Political processes are undergoing profound changes due to the challenges imposed by globalization processes to the legitimacy of policy actors and to the effectiveness of policy-making. Building on a socio-political approach to governance and focusing on global information policies and networks, this chapter aims at developing a better understanding of the possibility of change in world politics nowadays, by critically analysing two innovative elements: the reality and relevance of “multi-stakeholder” practices and the growing role of information technologies as a complementary support to actors’ relations. Looking at Internet Governance debates in recent years, the authors reconstruct networks of interaction connecting actors in the virtual space, and look at actors’ communication modes. Thus they analyze the extent to which technological, as well as processual and cognitive innovation, shapes actors’ orientations and the structures within which they interact in the specific context of Internet Governance.
Challenges To Contemporary World Politics: Diversity, Dynamics, Complexity
Addressing the complexities of political processes in the global landscape, we find a useful point of entry to our investigation in the socio-political approach to governance elaborated by Jan Kooiman, who suggests that governance in contemporary societies should be conceived as essentially interactive: “a mix of all kinds of efforts by all manners of socio-political actors, public as well as private” (2003, p. 3) through which actors with governing roles assume shared responsibilities.
Kooiman underlines how governing mechanisms are societal responses to demands that emerge in a context characterized by diversity, dynamics and complexity; a situation where more traditional arrangements, centred on state-actors, are no longer capable to respond effectively. On the one hand “no single actor, public or private, has the knowledge and information required to solve complex, dynamic and diversified societal challenges; no governing actor has an overview sufficient to make the necessary instrument effective; no single actor has sufficient action potential to dominate unilaterally” (Kooiman, 2003, p. 11). On the other hand, governing arrangements differ from local to global and from one policy domain to another, while the necessary technical and political knowledge is dispersed and governing objectives are difficult to define, and challenging to realize.
Diversity, in Kooiman’s terms, refers to the plurality of actors involved in relevant processes: they are shaped in the interaction and, at the same time, they shape interactions by defining their boundaries, setting the political agenda, framing issues, problems and solutions. Actors’ diversity can be gained by giving actors the opportunity to play out their identities in interaction. If we translate this to the global context, diversity refers to the shifting from a centrality of state actors to a plurality of entities - states, non-governmental actors, global networks, inter and trans-national organizations – engaged in (more or less formal) interactive exchanges, producing (more or less binding) political outputs and playing out their identities in a variety of situations. Global governance literature has evolved over time stressing the emergence of networks of relations between state and non-state actors, forming large Webs of interactions between governments, IGOs, NGOs, TNCs and other interested parties (Held, 2004; Rosenau, 1995). Nevertheless, empirical research is needed to assess to what extent open and participatory modalities are actually played out in the global context.
Dynamics can be conceived as a reframing of what Deutsch (1963) named “the nerves of government”: it refers to the dynamic quality of governing processes and it characterizes the choice between change and conservation in policy discourses and decision-making arrangements. Again, moving to the supra-national level of political processes, we can conceive dynamics as a shifting from a nexus between processual and structural political interactions framed within a state-centred logic (grounded on traditional diplomatic codes of secrecy and exclusivity within an understanding of political relations based on “hard power”) to an approach that is characterized not only by actors’ diversity, but also by societal requests for transparency, public scrutiny and legitimacy of political action; all of which bring the “soft side of power” into the picture (Nye & Owens, 1996). Moreover, the very possibility of actors’ ideas, interests and perceptions being transformed through interaction1 connects dynamics to the possibility of change in world politics. Again, it is only through the investigation of specific governance arrangements that change in supra-national power relations can be assessed.
Finally, complexity points to the multitude of interactions that take place in different forms, with different intensity, at different levels, with different outputs. This feature recalls the need, expressed by several authors (Held & McGrew, 2003; Held et al., 1999), to reconsider the conceptual distinction between domestic politics and international affairs, between internal and external mechanisms of decision-finding and decision-making. Furthermore, the complexity dimension calls for an “inclusive look” through which we - as observers as well as political actors - should be able to handle the multidimensionality of global processes. To ideate and implement empirical research in such a context, articulated and innovative methodologies are needed.