I Critical Approaches to Global Governance

Global Governance from Regional Perspectives. A Critical View

Anna Triandafyllidou


The notion of global governance has attracted significant attention during the last two decades but remains notoriously elusive. The term 'global' has been adopted to point to the emerging transnational world order and interactions that go beyond traditional state actors which have been the focus of international relations since the 1990s. Similarly, the term 'governance' goes beyond government to designate the interaction and networking between public and private actors, both in horizontal (non-hierarchical) and vertical (hierarchical) ways. These actors are not only states but also include civil society and formal and informal networks of various kinds.

Governance typically involves cooperation, negotiation, and regulation. Global governance activity may occur at the national and subnational level, but can have consequences at the transnational level; likewise, it may occur at the transnational level and have implications for the national. Unlike government, governance does not have a clear polity to which it refers, as its contours usually trespass those of the state. Thus, governance has no clear democratic legitimacy, although it may have a strong efficiency legitimacy as it contributes to developing satisfactory solutions to complex problems. It is also seen as a better fit for contemporary societies, as it enables actors such as the private sector or civil society, which are quick to act and provide more timely information, to make up for the lacunae of state action that involves longer timeframes for response and less flexibility.

Governance (and global governance at that) may appear as a value-neutral term that describes a 'method' of government rather than a doctrine on how government should take place. It may thus be presented as a form of dealing with a broad range of problems and conflicts in today's increasingly interdependent and complex world, without prejudice to the values that may underpin it. But governance is far from value-neutral. Rather, its embeddedness in specific western conceptions of government, premised on liberal moderately secular democracy and the rule of law, are so deep that they become invisible. It is like the 'colour' of the 'white race'. Other races are coloured, white is not a colour. Similarly the hegemonic western discourse on governance appears to provide the baseline, it is the governance against which other modes and methods of managing public goods and resolving conflicts are measured and assessed.

Global governance discourses and studies are also imbued by this apparent value-neutrality. They neglect, for instance, the fact that non-state actors involved in governance can be very different in their nature, interests, and capacity to act (civil society may simply not exist in other countries and continents). Thus, presumed universal adherence to individual liberty and autonomy as the basis for liberal democracy may ignore different regional cultural perspectives that give precedence to the community and to mutual ties and interdependence as the basis for governance. Also, assumptions of equality before the law or equality within democracy may be shaped by higher beliefs in ethnic or kinship hierarchical relations. Studies and research programmes in Europe have often had an implicit Eurocentric agenda, looking at what global governance is or means for Europe and/or 'the West' writ large, but without fully taking into account how global governance is defined or understood in countries and continents beyond Europe. They have not sufficiently engaged with regional and non-western paradigms or weaker states and societies in the international system and hence do not reflect the emerging twenty-first-century global governance dynamics and challenges. Thus, to advance interdisciplinary thinking and innovative solutions to global issues it is necessary to promote, as we try to do in this volume, more informed and nuanced analysis of what various networks, actors, institutions, and states across the globe mean by global governance.

Much in the same vein as Edward Said spoke of Orientalism in Cultural Studies to uncover the ways in which western scholarly research and literature was creating the 'Oriental Other' and the 'Western Self' twenty years ago, we currently need to adopt a critical way of thinking in the area of global governance.

While global governance is a transnational phenomenon, the term 'global' in practice is embodied in sectorial and local frameworks. Indeed, any understandings or practices of global governance are informed by specific cultures and value constellations. Culture is here understood broadly as encompassing institutional, legal, economic, and social organization, development, and practices. It is, of course, dynamic and constantly evolving, even if it is crystallized at each given point in time in specific forms, traditions, sets of values, within which individuals are socialized. Our understanding of culture here is dynamic and networked, encompassing cultural forms and contents as well as the boundarymaking function of culture.

We, as individuals, states, and organizations, tend to perceive and act out 'global' through particular 'local' understandings that are shaped by our culture. Culture is arguably not a mere context but a pretext that structures and makes meaningful political, social, and individual actions on the global level. We are not assuming here that the relationship between culture, and institutions or practice is unidirectional. Culture is embodied in institutions and shapes practices, but, at the same time, it is also shaped by them. The relationship is interactive.

The aim of this book is to investigate, discuss, and confront the different cultural and geopolitical understandings of global governance in different regions of the world. The main research questions addressed in this book are: How is global governance understood in different regions of the world? What normative and political challenges does the concept of global governance and the emerging regimes of global governance institutions raise in different parts of the world? Is there something like a regional texture of global governance that builds upon regional cultural, social, historical, political, and/ or institutional features and characteristics and that adapts the meaning of global governance to the spatial context in which it is adopted?

The 'local' dimension can be conceptualized in a variety of ways. It can refer to single countries but also to wider regions. Here we adopt a regional perspective that is operationalized on the basis of linguistic and geopolitical frameworks and narratives. We assume that linguistic and geographical boundaries demarcate a certain level of cultural commonality within and cultural difference between them. However, such a regional conception can also be contested. Indeed, Nida Alahmad, in this volume, argues that there can be no regional perspective as, even if there are common historical trajectories; common linguistic and cultural traits, this is not sufficient to speak of a common regional view. She also rightly points to the role of colonialism and foreign intervention in 'constituting' world regions.

We certainly acknowledge here the limits of a regional conception and that is why the book includes both regional and country-focused chapters—in the effort to pluralize the discussion of global governance but also to strike a balance between what can be conceived as world regions and those large and important countries whose governments and elites conceive of themselves as global players (and which are conceived by other governments and elites as such). Thus, we engage with Africa, Latin America, and of course Europe as world regions even if their level of regional organization and participation in global governance differs. The European Union, which, as Christiansen in this volume acknowledges, is only a partial expression of what is understood as Europe writ large, has perhaps the most developed institutional make-up and engages clearly with global issues and global governance institutions as a regional actor. However, Africa and Latin America have their own regional institutions which do adopt regional cultural perspectives, as argued by Tieku and Gelot, and by Sanahuja in this volume. Such perspectives contest western dominance in global governance both culturally (Africa) and in terms of distribution of power and a realist world order (Latin America). They also both point to the need for a 'southern' perspective on global governance.

However, in the workshop that preceded this volume it became clear that it would be difficult to speak of a Eurasian regional perspective or an Asian or South East Asian one. Hence we have opted for country-specific chapters on Russia and China. The same was true for a North American perspective as opposed to a US-specific viewpoint. It was felt that these three countries are important global players (both in terms of how they perceive themselves and how they are perceived by others) and engage in different ways with global issues and global governance structures. We further elaborate on these different perspectives and on the national vs regional register as an appropriate approach for analysing global governance in the concluding chapter of this volume.

The aim of this introductory chapter is to place the book in its historical context of the early twenty-first century; to provide for working definitions and discuss the contested nature of global governance, thus clarifying our analytical framework; and to offer an example of how cultural perspectives and their power connotations can be disguised and become 'invisible' in the theory and practice of global governance. The chapter concludes with an explanation of the choice of regions and countries included here and an outline of the contents of this book.

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