Academic journal article Global Governance

Global Governance as a Perspective on World Politics

Academic journal article Global Governance

Global Governance as a Perspective on World Politics

Article excerpt

In one of the first issues of Global Governance, Larry Finkelstein observed that "'Global Governance' appears to be virtually anything." A decade later, the concept of global governance has become ever more popular--and confusion about its meaning ever greater. While we do think that some flexibility in the use of concepts is both theoretically desirable and practically unavoidable, we believe that the current disarray is a hindrance to more fruitful discussions and to the goal of developing more coherent theories of global governance. We therefore argue that a more careful use of the term global governance is necessary to overcome the current confusion spawned by the variation in uses of the concept. After clarifying the basic function of concepts in social science and reviewing the different uses of global governance in the current literature, we use the term as an analytical concept that provides a perspective on world politics different from the more traditional notion of "international relations." KEYWORDS: global governance, world politics, international relations, use of concepts.


In contemporary academic debate about world politics, "global governance" is all over the place. (1) Whether it is observable phenomena such as an NGO's worldwide campaign against corruption, political visions that are expressed in a call for a more powerful international legal system, or the ubiquitous talk about global governance itself, almost any process or structure of politics beyond the state--regardless of scope, content, or context--has within the last few years been declared part of a general idea of global governance. (2) What this idea is about is a question rarely addressed. Instead, most of the works on global governance stop short of pondering why they are using the newly coined term--rather than, say, more old-fashioned terms such as international organization or international politics--and what is implied by its use. On the other hand, those who do ask, "What is global governance?" are likely to come to the conclusion that "'Global Governance' appears to be virtually anything." (3)

More than a decade after the publication of Governing without Government (4) in 1992, the publication of the Commission on Global Governance's Our Global Neighbourhood in 1995, (5) and the inauguration of this journal, Global Governance, also in 1995, we take stock of the conceptual debate on global governance and make suggestions for the way ahead. We argue that the concept of global governance can help us make sense of the interactions and transformations we observe in world politics only if it is used in a more careful way. Our argument unfolds in three steps: First, we contend that concepts are the most basic research tool social science has at its disposal. The core function of concepts lies in ordering and structuring our observations and experiences in order to allow for general propositions. Next we apply this argument to our analysis of the way the term global governance has been used in the literature. We distinguish between two general uses of the concept: global governance as a set of observable phenomena, and global governance as a political program. Then, after analyzing the different uses of the concept, we develop suggestions for future research that adopts a global governance perspective. In the concluding section, we discuss how such a perspective might enrich our understanding of politics beyond the state, what specific research questions emerge from the adoption of such a perspective, and what the limitations of a "global governance perspective" are.

Concepts as Tools

Concepts are the most basic tool science has at its disposal. If we understand science as being, at least to a certain extent, charged with the task of organizing the information we obtain from observing and experiencing the world, then the role of concepts is pivotal. By relating certain phenomena to each other and keeping others apart, concepts fulfill the central function of ordering and structuring our perception of the world. …

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