In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Global Governance

  • Introduction
  • Journals
  • Global Public Goods
  • International Law
  • Transnational Policy Networks

International Relations Global Governance
Peter Hägel
  • LAST REVIEWED: 02 March 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 02 March 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0015


“Governance is the sum of many ways individuals and institutions, public and private, manage their common affairs. It is a continuing process through which conflicting or diverse interests may be accommodated and co-operative action taken. It includes formal institutions and regimes empowered to enforce compliance, as well as informal arrangements that people and institutions either have agreed to or perceive to be in their interest” (Commission on Global Governance 1995; see Monographs). This widely used definition from a key document of the global governance debate makes two things clear: global governance affects an enormous variety of actors and policies, and it is a vague concept. The second sentence and the first half of the third sentence within this definition reveal that a large part of the concept deals with questions that have always been at the core of international relations (IR): studying international cooperation and institutions. The terms individuals, private, informal, and people, however, indicate that an equal amount of attention is paid to nongovernmental actors and noninstitutionalized practices—which is why the term governance is preferred over government. Much global governance research studies whether and how nonstate influences are growing in importance vis-à-vis states. The key phrase, though, is right at the beginning: “the sum of many ways.” It indicates an understanding of world politics as an integrated system, a shift from international relations as politics among states to the global governance of an interdependent world, as political actors try to deal with the transnational consequences of globalization. Some researchers working on global governance share this holistic assumption, while others question and examine it. But much research simply continues to study some part of world politics, be it trade regulation at the World Trade Organization (WTO) or the transnational coordination of protests against it by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and then subsumes it into the great global governance discourse. The almost limitless scope of global governance influences the logic of this article: A large part is organized around ways in which IR theories study global governance, because this helps to bring analytical order into an often-confusing discussion. It would be next to impossible to provide a thematic overview of policy areas subject to global governance processes—even the most important ones (security, economy, human rights, migration, environment, health, energy, etc.) would imply too many references. For the same reason, the variety of international institutions (IAEA, WHO, ILO, OECD, etc.) cannot be dealt with here, and thus only the most important, truly global ones are covered: the United Nations (UN), International Criminal Court (ICC), International Monetary Fund (IMF), and World Bank (see International Financial Architecture), WTO, and the (less global) “summitology” of the G7/8/20. Nongovernmental actors are only being examined in very broad categories (see Transnational Business, Transnational Civil Society, and Contestation and Resistance. Most of the publications selected are books, because too many important journal articles exist, making a selection difficult—but several readers in Reference Works provide excellent collections of seminal journal articles.

General Overviews

To a large extent, global governance research builds on prior IR research. The most relevant precursors are regime theory, (neo-)functionalism, and thinking about world government. The Monographs subsection contains mostly works that have been influential in advancing international relations’ (IR’s) understanding of global governance. Some of them are by proponents of global governance as a new framework for analysis, and some situate the discussion within broader IR debates about international cooperation and rule making. Within the Edited Volumes subsection, the publications gather a variety of different theoretical perspectives on key global governance issues, including international organization, the regulation of the global economy, and the role of nonstate actors; all provide excellent overviews of their topic.

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