Academic journal article Global Governance

Civil Society and Democracy in Global Governance

Academic journal article Global Governance

Civil Society and Democracy in Global Governance

Article excerpt

Civil society" has moved center stage in current discussions of globalization. And well it might do after the recent high-profile events of Seattle, Davos, Washington, Melbourne, Prague, Porto Alegre, Quebec, and Genoa. Many observers are asking, with varying blends of curiosity and indignation: Who are these people anyway? Why should we give them time and attention? What right do they have to interrupt--and even obstruct--the governance of global relations?

This article considers these questions of legitimacy against yardsticks of democracy. Effective governance is regulation that achieves not only efficiency and order, but also public participation and public accountability. In building governance for expanding global spaces in the contemporary world, technocratic criteria have to date received far more attention than democratic standards. This article addresses the more neglected side of the equation by exploring the potentials and limitations of civil society as a force for democracy in global governance.

What are the implications of civil society mobilization for democracy in global governance? Many observers have celebrated the rise of global civic (1) activism as a boon for democracy, while many others have decried it as a bane. Yet these assessments--both positive and negative--have tended to rest on little more than anecdote and prejudice. To be sure, recent years have brought important research on civil society and global governance. (2) However, none of this work has focused primarily, explicitly, and rigorously on the question of civil society and democracy in global governance.

This article elaborates a possible framework of analysis and on this basis suggests that civil society activism offers significant possibilities to reduce the major democratic deficits that have grown during recent decades in the governance of global relations. Given this promise, these experiments in new forms of public participation, consultation, representation, and accountability should be pursued further. However, the democratic benefits of civil society engagement of global governance do not flow automatically: they must be actively nurtured. Moreover, civil society has the potential to detract from as well as add to democracy in the ways that global affairs are regulated. So we do well to approach this subject with both optimism and caution.

I develop this general argument below in four main steps. In the first section, I present working definitions of key concepts and lay out a framework of analysis. In the second section, I set out the shortfalls of democracy in current governance of global spaces. In the third section, I suggest various ways that civil society can promote democracy in global governance. In the fourth section, I point to ways that civil society can fail to realize its democratic promise or, still more worrying, can in some cases actually undermine democracy in global governance.

The operative word in the last two sentences is a tentative "can," as opposed to a definite "does." This article identifies a set of assessment criteria that might guide further studies of civil society and democracy in global governance. Only a framework of evaluation and general hypotheses are suggested here. Much more empirical investigation is required before we can draw firmer conclusions regarding the relationship that has prevailed--and could prevail--in practice between civil society and democracy in the governance of global spaces. (3)

Framework of Analysis

Each concept in the title of this article--civil society, democracy, global, and governance--is heavily contested. No attempt is made here to resolve these disputes, and many readers will indeed take issue with the positions adopted in this discussion. However, explicit working definitions are needed to lend clarity and internal coherence to the argument. …

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