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Towards a Third Generation of Global Governance Scholarship - International Studies Association (ISA) Roundtable

21 May 2018

Global Governance Third Generation

Global governance is not working. The rapid development of economic globalisation and deepening interdependence of cross-border activity belie the relative absence of governance mechanisms capable of effectively tackling global public policy issues. From financial regulation, to non-communicable diseases, bio-pathogen containment, and, of course, climate change mitigation, global governance is failing to find solutions. It is imperative that we make progress in understanding blockage and ways through. Martin Rees (2014) has argued that existential risks make it unlikely that humanity will reach the end of this century without major changes. But what is global governance? How might it be harnessed to ensure human society meets the challenges of a rapidly globalising reality? 

A first generation of global governance research, principally in international relations (IR), has focused almost exclusively on formal mechanisms of interstate relations within public multilateral institutions, such as the United Nations and the World Bank. With these structures apparently in gridlock, many observers now regard global governance to be in crisis. However, a second generation of disparate scholarship spanning a range of subfields in political science and IR has begun to investigate new forms of public and private global governance as a response to the limitations faced by states in tackling pressing transboundary challenges.

The purpose of this International Studies Association (ISA) roundtable was to take stock of recent rapid developments in scholarship on what we understand as ‘global governance’, an undeniably important but still ill-defined field of analysis. It built upon a commentary published in Governance by David Coen and Tom Pegram (2015) and expanded upon in a special issue of the journal Global Policy (2018), calling for a ‘third generation’ of global governance research, one which advances convergence across a theoretically and empirically rich, but disparate, second generation of global politics and public policy scholarship. Many of the contributors to the special issue joined us for this ISA roundtable, alongside other world-leading researchers in the area of global governance.

Participants showcased their cutting-edge work, as well as reflected on the state of the art in global governance scholarship with a view to identifying promising future lines of inquiry. What resulted was a wide-ranging and highly illuminating set of reflections which we reproduce (in edited form) here. Cautioning against a retreat into rule formality or ‘technical fixes’, what are the prospects for global governance scholarship (and practice) to effectively respond to the realities of global power fragmentation, legitimacy deficits and populist contestation? The UCL Global Governance Institute will be focusing on this vital question in 2018-19.

Roundtable participants:

Chair: Miles Kahler (American University)

This ISA roundtable was organised by the UCL Global Governance Institute on 6 April 2018.

Please click on the names below to read individual contributions to the roundtable discussion. 

Michael Barnett
Virginia Haufler
Ann Florini
Beverley Loke
Michael Zürn