Change and Continuity in Global Governance

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Why, despite well-established and well-publicized intergovernmental processes that date back to the early 1970s, have we been unable to put in place effective mechanisms to combat climate change? Why, despite the existence of extensive global human rights machinery, do we live in a world where mass kidnapping, rape, torture, and murder continue to blight the lives of so many? Why, despite a great deal of effort on the part of intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) and nonstate actors, have we been unable to make much of a difference to the lives of the ultra-poor and attenuate the very worst aspects of growing global inequalities? Most fundamentally, why have the current international system and the outcomes that it has produced remained so inadequate in the postwar period?

Our aim is to encourage us to think differently about our immediate answers to these questions. In so doing, we seek to contribute to an emerging body of literature designed to push forward the study of global governance. We venture further into the internal constitution, character, dynamics, and processes of global governance—as well as the kind of world orders to which it is connected and responds. We interrogate what drives change and what encourages continuity with a view toward making concrete adjustments to the system of global governance that we actually have. In short, we seek to move beyond merely lamenting that existing mechanisms do not generate meaningful solutions to such problems as climate change and mass atrocities.

Our purpose is thus unabashedly normative. We take some steps toward making more rigorous an analytical endeavor that has for far too long been derided for its wooliness. Yet this scholarly undertaking should not only help us to understand better how to correct the mismatch between the demand for and supply of particular global governance mechanisms in the current order. It should also frame bigger questions that deal with where we have come from and where we are going; and it should help prescribe course corrections and formulate strategies for a more stable and just world order.

There are good reasons for asking the questions posed here. Debate about what drives change and what encourages continuity in global governance has been surprisingly limited, with discussion tending to focus on change and continuity as functions of the distribution of relative power capabilities among states. War is taken to be the primary marker of triggers and transitions in global governance regimes. And intergovernmental organizations have been conceptualized as either limited and ineffectual or “sticky” and tenacious.

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Category: Global Governance, Issue 29.4, Roundtable: Change and Continuity in Global Governance

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