Globalization, Governance and the State: Some Propositions about Governing

Article excerpt


The conventional model of governance is based on the role of the State and its various organizations in making and implementing laws. This model is not only centered on the State, but is also hierarchical, with authoritative decisions made at the top of the hierarchy of government flowing downward through the remainder of the system to the public. Further, in this conventional model most of the action of governing occurs within government itself, excluding actors in the civil society as well and international actors that may have some influence on decisions. Much of this model is also premised on a centralized state, with sub-national governments being largely dependent upon central government.

The conventional model of governance has been under attack from above, from below, and from outside. Indeed, scholars operating from a number of perspectives have tended to denigrate the role of the State and government in the process of governing, and assume that it is possible to have "governance without government" (Rhodes, 1997), or alternatively "policy without polity" (Hajer, 2003). For others the State is powerless in the face of a powerful international market (Strange, 1998; see Reich, 2005), or has been fundamentally changed in terms of structure as well as its own image (Migdal and Schlichte, 2005). The assumption is that the State is no longer capable of governing in any meaningful manner, and hence alternatives are necessary to provide direction to the economy and society.

Before moving to discuss important propositions about the changing role of the State in governing, I need to discuss the meaning of the term "governance". To some extent governance has been like words in Alice in Wonderland-it means exactly what each scholar wants it to mean. In particular, some scholars tend to beg the question of governance by arguing that any actions through which non-State actors influence actions and policy is "governance", thereby setting a very high standard for any action not to be governance. Thus, by definition, in this definition of the term the State is largely excluded from "governance".

In this paper I am conceptualizing governance more broadly. Governance will be used to mean the process of providing direction to the economy and society. Governance therefore is will be conceptualized as a goal directed activity, requiring the means of identifying what society wants to do, and then examining the means of achieving those collective goals. And it is important to note that any understanding of governance should focus attention on the pursuit of collective goals, rather than on the goals of individual actors or groups. Given that there is more than a little diversity in the goals being pursued by individual actors, governance therefore requires mechanisms for resolving the inherent conflicts, and that collective nature of the process in turn may return government and the State to a more central position in governing.1

This definition of governance does not beg the question about the role of State actions or social actors in the process, but instead leaves the role of those various actors open as an empirical question. Indeed, beginning with this definition, a major part of the analysis of the governance process is to determine the role of the various actors, and to understand something about the interaction of State, international and social actors involved in the process of governing. Few, if any, processes for steering society are so simple that any single actor will be able to determine the outcomes alone. That has almost certainly been true in the past (see Pierre and Peters, 2000) governing has become more complex and hence understanding the complexity have become at once more difficult and more necessary.

In addition to the generalized conception of governance, the term has been discussed with a number of adjectives (Adam, 2000). Most commonly, there has been a concern about "good governance", which has come to mean primarily governing, especially in less developed political systems, in a more open and transparent manner than has been true in those systems in the past. …