Since the 1980s, the concept of governance has increasingly been employed to describe policymaking in the national, regional, and global arenas. Definitions and uses of governance, however, are as varied as the issues and levels of analysis to which the concept is applied. They range from definitions that subsume any form of social coordination to policymaking in the absence of an overarching political authority, from descriptions of the withdrawal of the European welfare state to analyses of public sector reforms in Africa. (1) Common to these notions is the changing locus of political authority.
The flexibility of the concept helps explain its growing popularity, but diverse uses of the term also restrict its utility. In particular, the multiple definitions tend to emphasize differences and neglect commonalities. The focus of contemporary research is restricted to detailed analyses of the specific modes of national, regional, and global governance rather than the comparison of governance arrangements across these levels. As such, there is little systematic investigation of how the rise of governance arrangements at different levels might be linked.
In this article I explore whether governance might be understood as a general phenomenon and, if so, how it could be defined. The emergence and uses of governance across levels of analysis illustrate that, despite apparent differences, governance arrangements at the national, regional, and global levels display crucial similarities. Specifically, I suggest that governance can universally be defined by fragmentation of political authority in seven dimensions: geography, function, resources, interests, norms, decisionmaking, and policy implementation. Together they help to distinguish governance from government as ideal concepts of fragmented and centralized political authority.
The resulting analytical framework is useful in several ways. First, if governance is understood as a general phenomenon, the framework helps to compare governance across levels of analysis. It encourages research on such questions as to what degree the problems and failures of governance arrangements at the national, regional, and global levels are comparable and whether solutions at one level are adaptable to another. Second, the proposed framework facilitates the comparison of governance arrangements across levers. It suggests that a trend from government to governance is observable not only in sectors such as commerce, but increasingly also in national and international security, which have traditionally been identified with the state monopoly of authority. (2) Third, the proposed framework helps to determine which factors have promoted the rise of governance and how governance norms and decisionmaking modes have been transferred from one level to another.
My aim is to facilitate future substantive research by examining the possibilities for a common definition and comparative analysis. The first part of the article outlines the similarities of governance at the national, regional, and global levels. The second part proposes how these similarities can be used to develop an ideal-type understanding of the concept that distinguishes governance from government along seven dimensions of fragmentation and centralization.
Governance at the National, Regional, and Global Levels
By 1996, R. A. W. Rhodes observed that there were at least six separate uses of the term governance in the analysis of the British political system alone. Governance was employed to denote the minimal state, corporate governance, new public management, good governance, a socio-cybernetic system, and self-organizing networks. (3) As the concept of governance has increasingly been used for the analysis of not only national and subnational but also regional and global policymaking, its range of meanings has also expanded. Whereas common usage associates the term with government, the exercise of authority, or a method or system of government or management, (4) an analysis of the Social Science Citation Index between 1980 and 2000 shows that the academic literature applies the concept to more than twenty distinct subject areas (Figure 1). …