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Relational Agency in Global Politics

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Why do we have the kinds of actors in global politics that we have? States, international organizations, transnational corporations, civil society organizations, experts – all of these are well accepted without question. Just open a textbook or ask a political scientist and these entities will be mentioned. But why do we have these „global governors“ and not others? In the past, nobility had a similar kind of international agency and nobles were frequently called upon to mediate in inter-state disputes. Not any longer. Clearly, global political agency is something contingent and evolving.

Matthias Hofferberth and I had started to think about a relational approach to agency in two previous publications. The first was a very high-level abstraction of the process, the second introduced a forum with short contributions outlining empirical applications. Our thinking, in very brief terms, is that agency is negotiated among actors (and actors-in-the-making) through a back-and-forth of agency claims and recognition. We have now added a third paper that goes into more detail about our theoretical expectations and moves the whole agenda towards a usable framework.

Here’s the abstract:

One of the central assumptions of global governance is that ‚problems without borders‘ require collaboration among multiple stakeholders to be managed effectively. This commitment to multistakeholderism, however, is not a functional imperative but the product of potentially contested agency recognition in the past. As such, we contend that a reconstruction of agency dynamics must be at the core of understanding global governance since global governors. We draw on a relational framework to lay out the basics of how to reconstruct the agency of global governors as it emerges through relations. Through these relations, entities-in-the-making advance agency claims or are ascribed agency by relevant others. Equally important from a relational perspective are recognition acts which those claims trigger. We theorize in this paper that different types of agency claims paired with different recognition dynamics determine the outcome as to who is accepted to ’sit at the table‘ for a particular issue. This theorization is required to (a) better understand current manifestations of global governance in their historical emergence and (b) discuss conditions of agency from a normative perspective to determine who should be the global governors of our time.

The whole paper is free at ResearchGate.


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