liberal order
as the main reason why power politics are becoming more prominent on the international scene
(see Goddard and Nexon 2016 for an analytical approach to power politics). However, this
underestimates how the West itself, the United States chief among it, is undermining the very
world order that has been the foundation of its global supremacy. Global trade is a case in point:
the field was long organized through multilateral processes like the GATT/WTO rounds, partly
institutionalized via the WTO and had strong elements of multistakeholderism in fields like
business standards and labor conditions. In recent years, with protectionist policies globally
ascendant, the U.S. government has firmly latched onto the idea of trade as a zero-sum
exchange, where countries are ‘winning’ or ‘losing’.13
We see the shift of this field and others towards a logic of power politics as emblematic of a
deeper conflict between supporters of global governance and those of a position that has come
to be called ‘sovereigntism’. These dissenting viewpoints are similar to the more general
conflict of cosmopolitan versus communitarian ideals (Zürn and de Wilde 2016) but are more
13 After all, trade wars ‘are good, and easy to win’, as President Trump has famously tweeted. The same logic seems to be
dominating US environmental policies concerning climate change as we will show below.
specific than that. Initially, sovereigntism was first articulated in American legal debates where
the term was used to denote the position that ‘foreign’ sources of law (mainly international law,
but also comparative law and transnational forms of soft law) should not be considered in
domestic legal affairs, or that they should be heavily discounted relative to domestic sources of
law (Resnik 2008). Beyond law, a similar position was articulated by intellectuals and
policymakers in the US who ‘regard global governance as inherently undemocratic because it
violates popular sovereignty and undermines constitutional government by ceding legislative
authority to unelected and unaccountable entities(Goodhart and Taninchev 2011). These new
sovereigntists(Spiro 2000) argued that democratic self-determination is only possible within
a Westphalian understanding of sovereignty that is under threat by globalization and all forms
of international entanglement and governance.
While one may be tempted to dismiss this debate as just another variation on American
exceptionalism (or even an unwarranted revival of isolationism), sovereigntism is arguably a
wider phenomenon. Benhabib makes this point when, referring to instances where European
courts and policymakers resisted decisions by the European Court of Human Rights, she calls
it part of a growing resistance to the force of transnational law in the contemporary world
(Benhabib 2016). Alles and Badie (2016) further distinguish three variants of sovereigntism:
(1) conservative sovereigntism, mainly evinced by Western powers who wish to preserve their
status atop the global heterarchy and confine globalization to being solely an economic
phenomenon without jeopardizing the status of the nation-state as the locus of sovereignty; (2)
neo-sovereigntism, which has emerged among rising powers challenging global inequalities,
who demand to be treated as equals in strong international institutions that limit the power of
the metropoles while allowing peripheral states the autonomy to realize their self-
determination; (3), archeo-sovereigntism as a regressive form mainly found among reactionary
elements in Western societies who seek not only to limit globalization but to return to a pre-
globalized era where borders define national politics. Each of these variants informs policies
which approach global issues in a confrontational manner, emphasizing self-interest and power
politics over consensus and cooperation. They do so, though, in light of a changed scenery for
global diplomacy, combining sovereign ideas and threats with other types of more inclusive
governance and integration. In other words, at least in some fields, we have recently seen a lot
of sovereigntist rhetoric, which, in practical terms, still translates into policies committed to
multilateralism and cooperation.14
Explaining Differentiation in the Practice of Global Governance
While we are unable to offer a comprehensive theory of the determinants how particular fields
end up with or switch between particular regulatory models, we end this section by offering
potential explanations for the overall differentiation of global governance. To begin with,
several structural factors might shape such an outcome. Among others, this includes the actors
involved in a field and their interactions as well as the nature of the problem that needs to be
governed. For example, we can think of inter-state problems like arms control, transnational
problems like migration or trade, and non-territorial problems like climate change.
Furthermore, the degree of formalization in any policy field and the forms of power that can be
used in interactions have an impact to what extent and in which direction it will move.15 Thus,
we follow Newell, Pattberg and Schroeder in that we emphasize the importance of agency and
power in global governance: “The process of initiating multiactor governance is not politically
neutral, nor does it exist in a vacuum. […] There is a politics to making claims about where
governance deficits lie and why and who gets to frame discussions about which alternatives are
appropriate, desirable, and viable(Newell et al. 2012). In other words, being able to frame
discussions and determine modes of governance and the overall architecture are straightforward
expressions of power as well as reflections of circumstances and structural contingencies.
We also recognize a more functional-rationalist argument that considers the multistakeholder
approaches proposed by 1990s global governance as unable to solve pressing problems in many
fields. As such, the evolutionary diversification towards other regulatory models expressed in
post-governance can be explained as an attempt to meet the necessities and realities of different
policy fields, hoping to create ‘better’, more suitable forms of governance. In a historical-
institutionalist reading, one would point to punctuated equilibrium dynamics (Krasner 1988;
Young 2010), i.e. that regulatory models do not evolve in a linear fashion but respond to shocks.
In such an approach, 9/11 and the global economic crisis, for example, have triggered a period
of disequilibrium, which the system is now working its way through. This might imply that the
multistakeholder era of global governance was exceptional since it was only possible within a
14 President Trump’s ambivalent relationship with NATO can be considered as a case in point here while vociferously
criticizing the alliance and alienating partners, we have not yet seen any real departure from the organization.
15 See Abbott, Green and Keohane (2016) for an organizational ecology approach to this question.
liberal hegemony that is now coming to an end. After its moment of exceptionalism manifested
in the end of history(Fukuyama 1992), world politics is currently returning to a state of affairs
of realpolitik and power politics, with a broader scope of actors than just states, though, and in
light of strong institutional arrangements which continue to produce governance on a daily
We can only offer this cursory discussion at this point as a larger exploration of the causes
behind the shift to post-governance is beyond the scope of this article. However, whichever
explanation one ultimately prefers, the crux of the matter remains the same: global governance
is no longer a unified, teleologically advancing notion of world politics. Rather, it encompasses
different manifestations in different fields and even within those, existing in tension to one
another, shifting back and forth between the four ideal-types listed and discussed here.
Global Governance Reflections Seen Through the Post-Governance Lens
Closely following real-world developments in the attempt to study and theorize them, recent
academic reflections of global governance have diversified just as much as its practices. Our
emphasis on post-governance not only helps to reflect upon the different origins of global
governance thinking. More importantly, it helps us outline major strands and prominent
approaches within in the current debate. Contrary to what we discussed in the prior section,
these approaches are developed through theoretical reflection. In other words, they originate
from ideas and commitments to make sense of perceived realities rather than following from a
direct engagement with said realities. In the traditional sense, they are deductively developed
and can be considered as aspirational explanations and not only as empirical ideal-types.
Applying them, however, mostly to those realities in which they can be illustrated, these
approaches are just as unfalsifiable as any IR grand theory (Rosecrance 2008). As heuristic
tools and conceptual frameworks, however, they inform our understanding of global
governance just as much, or maybe even more so, as the observations made based on theoretical
reflections. To structure particular approaches and frameworks, we distinguish two major
strands based on how they assess the basic idea of global governance.16
16 As a simple rule of thumb to distinguish between our empirical ideal-types and our theoretical approaches, think of the former
as being part of the practitioner’s discourse and hence being used in political debate whereas the latter is exclusively (or at least
predominantly) used in academic discussions. With that said, certain redundancies between this and the previous section are
unavoidable but we promise to keep them short.
On the one hand, building upon seminal work of the 1990s, we label those advocating
traditional global governance ideas as ‘neoclassical’. What these contributions share is a
conviction that the original diagnoses and promises of global governance are still broadly
correct. This is premised on the assumption that the drivers of globalization – greater mobility
of people and goods, a changing landscape of risks, faster access to information, increasing
rates of innovation have not slowed down and are not likely to do so in the future. In other
words, the number of transboundary issues in need of management will increase rather than
decrease, preserving or even intensifying the need for global governance. Maintaining the
notion that the state is retreating and that the increasing prominence of non-state actors in
governance have changed the fundamental dynamics of governance, scholars in this vein see
globalization as a game-changer for world politics, emphasize governance opportunities beyond
the nation-state, and ultimately conceive of global governance as multi-level governance
(Hooghe and Marks 2003). According to this view, “the fast pace of innovation permanently
challenges collective rules and norms while, at the same time, the information infrastructure
provides society with enhanced capabilities to identify issues and manage them” (Brousseau et
al. 2012; see Patrick 2014 for a more pessimist take). Overall, in this perspective cooperation
seem to rule over conflict as globalization has to be governed (Held and McGrew 2002a) and
global problems can be regulated and managed (Coen and Pegram 2018). Focused on functional
problem-solving, global governance continues to mark a power shiftaway from the state
(Mathews 1997) as we see an increasingdiversification of ‘rule-makers’” (Marx and Wouters
On the other hand, a more skeptical perspective relates to global governance based on the
assumption that it is not working (Terhalle 2015; Goldin 2013; Sterling-Folker 2005). In this
perspective, global governance is beset by a multitude of pathologies, such as institutional
gridlocks, regime fragmentation, orphan issues and the irreconcilable division of interests as it
overall underestimates the persistence of power politics (Pegram 2015). Thus, while sharing
the notion that globalization and interdependence continue to deepen, this declinist perspective
stresses conflict over cooperation. The development of appropriate governance mechanisms in
response to global problems is at best lagging, if they are feasible at all (Mazower 2012).
Reflecting a certain frustration with the naivety and excitement of early global governance
17 For a more detailed critique on the managerial approach to world politics, its functionalist tautology and teleology, and its
alleged lack of realizing power and conflict, see Sinclair (2012: 19-22). In a less harsh take, one can view neoclassical
approaches to be motivated by the same hope and normative commitments that Rosenau expressed. In this view, global
governance even marks an opportunity to once more engage with pressing issues and big questions (Weiss and Wilkinson
2014c: 24-31).
thinking, this perspective sees a more general crisis of multilateralism in areas of interstate
cooperation (Hale et al. 2013). Even before the Trump administration accentuated this process,
Patrick argued that effective multilateral responses are increasingly occurring outside formal
institutions, as frustrated actors turn to more convenient, ad hoc venues(Patrick 2014).
Following this logic, global governance thinking moves away from classic multilateralism and
‘big picture’ solutions to more piecemeal and more regionalized efforts.18 In other words,
dovetailing current debates about the end of the liberal world order motivated by developments
such as Trump’s America First, Brexit, and other populist approaches around the world,
declinists argue that the old order of multilateralism and global governance is fading away and
the new has yet to emerge in clearer contours.19
While representing two different assessments, both strands reflects a certain unifying thinking
on global governance. Both assume that global governance is one thing or at least moving into
one direction, leaving little space for alternative interpretations and divergent experiences.
More importantly, both the neoclassical and the declinist perspective seem to entertain, in their
final instance, an either/or logic of global governance. Almost as in a mechanical balance, the
first perspective views the emergence of global governance as chipping away the sovereignty
and the power of nation-states. Vice versa, the second perspective frames any state-based
intervention as a resurrection of sovereignty and therefore a decline of global governance.
Unlike the post-governance perspective, neither perceives global governance as an unfolding
phenomenon of diverse and continuously contradicting dynamics which. Their different
assessments, however, directly determine the theoretical frameworks and hermeneutic tools at
our disposal to study global governance. In this vein, driven by increased interdisciplinarity, we
see an ever-greater diversity of conceptual frameworks and hermeneutic tools being applied to
global governance. These different conceptual frameworks engage with the subject at hand
through different themes, which either pick up and confirm classical global governance
arguments or challenge their underlying assumptions. In particular, neoclassical thinking
resonates with the assumption that non-hierarchical forms of governance persist and further
18 This skepticism is echoed by works that discuss the implications of global power shifts, especially the rise of the BRICS states
and other actors from the Global South, for global governance (Florini 2011; Jang et al. 2016).
19 Obviously, with such a simplification into two strands, much work still falls somewhere in between these ideal types. Take for
example the work of Michael Zürn who takes a system theory approach. He argues that there is a “global governance system
consisting of patterns of authority relationships that endogenously produce conflict, contestation, and resistance. This global
governance system is more than the sum of the institutions that produce separate regulations in different issue areas; it is also
about the interplay and the relationship between these institutions and their embedding in a normative order” (Zürn 2018a).
Thinking Declinist
increase due to globalization whereas declinist thinking reverses the logic and emphasizes the
role of the state and hierarchical modes.20
We contend that a post-governance perspective helps to structure and organize at least four
different frameworks currently advanced as proposed in figure 1. Rather than trying to unify
different perspectives, we set out to describe the different frameworks and their commitments
in full embrace of their diversity as we realize the necessity to continue with these discussions
in light of pressing issues and challenging complexity. As such, while being aware of the danger
of advanced compartmentalization of any academic discourse into ever smaller and detailed
bits and pieces discussed by fewer and fewer scholars, we maintain that in order to keep up with
the practices of global governance, we need scholarship that accepts post-governance instead
of pursuing orthodoxy and unity. Within each framework, sophisticated arguments about world
politics have been developed that merit attention. As foundational ontologies (Jackson and
Nexon 2013), each of them presents a different take on global governance and a unique way of
thinking world politics or, more specifically, different parts of world politics. Hence, their
relative value cannot be determined in paradigmatic competition through falsification. Rather,
applying Sil and Katzenstein (2010) notion of eclecticism to global governance, each one
should be assessed according to its own logic as scholars further spell out their commitment
and pick their framework in order to make sense of respective research problems.21
20 Note that both perspectives express the idea that international politics contains ‘at least some pockets of hierarchy’ and thus
reject the prior paradigm of international anarchy (Zürn 2018: 138). For a more critical view on the persisting power of anarchy
and the notion that global governance fails to overcome it see Cerny and Prichard (2017)
21 Following the post-punk analogy, it stands to reason that new genres such as gothic and hardcore developed their own codes,
fanzines, festivals, and fashion as they broke away from punk. More importantly, each has also developed a system of internal
recognition, so trying to compare bands from different genres which is ‘better’ or more successful is a pointless exercise. At
the same time, once again, we do not claim that our list is comprehensive but rather extensive enough to allow further
discussion. For example, we did not include the notion of private authority into our overview, for the simple reason that it
seems to be unique in its emphasis on non-state governance. To use our music history analogy again, one could argue that it
represents a different-but-related genre such as Psychedelic Rock or Heavy Metal.
Regimes & Polycentric
Network Governance
Orchestration &
Judicialization &
Figure 1 – Neoclassical and Declinist Thinking and Their Respective Approaches
Gridlock &
Judicialization & Constitutionalism
Judicialization (Zangl 2008) and constitutionalism (Wiener et al. 2012) have recently emerged
as new approaches to thinking global governance, advancing the notion that particularly strong
hence legally binding forms of global governance are becoming more widespread. Following
these perspectives, deepening international integration represents more than just
interdependence. Rather, it reflects the emergence of new legal foundations that serve as
backbones to the politics of global governance. Observable in all forms of politics, both
domestic and international, these processes have the potential to change the underlying
dynamics of global governance and replace the rule of power with the rule of law (Hirschl
2006). Evidence of the judicialization of international affairs can be seen in commercial dispute
settlement such as those by the World Trade Organization, the expanding mandate of the
International Criminal Court, the strengthening of other international human rights tribunals,
and the integration of quasi-judicial non-compliance procedures into new international
conventions. As such, while still contested in many ways, it is argued that contexts of
international rule of law are gradually expanding (Zangl 2008). Such a shift, it is claimed, from
intermediate global governance to more “constitutionalised relations in the global realm”
(Wiener et al. 2012), holds the potential to provide a very different foundation to world politics
and thus would fundamentally change our understanding of global governance and how it is
being provided, regulated, maintained, and enforced. Arguably, such assumptions implicitly
underpinned classical global governance thinking, which, at least in some variants, thought of
the “global monopoly on the legitimate use of organized violence a world state [a]s
inevitable” (Wendt 2003). As such, while not always using the same terminology, it is the most
visionary and bold variant of global governance thinking.
Polycentric Network Governance, Regime Complexity & Interorganizational Relations
Somewhat of a less binding nature and visionary quality yet still assuming a highly
institutionalized world of cooperation, advocates of polycentric network governance argue that
this constitutes an important alternative to the anarchy narrative dominating IR (Barnett and
Sikkink 2008). Driven by informality and institutional multiplicity and overlap, authority in this
narrative has to be thought of in new terms (Krisch 2017; Lake 2010). As such, decision-making
comes in different forms and originates from different loci as global governance is defined by
“multiple governing authorities at different scales rather than a monocentric unit(Ostrom
2010). Drawing further on classical analogies of world politics as a web (Mansbach et al. 1976),
this neoclassical exploration of global governance argues that networks have become important
complements to existing international institutions (Kahler 2009). Resonating strongly with
classical ideas of global governance, this approach recognizes an increased and deep
interdependence as well as the changing nature of global problems and the need to provide
global common goods (Zürn 2018b).
The provision of global common goods is obviously transboundary by definition and hence no
longer falls under the authority of any particular actor. As such, in order to effectively govern
issues such as global warming, trafficking, and other flows across borders, polycentric networks
of actors emerged which include states, international organizations, and non-state actors. In
other words, the inherent functionalism of global governance, which assumes interest and
ability to solve common problems, resonates strongly in notions of polycentric network
governance (Sinclair 2012). It also draws from regime theory ideas articulated in early global
governance thinking by emphasizing particular policy fields and the governance that emerges
over time for said field (Young 2010). These fields are marked by a range of diverse actors,
legal agreements of varying specificity and other soft-law conventions, norms, and implicit
modes of governance between which there is no fully agreed-upon hierarchy of rules and
procedures for resolving conflicts but enough order to maintain collective commitment to
solving the problem.
Given their functional overlap and in many instances the commitment to multiple memberships
at the same time, these actors and institutions have recently been thought of as being part of
larger regime complexes (Raustiala and Victor 2004) or have been otherwise described as inter-
organizational relations (Franke 2017; Biermann and Koops 2017). Depending on which actors
are involved and how they relate to each other will thus determine the overall nature of
governance for any particular problem (Knoke and Chen 2008).22 These large aggregates of
regime complexes, however, not only gained “increasing relevance for coherent and effective
global governance” (Gehring and Faude 2013). At the same time, concerns exist that
overlapping regime complexes reduce the clarity of legal obligation, open the door for forum
shopping, cross-institutional political strategies and strategic inconsistency as well as limit
overall accountability and thus facilitate non-compliance (Orsini et al. 2013; Alter and Meunier
22 Recent research in this field in particular reflects an attempt to come to terms with the role of transnational actors in these
networks and thus connects directly to the notion of transnationalism inherent in global governance (Tallberg et al. 2013).
Orchestration & Fragmentation
Taking these concerns one step further and tying them into a declinist perspective, orchestration
has been advanced as a new mode of governance (Abbott et al. 2015; Pegram 2015). Offering
a more actor-focused perspective within a rationalist framework, orchestration implies the
deliberate manipulation of networks and functional overlaps to ensure favorable governance
outcomes. As such, orchestration occurs when an actor “enlists and supports intermediary actors
to address target actors in pursuit of IGO governance goals(Abbott et al. 2015). At the same
time, orchestration is based on the assumption that global governors are limited in terms of their
resources “such as local information, technical expertise, enforcement capacity, material
resources, legitimacy and direct access to targets” (Abbott et al. 2015). Drawing on rationalist
assumptions on resource dependence, global governance in the view of orchestration, following
principal-agent assumptions such as the independent existence of the intermediary (Hawkins et
al. 2006), thus is premised on voluntary participation and non-binding delegation. In light of
the intricate nature of global problems and the challenge to exercise comprehensive authority
globally (Lake 2010), international organizations in particular have been understood as
“orchestrators by design” (Viola 2015).
While lacking legal authority and much-needed resources, orchestrator still have the ability to
regulate and organize governance through assembling and utilizing other actors in the field.
Obviously, this marks an important departure from traditional global governance thinking since
it no longer assumes shared interest, functional cooperation and overall improved outcome. In
other words, orchestration no longer pictures global governors as consensus-seeking saints but
rather as calculating, manipulating and competing entities. While orchestration can have
benevolent outcomes to those being governed, for the most part it follows the interest of the
particular organization in charge. As such, orchestration relates to conflict in theoretical terms,
originating from within a certain frustration with naïve global governance assumptions and thus
marks a declinist view (Pegram 2015).23
As an even more skeptical approach, the concept of fragmentation has been introduced to
describe processes in which the governance architecture of any particular issue area comes
under increased strain and, in fact, falls apart in terms of who is in charge (Biermann et al. 2009:
23 To connect orchestration with network analysis, the orchestrating organization would have to be a crucial node connecting to
other intermediaries. It is also ascribed with superior organizational abilities and at least particular resources needed to organize
and enlist other global governors in the field.
14). More specifically, rejecting the inherent teleology of classical global governance and
qualifying the functionalist determination to cooperate in light of complex and challenging
global issues, fragmentation emphasizes that few if any policy domains are orchestrated let
alone fully regulated by a single global governor or institution. Rather, according to this
perspective, we see patchworks of “international institutions that are different in their character
(organizations, regimes, and implicit norms), their constituencies (public and private), their
spatial scope (from bilateral to global), and their subject matter (from specific policy fields to
universal concerns)” (Biermann et al. 2009). In other words, fragmentation shares assumptions
with other global governance approaches but remains somewhat more skeptical about their
potential to achieve effective governance. Arguing that institutional fragmentation is an
inherent structural characteristic of international relations today [since] there is no policy
domain where all relevant provisions are placed under, or legally linked to, a single institutional
umbrella with universal membership(Zelli and van Asselt 2013), this perspective claims to be
more realistic than traditional global governance. For advocates of this perspective,
fragmentation then becomes the better meta-narrative to theorize what global governance has
always been focused on: The interplay between different institutions and actors with an
indeterminate, potentially beneficial or disruptive outcome.
Gridlocks & Crises
Representing the most skeptical perspective on global governance in our continuum, advocates
of the gridlock & crises perspective emphasize the existence of rather unsolvable (or at least
deeply challenging) obstacles to the provision of global governance. In a series of arguments,
global governance is linked to the liberal international order, which, according to this approach,
recently came under heavy attack through counter-institutionalizations, both from within the
West and from the outside (Zürn 2018a).24 Against the evidence of revisionist, non-liberal
powers such as Russia and China becoming more self-assured while the West facing its own
crisis with the election of President Trump and Brexit (see previous section), ideas of a return
to geopolitics have lately been more prominently infused into the discussion of global
governance (Mead 2014). The most common argument in this vein is that, against deeply
conflictual beliefs in the desired order, interdependence and transboundary problems do not
24 Note that despite recognizing challenges, Zürn (2018a) overall remains optimistic about the potential of global governance to
avoid decline through relegitimization. Thus, despite discussing its crises, we would position him more towards the
neoclassical end of our spectrum reflecting the different positions in global governance thinking.
facilitate cooperation but evoke nationalist and populist responses, further reducing the scope
for cooperation and promoting isolationist thinking (Hale and Held 2018).
While global governance has always been characterized by a lack of accountability (Barnett
2015), the major critique advanced here is that global governance in its classical form
downplayed its very own political and contested nature. In other words, the end of the liberal
order is also the end of global governance, in particular because problems have not been solved
as global governance remains a piecemeal version of fragmentary and ultimately doomed
attempts to overcome the timeless state of realpolitik and power politics (Terhalle 2015).
As a logical consequence, cooperation not only remains difficult. Rather, all instances of global
governance will eventually be overcome by competition and interest-based politics. While
leaning towards order, global governance in its original take was never shy to consider such
dynamics. In fact, the writing of Rosenau (1992) oscillated back and force between a more
idealist perspective of global cooperation and more realist framework of global hierarchy and
power. Held and McGrew (2002b) reflected this ambivalence in their introduction as they
famously framed the departure from geopolitics to global governance with a question mark.
Other authors, more skeptical of the idea in the first place, have contributed to this discussion
and framed global governance, even in its heyday, as rather naïve and too optimistic (Waltz
1999; Gilpin 2002; Sterling-Folker 2005). In other readings, global governance has been
identified as a project of establishing a new economic order to serve the structural needs of
capitalism. Coming short of any fundamental reformulation, global governance in this
neomarxist critique will remain flawed and will perpetuate its own crises (Overbeek 2005).
Overall, these approaches share the notion that we need to change our approaches to global
governance, both in terms of our theories and its practice. Chief among those, it is argued that
geopolitical variables such as power and territory continue to matter even in a globalized world
and that we need to theorize those to better understand global governance in the 21st century
(Zürn 2018: 170-187). Beyond its managerial focus, any form of global governance enshrined
in international order will always produce winners and losers and thus will be fundamentally
contested by those benefitting less from it than others. Furthermore, it is claimed that rising
powers in particular cannot be accommodated in existing structures and those will either break
away from those or create their counter-orders, leaving global governance overall in an age of
disorder” (Schweller 2011; Jentleson 2012). While this reframing, resonating with broader IR
topics, stretches its conceptual definition, the popularity and persistence of these ideas will
impact future thinking in and of global governance just like synthpop eventually outgrew its
punk origins, global governance theory in a post-governance future will have to overcome its
reluctance to deal with (geo-)political concepts in order to stay relevant and connected with the
reality of world politics (Barnett and Duvall 2005b).25
Explaining Differentiation in Global Governance Thinking
These brief summaries indicate the diversity of current approaches to global governance seen
from a post-governance perspective. Each of them directly speaks to the phenomenon but they
do so in different ways and thus, arguably, represent different ‘genres’. We need to realize their
family resemblances and partial overlaps, both substantially as well as in terms of the
researchers involved, without papering over differences in the pursuit of some larger narrative.
More specifically, each of these approaches can be spelled out in their respective tradition,
terminology, and internal logic. Only then should they be related to each other and to the
practice and reality of global governance. To explain this process of academic and theoretical
diversification, we offer two possible explanations based on different epistemological stances
and understandings of how global governance thinking relates to the practice thereof.
First, from a positivist stance, one could surmise that the theoretical differentiation we witness
is a mirror of real-world developments. Against these ever-changing dynamics, global
governance thinking in its differentiation represents an ongoing process of maturity through
falsification. In other words, with global governance itself becoming more diversified and its
objects and substance constantly evolving, research tries to keep up by developing new
theoretical arsenals. Given its complexity, it could further be argued that scholars of global
governance by default play a catch-up game and thus constantly have to refine their theories
(Hewson and Sinclair 1999). While these different approaches, discussed as representations of
the real world, shed different lights on global governance, they can ultimately be related and
‘tested’ against each other and against an independent reality of global governance.
Alternatively, using a post-positivist perspective, one would point out that thinking global
governance is generative of the very differentiation it studies as its terminology constitutes our
perceptions and seeps into political practice (Fierke 2002). More specifically, depending on
which conceptual framework one uses, chances are high that its very dynamics will be ‘found’
in empirical analysis as global governance thinking runs the danger of vindicating one’s pet
approach” (Shapiro 2004: 19). In light of the inherent complexity of any notion of global order,
25 We agree with Barnett and Duvall (2005b) that the need to engage with such ideas does not imply the end of global
governance. Rather, thought of in a pluralistic and dynamic fashion, global governance as post-governance can reflect these
dynamics just as much as cooperation.
we thus need to abandon the notion of a fixed, observable reality. As our perceptions lack
immediate access to what we study, our theories are always only proxies and heuristic tools
rather than mirror images of reality. Different approaches thus represent different realities, each
of them heuristically helpful as we try to make sense of the phenomenon. The differentiation
we witness is thus nothing but evidence how Popperian fantasies about ingenious conjectures
and inexorable refutations” have failed us (Friedrichs and Kratochwil 2009).
Beyond these two preliminary explanations, we contend that global governance research should
be understood as a social enterprise. As such, it is as much determined by disciplinary rules of
how to do science as it is by contingent dynamics, human agency, and academic fads. Initially,
with IR caught in its own neo-neo straightjacket, global governance presented itself as a way
forward and, according at least to Weiss and Wilkinson (2014a), retains much of this potential
still today. Arguably, though, with global governance reaching a ‘near-celebrity status’ after its
initial introduction (Barnett and Sikkink 2008; Barnett and Duvall 2005a), it entered a ‘hype
cycle’ where the ‘peak of inflated expectation’ was inevitably followed by the ‘trough of
disillusionment’ (Fenn and Raskino 2008). In other words, global governance was never able
to realize the expectations put into it and thus slowly transitioned into a differentiated field. Just
like IR theory needed multiple figures of thought and just like punk split into multiple new
genres, so did global governance eventually (Waever 2013). In such a reading, with thousand
theoretical flowers blooming today, we are moving towards more pragmatic, yet maybe never
fully ‘true’ understandings of what global governance can and cannot accomplish as the
different approaches provide the foundation for engaged pluralism (Eun 2016; Kratochwil
2003). The merits of such a perspective will be illustrated in the next section.
Applying a Post-Governance Lens to Climate Governance
Even though the field and study of climate governance are relatively young, both are frequently
described as “dispersed, fragmented and polycentric(Bäckstrand and Kuyper 2017), “multi-
actor and multi-level(Andonova et al. 2009), and bewilderingly complex(Kuyper et al.
2018). In other words, climate governance in many ways reflects the differentiation that we
want to capture with the post-governance lens. Reading the development of climate governance
through such a lens, we contend, offers some structure to the empirical and theoretical
developments and helps us make sense of its complexity. Overall, with the number of actors
and fora constantly multiplying, we argue that a perspective consciously aware of
differentiation and fragmentation best captures the overlapping and contradicting dynamics of
this field moving towards different modes of governance at the same time. In a stocktaking
exercise rather than testing our perspective, we discuss these trends from monocentrism to
polycentrism, a greater role for non-state actors, and internal differentiation and its academic
reflections through a reconstruction of the empirical forms and theoretical approaches to climate
Empirical Forms of Climate Governance
After having been discussed as an issue of global public policy since the late 1980s, climate
governance recently has experienced its very own Cambrian explosion”, a massive
acceleration of diversification among existing forms (Keohane and Victor 2011). More
specifically, with the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
prepared for the Rio ‘Earth Summit’ (the UN Conference on Environment and Development),
the field was initially institutionalized in intergovernmental terms. Representing the initial core
of the climate governance architecture, subsequent deliberations mostly occurred within this
institutional framework until it became clear that not all relevant actors, notably the United
States as a prominent non-signatory of the Kyoto Protocol, would fully embrace it.
Consequentially, the annual Conferences of Parties (COP) produced one diplomatic failure after
the other, with the limitations of a mainly multilateral approach becoming ever more evident.
Against this background, multilateral climate governance soon branched out. As such, over the
last two decades, we can find all the empirical forms of global governance we discussed earlier,
but with some important variation between forms and over time.
Multistakeholder arrangements involving agents such as cities, local government, corporations
and civil society organizations have become a common feature of climate governance and are
variously described as multi-actor approaches (Andonova et al. 2009), hybridization (Newell et
al. 2012), polycentric governance (Jordan et al. 2015) or hybrid multilateralism (Bäckstrand et
al. 2017), to name but a few examples from the literature. Arguably, the turn towards non-state
and sub-state actors, bottom-up initiatives and multi-level approaches can be dated back to the
early 2000s which first saw “an increasingly institutionalized arena of transnational global
climate governance(Pattberg and Stripple 2008). The private and public-private initiatives
constituting this arena provided all kinds of governance outputs like standard setting or
26 Without wanting to overextend our argument, we believe that changes in climate governance, both practically and
theoretically, are reflective of broader developments in global environmental governance and scholarship thereof (Pattberg
and Widerberg 2015).
monitoring. Some of them featured voluntary targets for emission reductions, much like the
later Paris Agreement. This has made the field more decentralized and, with increasing linkages
between international institutions (especially UNFCCC), states and transnational governance
initiatives, more complex and polycentric (Jordan et al. 2015).
In terms of a more detailed account, this multistakeholderism was initially limited to
subnational, national and transnational efforts that went beyond the existing multilateral
framework. As such, in addition to global discussions in the UNFCCC, networks and
institutions of transnational governance between subnational governments, regions, NGOs,
corporations, and government agenciesemerged (Andonova et al. 2009).27 Abbott et al.
highlight the explosive growth of climate-related private transnational regulatory organizations
which “write and implement influential (albeit voluntary) rules both in the core areas of climate
governance […] and in related areas including green buildings, environmentally responsible
investment, and environmental disclosure(Abbott et al. 2016). For Kuyper et al., these efforts
by non-state actors should be seen as private efforts to fill governance gaps(Kuyper et al.
2018) that otherwise have been left unaddressed by global climate governance. For example,
the Paris Agreement has invited observers of which there were 8,000 registered in Paris “to
play a more integrated role in multilateral processes” (Bäckstrand et al. 2017).
Fast forward, the gridlocks of the multilateral COP negotiations throughout the 2010s further
boosted transnational efforts, transitioning climate governance even further away from the ‘old’
governance of hierarchical modes of regulation to a ‘new’ governance of multi-sector
collaborations. More specifically, transnational climate governance no longer exist alongside
multilateral climate governance. Rather, both have become tightly enmeshed with each other
as we witness “efforts to accelerate climate action by facilitating dialogue, knowledge exchange
and cooperation among state and non-state actors” andrapprochement of the realms of
multilateral diplomacy and transnational climate action with the rationale to enhance the pre-
2020 ambition(Bäckstrand et al. 2017). For example, nowadays, there are a number of so-
called International Cooperative Initiatives (ICIs), formally recognized as instruments in
climate governance following COP 17 in Durban (2011) and since then grown in stature. These
bring together smaller groups of likeminded countries, often including companies, NGOs,
academia, international organizations (IO) and sub-national public actors such as cities
(Widerberg and Pattberg 2015). This is but one example of the multilateral framework, still
27 Following Ostrom (2010) and her focus on local-level efforts, a large literature on the role of cities in particular as policy
entrepreneurs and key linchpins of transnational efforts has emerged (e.g. Hsu et al. 2015).
centered around the UNFCCC, opens itself up towards and integrates transnational efforts,
eroding boundaries between public and private governance.28
This erosion and the ensuing hybridization of state and non-state governance has opened the
door for intermediary governance and orchestration (Kuyper et al. 2018; Abbott et al. 2016).
In the Paris Agreement, for example, the UNFCCC has been consolidated as the central
orchestrator of non-state actors and transnational initiatives in global climate governance
(Bäckstrand et al. 2017) by the recognition in the final document that ‘non-Party stakeholders’
(i.e. non-state actors) had an instrumental role in limiting global warming. A prominent example
is the Non-State Actor Zone for Climate Change (NAZCA), a UNFCCC-hosted platform “that
to date has registered more than 12,000 individual or cooperative climate commitments by
companies, investors, civil society and cities(Bäckstrand et al. 2017). However, there have
also been earlier instances of intermediary climate governance. In 2008, Bäckstrand wrote that
“many of the climate partnerships operate in the shadow of hierarchyas states and
international organizations are delegating rule setting or implementation functions to
partnership networks(Bäckstrand 2008). Later, Hale and Roger identified 23 cases of
orchestration founded between 1999 and 2011 and found that orchestrators (primarily the UK
and US governments, UNEP and the World Bank) were motivated “by a desire to achieve goals
that cannot be achieved via international cooperation” (Hale and Roger 2014).
Intergovernmentalism in climate governance also never went away, even during the worst
periods of COP deadlocks. Rather, it adapted and has seen a resurgence that was exemplified
by the Paris Agreement.29 Instead of the traditional “UN mega-multilateralism and its ‘top-
down’ approach to global climate policy-making” (Lövbrand et al. 2017) dominating the first
decade or two, climate governance by now has become more open to polycentric, multi-level
and experimental approaches. More specifically, there have been numerous issue-specific
multilateral initiatives parallel to the UNFCCC, mostly initiated by the US government after its
withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol (Zelli 2011). Driven by gridlock around the Copenhagen
summit, these initiatives reflected more minilateral approaches (Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen and
28 Note that we are following mostly conventional wisdom here, which holds that the emergence of transnational governance
mechanisms was in response to the deadlock in multilateral climate negotiations. However, as we emphasize the different
types of multistakeholderism, we also recognize that some states and international organizations have been active in
transnational governance from the beginning (Jordan et al. 2015).
29 There were also numerous issue-specific multilateral initiatives parallel to the UNFCCC, mostly initiated by
the US government after its withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol (Zelli 2011). The gridlock around the
Copenhagen summit also inspired calls for more minilateral approaches (Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen and McGee
2013; Eckersley 2012) which never really got the requisite support from UNFCCC participants (Kuyper et al.
McGee 2013; Eckersley 2012). Consisting of smaller groups of like-minded governments, these
smaller clubs either build on existing institutions (such as the G8 and G20 picking up on climate
change) or creating new ones (such as the US-led Asia Pacific Partnership) (Keohane and Victor
A further example of resurgent intergovernmentalism can be seen in the notion of global climate
summitry. COPs are described as “messy political sites, where a multitude of actors come
together to exchange ideas and knowledge, benchmark climate performance, build
interpersonal relationships, organize resistance and propose policy alternatives in parallel to,
and in view of, the interstate negotiations. [...] By linking multiple, and often conflicting,
knowledge claims, policy projects and actors networks across time and space, UN climate
summitry has turned into an important facilitative practice that holds an increasingly complex
and polycentric climate regime together(Lövbrand et al. 2017). The recent integration of
transnational governance into UNFCCC-led multilateralism experienced at these summits (see
above on orchestration) can also be read as an attempt to bring non-state initiatives into an
intergovernmental framework. At the same time, intergovernmentalism broke with the aim of
achieving binding agreements and initiated the move towards a system of voluntary
contributions (Bäckstrand and Kuyper 2017).
Finally, climate governance has never been without its own share of power politics. In fact, the
defense and security communities have always seen climate change as a “geopolitical problem
(Barnett 2007).30 It should therefore come as no surprise that multilateral negotiations about
climate governance have always been riven by conflicts, sometimes along unexpected lines and
often displaying blatant and unapologetically advanced national interests (Streck and Terhalle
2013). Among developing states, for example, OPEC countries long resisted binding emission
targets while leading BRICS countries like China and India denounced demands for limitations
on their emissions as attempts to stymie their rise as major powers and developing economies.
Less developed countries from the Global South, on the other hand, were mostly interested in
adaptation and mitigation financing, while the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) in
particular lobbied for more decisive action. As a result, the G77 was de facto split between
various positions and ultimately not able to exert influence in the decision-making (Barnett
2007). At the same time, countries from the Global North were also split between the European
Union and a US-led group of countries. While the EU established itself as a leader in climate
30 For a profound criticism of such an approach, see Dalby (2013). For him, the problem is less what climate change means for
geopolitics but ‘what geopolitics does to climate change’ since it tends to frame issues in terms of ‘us vs them’ and zero-sum,
arguably providing a rather shaky foundation for global cooperation (Dalby 2013).
negotiations and, at least rhetorically, advanced rather ambitious goals, the US, in contrast,
preferred unilateral, less binding approaches (Paterson 2009).31
The geopolitical dimension of climate governance is arguably driven by national leaders trying
to maximize domestic political benefits. At the same time, protecting national interests is
amplified or at least enabled through the lack of “clear rules about how decisions are to be
made”, turning the UNFCCC practically into a governance arrangement where each party has
near-veto power (Barnett 2007). In addition, we see influence exercised through size and
capacities of delegations as well as deliberate linkages with other fields. For example,
delegations regularly bring in discussion on economic and development policies. While this
highlights that climate policy is indeed not a self-contained arena, it also provides a geopolitical
framework of winners and losers as well as immediate opportunities to exercise pressure and
pursue environmental great-power politics(Streck and Terhalle 2013). However, we argue
that such approaches to governance are at least mediated by non-state actors and thus represent
a new form of geopolitics. For example, market-based models of governance like carbon
emissions trading are driven by alternative logics than zero-sum (Keohane and Victor 2011).
At the same time, climate governance is also not functionally driven by cooperation but remains
a field best characterized by its diverse governance architecture.
Theoretical Approaches to Climate Governance
Attempts to conceptualize and theorize the “global climate governance landscape(Betsill et
al. 2015) have generally been driven by empirically tracking political developments. At the
same time, given the constitutive impact of theories on research, we can think of climate
governance as yet another staging ground for theoretical approaches. Thus, it comes as no
surprise that we see a diversity of theoretical approaches being advanced. Earlier work, using
liberal internationalist approaches drawn from regime theory, “predominantly focused on
specific overlaps between the UN climate regime and another institution(Zelli 2011). Given
that climate governance practices changed throughout the 1990s plus the rise of global
governance in IR and beyond at the same time, much of this work was reconceptualized through
the lens of global governance (Okereke et al. 2009). Within this perspective, Betsill et al. (2015)
distinguish ‘multilateralists’ and those emphasizing the role of states from ‘transnationalists’
31 Paterson (2009) explains these positions by outlining a deeper conflict between different forms of capitalism between the US
and the EU: a carbon- and land-intensive, laissez-faire form versus a more ecologically sustainable, corporatist model.
and those advancing a non-state framework. While both perspectives have their merits, instead
of following their either/or-logic, we consider different theoretical approaches in our post-
governance perspective as different descriptions of different parts of a rather complex reality.
As such, while reflecting different takes on traditional ideas of global governance, each of them
is equally legitimate and limited.
Representing neoclassical approaches, ideas of regime complexes, networked politics and
fragmentation feature strongly as theoretical frameworks.32 Among those, thinking climate
governance as a regime complex is popular among writers who follow a state-focused view but
still hold on to functionalist ideas of global cooperation (Keohane and Victor 2011). This
perspective enables them to look specifically at overlaps and linkages between the climate
regime complex and other regime complexes in the areas of trade or energy while emphasizing
the influential role of states within (Jordan et al. 2015). Emphasizing the role of institutions and
thereby bringing in an interorganizational relations perspective, Zelli et al. (2017) prefer to
speak of institutional complexityto overcome the state-centric connotations the regime
complex perspective entails. Expanding this perspective by looking specifically at transnational
governance and climate partnerships, we can also find networked politics approaches in climate
governance thinking (e.g. Bäckstrand 2008).
Overall, though, it seems that fragmentation is the concept invoked most often (e.g. Karlsson-
Vinkhuyzen and McGee 2013; Palmujoki 2013; Zelli 2011; Pattberg and Stripple 2008).
However, in climate governance thinking, fragmentation strongly resonates with global
governance as it is used to describe the policy domain as “marked by a patchwork of public and
private institutions that differ in their character, constituencies, spatial scope, subject matter,
and objective(Zelli 2011). As such, the notion of fragmentation in climate governance
thinking does not represent a declinist perspective. Rather, it is advanced mostly as an analytical
concept and does not necessarily reflect a process of (increasing) disintegration. Most
importantly, it does not assess the processes it describes in normative terms. Rather,
fragmentation is advanced ‘only’ to capture the complexity of the field. It thus overlaps with
the notion of polycentricism (Jordan et al. 2015; Thiel 2017). The latter, though, seems to be
more willing to engage in normative debate as it critically engages with current dysfunctions of
climate governance and frames polycentric approaches as more efficient and thus preferable to
achieve climate action (Ostrom 2010).
32 Global constitutionalism and judicialization approaches are rare, likely because the climate regime is not as
institutionalized as it would need to be for these characterizations to be adequate.
Declinist approaches seem to echo these normative and prescriptive concerns. They are also
characterized by an overall skepticism towards climate governance and were particularly
prominent particularly after the COP 15 in Copenhagen (Bäckstrand et al. 2017). At that time,
it almost seemed to be de rigeur to speak of deadlocks” (Zelli 2011) and gridlocks” (Keohane
and Victor 2011). Theorizing in particular the multilateral and the voluntary nature of climate
governance as inappropriate, these approaches are both more state-focused and thus more
critical of classical global governance (Harris 2013; Eckersley 2012). In this context, Paterson
makes the intriguing argument that US-based authors penned the most skeptical views: The
current broad debate on the architectureof climate governance […] consists for the most part
of US academics starting from the presumption that Kyoto has failed(in part because the US
has not joined) and thus a new architecture (implicitly, more conducive to US interests) is
required” (Paterson 2009).
In more recent years, especially since the Paris Agreement, declinist voices have become less
numerous in academic works, even though the international community looks set to miss its
goal of limiting global warming to 2°C. In fact, there has been a bit of a backlash against
gridlock narratives led by a rediscovery of the state as a dynamic site and catalyst of
governing” (Jordan et al. 2015), not just because of the breakthrough at COP 21 but also because
of the greater involvement of states in transnational governance efforts. As such, we can
conclude that with all the different theoretical approaches pilling up, each of them connects to
the reality of climate change. Certain dynamics in the practice realm thus find their echo in
academic thinking. However, these dynamics are preconceived by theory and thus ultimately
constitute different realities no longer falsifiable in any way. In other words, looking at it from
a post-governance perspective, we find climate governance thinking influenced by trends and
fads. While these trends are somewhat related to real-world developments, they are also
constitutive of these in the sense that different approaches create their different empirical
observations and thus remind us about the social nature of the enterprise. We discuss this point
and other insights from the post-governance perspective in the ensuing conclusions.
In a widely recognized debate, influential scholars recently proclaimed the end of IR theory and
argued in favor of a post-paradigmatic era for the subfield (Dunne et al. 2013; Jackson and
Nexon 2013). In this paper, we applied a similar perspective to global governance and contend
that its practices and academic reflections, in response to seemingly disparate developments,
are marked by advanced differentiation. Against these developments, we argue that we have to
move past a unified way of doing and thinking global governance narrowly defined as
international cooperation, multi-level engagement and the academic discussion thereof. We
used the analogy of post-punk to describe this new perspective, which is meant to capture
change as well as continuation at the same time. The challenge for practitioners and scholars
alike remains to accept this plurality while continuing to engage in and study attempts to govern
and regulate problems of cross-border nature, either collectively or at least in the awareness of
others being involved and affected by it.
We thus agree with Weiss and Wilkinson (2014b); Abbott et al. (2016), and Finnemore (2014)
who all consider global governance in terms of change and complexity. Instead of warranting
a single theoretical perspective, it is the simultaneity of different approaches that defines global
governance today. Adopting a post-governance framework in this vein allows us to reconstruct
and explain shifts between different modes of governance and consider trends in the academic
reflection. At the same time, it frees us from having to commit to one framework and thereby
presumptuously decide where global governance assumingly is heading. Instead of following
macro-narratives inspired by grand theory and end up seeing what one wants to see33, we can
foreground analytical questions such as: How and why do modes of global governance change
within a particular policy domain? Are regulatory choices determined by structural
characteristics or are they the results of agents interacting? In addition, and most importantly,
how can we assess the comparative suitability, effectiveness and normative desirability of
different governance forms? Looking into global governance as an academic field, we can raise
self-reflective questions and discuss why certain theoretical concepts rise and fall. In other
words, post-governance can be used as a framework to track shifts between different forms of
governance as well as the evolution of a field and its changing theoretical narratives. This lays
the groundwork for larger analyses into the causes of change within and between forms of
governance and theoretical approaches.
We illustrated our post-governance perspective by applying it to climate governance. In this
brief survey, we found strong evidence of differentiation and diversification. Mirroring global
governance at large, climate governance today seems to be characterized by different forms of
governance and discussed from multiple different perspectives. However, even though there is
considerable diversity in climate governance, there are nonetheless discernible shifts which we
33 As we argued before, just like IR theory, different ways of thinking global governance paradigmatically (that is without further
justification) privilege different actors and institutions in the process. Regime complexes, for example, champion international
institutions while declinist approaches obviously orbit around the nation state.
reconstructed from a post-governance perspective. For example, we saw the emergence of
transnational governance mechanisms that were later absorbed by multilateral governance
frameworks into what today represents a hybridized, fragmented approach. This expansion of
private and public-private forms of governance since about the mid-2000s has stalled the
growth of intergovernmental organizations (Abbott et al. 2016). However, these forms of
governance at the same time further developed in light of their failure to achieve solutions.
More specifically, we see renewed intergovernmentalism and power politics as state delegations
utilize transnational governance to create governance outcomes in their favor. Academically,
all of this is reflected in ongoing discussions between neoclassical and declinist perspectives,
all trying to respond to and adequately capture real-world developments. By doing so, climate
change itself has become a staging ground for different competing approaches and we are
unable to determine its nature other than it being polycentric (Jordan et al. 2015). In other words,
both practically and theoretically, climate governance thus has pluralized and entered, for what
it is worth, its own post-stage with more than one defining feature and one theoretical narrative
to capture it.
Assuming that climate governance as a subfield experiences trends and developments which
apply to global governance at large, it seems we have to come to terms with diversity. In its
non-teleological, non-functional form, post-governance helps us to accept that there is no single
answer how to govern or study the world. In other words, the perspective helps us to take the
notion of global governance seriously without turning any particular form of it into a paradigm
itself. Thus, post-governance leaves us with multiple forms of governance, multiple research
agendas, multiple insights and ultimately multiple words to be studied. Obviously, it remains
to be seen whether such a perspective is ultimately able to fully attune to the complexity we
witness in global governance today. Most crucially, in light of the ‘new sovereigntism, we
need to understand and improve how global public goods are managed collectively and we need
to provide better justifications for practices and the study thereof. For now, however, we
contend that post-governance and its post-paradigmatic take on these justifications is an
important intervention to a practical discourse otherwise not coming to terms with its own
diversity. We believe a post-governance stance can help us get there in an ambitious yet
pragmatic fashion. After all, post-punk not only brought many new music genres. Once it
moved punk beyond its own orthodoxy, it also helped to elevate its progenitor to new heights,
leaving us with different songs and bands to choose from based on preference, mood and
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This article seeks to explain when governments are more likely to take an intergovernmental approach to resolving global collective problems rather than step back and encourage (or simply allow) nongovernmental actors to become the main global governors. The authors suggest that an important factor driving this choice is the domestic ideological leanings of powerful states toward greater or lesser government activism. Such ideologies connect domestic preferences to international ones. They also lead to the establishment of domestic institutions that, in turn, facilitate the emergence of international organizations. Using these arguments, the authors develop a set of inferences regarding the likelihood that governments will establish and join intergovernmental organizations. The authors test their hypotheses through a study of global governance in the education realm, and also apply a series of statistical analyses covering developments in all issue-areas over the last century and a half.
This chapter considers how the arguments associated with the thirteen different theories of International Relations discussed in the book sum up. More specifically, it asks whether IR is (still?) a discipline, and whether it is likely to remain one. The chapter examines the intellectual and social patterns of IR and the discipline as a social system, along with its relations of power, privilege, and careers. It also reflects on where, what, and how IR is today by drawing on theories from the sociology of science, whether IR can be regarded as a subdiscipline within political science, and the social structure of IR. It argues that the discipline of international relations is likely to continue whether or not ‘international relations’ remains a distinct or delineable object. It also contends that the core of the intellectual structure in the discipline of IR has been recurring ‘great debates’.
The multi-stakeholder model of global Internet governance has emerged as the dominant approach to navigating the complex set of interests, agendas and implications of our increasing dependence on this technology. Protecting this model of global governance in this context has been referred to by the US and EU as ‘essential’ to the future of the Internet. Bringing together actors from the private sector, the public sector and also civil society, multi-stakeholder Internet governance is not only regarded by many as the best way to organise around this particular issue, it is also held up as a potential template for the management of other ‘post-state’ issues. However, as a consequence of its normative aspirations to representation and power sharing, the multi-stakeholder approach to global Internet governance has received little critical attention. This paper examines the issues of legitimacy and accountability with regard to the ‘rule-makers’ and ‘rule-takers’ in this model and finds that it can also function as a mechanism for the reinforcement of existing power dynamics.
This book offers a major new theory of global governance, explaining both its rise and what many see as its current crisis. The author suggests that world politics is now embedded in a normative and institutional structure dominated by hierarchies and power inequalities and therefore inherently creates contestation, resistance, and distributional struggles. Within an ambitious and systematic new conceptual framework, the theory makes four key contributions. Firstly, it reconstructs global governance as a political system which builds on normative principles and reflexive authorities. Second, it identifies the central legitimation problems of the global governance system with a constitutionalist setting in mind. Third, it explains the rise of state and societal contestation by identifying key endogenous dynamics and probing the causal mechanisms that produced them. Finally, it identifies the conditions under which struggles in the global governance system lead to decline or deepening. Rich with propositions, insights, and evidence, the book promises to be the most important and comprehensive theoretical argument about world politics of the 21st century.
This article aims to contribute to the third generation of global governance research by unfolding the concept of a global governance system consisting of normative principles and patterns of authority relationships and legitimation. The goal is to formulate a positive theory that goes beyond the negative descriptions of global governance as post-internationalist and helps to move global governance beyond its embryonic state. The major theoretical claim is that the features of the current global governance system have endogenously produced the politicization and counter-institutionalization of international authorities. Internal tensions of the system fuel legitimation problems and demands for change, which in the end lead – in some cases – to the decline of global governance arrangements or – in other cases – to its deepening via appropriate institutional responses.
There is a growing gap between the need for effective global governance and the ability of intergovernmental institutions to provide it. In Gridlock: Why Multilateralism Is Failing when We Need It Most, published in 2013, we argued that self-reinforcing interdependence, rooted in the extraordinary success of the post-war multilateral order, has created a range of ‘second-order problems’ that are threatening to undermine our ability to engage in further global cooperation. As we show in this article, gridlock is itself reinforcing and structurally embedded in global politics. The corrosive effect of unmanaged globalization on domestic politics is provoking anti-global backlashes that further erode the capacity of intergovernmental institutions to provide solutions to global problems. It is possible, however, to detect a number of significant counter-trends and exceptions to global governance dysfunction. We set out seven pathways ‘through’ and ‘beyond’ gridlock, explain their significance, and provide examples of how these pathways can effect positive change. While none of these pathways alone offer a silver bullet, they all highlight possible ways of moving towards a more resilient, adaptive, and innovative global governance arrangement.
Global governance is widely viewed as in crisis. Deepening interdependence of cross-border activity belies the relative absence of governance mechanisms capable of effectively tackling major global policy challenges. Scholars have an important role to play in understanding blockages and ways through. A first generation of global governance research made visible an increasingly complex and globalising reality beyond the interstate domain. A varied second generation of scholarship, spanning diverse subfields, has built upon this ‘signpost scholarship’ to generate insight into efforts to manage, bypass and even – potentially – transcend multilateral gridlock to address pressing transboundary problems. This article plots a course towards a ‘third generation’ of global governance research, serving to also introduce a special section which brings together leading scholars in the field of global governance, working across theoretical, analytical and issue-area boundaries. This collaborative endeavour proposes to advance a convergence, already underway, across a theoretically and empirically rich existing scholarship, distinguished by a concern for the complexity of global public policy delivery.
Global governance in its myriad forms and actor constellations has decisively demonstrated the potential for rule-making above the nation state to be liberated from the ‘iron cage’ of traditional intergovernmental forums and multilateral bureaucracy. To further investigate an increasingly complex global reality, we propose drawing on organisational theories and methods for penetrating the internal dynamics of global governance processes and outcomes. This article begins by mapping out the current use of organisational theories in global governance research. It then turns to exploring the potential for other areas of organisational theory and conceptual development to shed light on the governance dynamics and performance of voluntary sustainability standards (VSS), a significant site of transnational rule-making and experimentation by private actors. We highlight a paradigmatic shift from ‘arms-length’ to ‘embedded’ models of VSS monitoring and regulation, reflected in new modes of engagement and interaction between rule-makers and rule-takers. This new generation of embedded VSS governance is distinguishable by enhanced information provision, learning and knowledge creation. The implications of embedded governance for VSS monitoring and performance are explored with reference to the experience of the Fair Wear Foundation (FWF).