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Global Governance and Institutional Diversity

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 December 2021

Michael N. Barnett
George Washington University, Washington DC
Jon C. W. Pevehouse
University of Wisconsin, Madison
Kal Raustiala
University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law


The global institutional arrangements that structure contemporary relations between states and other actors have grown beyond past benchmarks of diversity. This institutional diversity accentuates some challenges for contemporary global governance, including how states and global actors strike a balance in the integration of institutions. While in some periods and areas there have been successful efforts to integrate global governance arrangements, a sense has long prevailed among contemporary policy-makers and scholars that global governance has become conspicuously fragmented. Institutional incompatibilities that stem from diverse designs are one reason why the world is thought to be poorly equipped to effectively manage global challenges in the security, trade, finance, health, environmental, and other policy domains, especially when these intersect. This chapter probes the contributions of comparative institutional analysis for explaining past and present institutional diversity as well as answers to why institutional integration remains an elusive goal in contemporary global governance.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021
The 2020 coronavirus pandemic exposed once again the limits of global governance. The focal organization for managing such events, the World Health Organization (WHO), lacked the capacity to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 in its acute phases. Though enjoying a reputation as one of the most effective and legitimate intergovernmental organizations before the crisis,Footnote 1 the WHO quickly came in for heavy criticism. Much of it was not deserved, but the ferocity of the scrutiny reinforced perceptions that neither effectiveness nor legitimacy may be hallmarks of contemporary global governance. Even if global health governance offered a particularly vivid illustration of such perceptions in 2020, it is not alone among policy domains in having this reputation. In the last two decades a strong sense had already emerged among policy-makers and scholars that while global challenges were proliferating, global solutions kept falling short.Footnote 2 At a forum a year before the pandemic struck, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres presciently identified a conundrum in contemporary global governance:

If I had to select one sentence to describe the state of the world, I would say we are in a world in which global challenges are more and more integrated, and the responses are more and more fragmented, and if this is not reversed, it’s a recipe for disaster.Footnote 3

Guterres’ carefully chosen sentence speaks to a common perception that contemporary global governance is qualitatively different from the past, especially in terms of a deficit of integrated arrangements that can effectively manage global challenges. One way to appreciate the extent to which contemporary global governance lacks integration is to compare the present with past arrangements. Most audience members at Guterres’ Reference Guterres2019 address would have been in agreement that contemporary levels of fragmentation are unprecedented, while audience members at the opening of the League of Nations a century earlier would have seen things very differently. For the 1919 observers there would have been no point in previous history when responses to global challenges had been more integrated. The same would be the case for audience members at the 1945 opening of the United Nations. While many would have agreed that holes remained in global arrangements, few would have argued that the world was more fragmented than in their recent past. The level of fragmentation would also have appeared smaller after 1989 with the publication of the UN’s “An Agenda for Peace” and “In Larger Freedom,” the latter officially branded an “integrated and coordinated implementation of and follow-up to the outcomes of the major United Nations conferences and summits in the economic, social and related fields.”Footnote 4 It represented a sense after the Cold War that, though “unfinished,” a gradual “revolution” was taking place in global governance in the direction of less fragmentation.Footnote 5

In 2020 the sentiment was very different. A sense prevailed at the 75th anniversary of the UN that global governance was fragmented and that great obstacles existed to providing integrated solutions to pressing challenges. Few events made the costs of lacking integration more apparent than the Covid-19 pandemic. It was already evident in its early stages that an integrated global response was not at hand, one in which all major stakeholders in global health effectively coordinated responses and collectively marshaled resources to minimize deaths and economic disruption. The world instead witnessed a patchwork of arrangements. It featured governments that withdrew from international cooperation and contested intergovernmental organizations, and loose partnerships among the former and non-governmental philanthropic organizations.Footnote 6 Nobody characterized this arrangement as integrated. But the global health domain is not the only area where crises have exposed disjointed arrangements. An “existential” global climate crisis has been brewing for decades without an integrated solution.Footnote 7 In the trade domain, where the opportunity costs of fragmentation are considered high, fragmentation has increased for more than two decades.Footnote 8 By any historical standard of rules-based governance that is a significant period of time that belies the notion that past milestones of integrated global governance will soon be matched.

At the center of the conundrum Guterres flags is the issue of institutional diversity. Solving the conundrum requires coming to terms with the immensely varied types of institutions that inform the totality of global governance. When the world fails to solve a global problem, the solution is rarely simply about plugging some gap in governance capacity. It is also about integrating extant institutions, joining these and new ones, and it is about more effectively coordinating the responses of major governmental and private stakeholders. This can be very challenging because those with vested interests in existing designs, often built in a different era, may be reluctant to adapt specific designs in the name of some overarching goal. If institutional arrangements are very different, misaligned, or incomplete, such that constellations in one area of governance prevent solutions to urgent problems or undermine the effectiveness or legitimacy of arrangements in other areas, then integration is lacking.Footnote 9 This form of institutional fragmentation may be inevitable to some extent, and perhaps even welcome by some. Nevertheless, many observers agree and worry with Secretary-General Guterres that contemporary global governance is particularly fragmented and that a pathway is needed toward establishing a more integrated arrangement.Footnote 10

In their Introduction to this volume Michael Barnett, Jon C.W. Pevehouse, and Kal Raustiala offer a novel framework for capturing why global governance is so diverse and what implications it has for how a variety of policy challenges are managed. They do not directly engage Guterres’ conundrum, but their analysis has significant implications for how the conundrum is understood and potentially resolved. Barnett, Pevehouse, and Raustiala base their inquiry of global governance on a comparative institutional approach that urges scholars to shift from comparing the formal properties of organizations to comparing “modes” of governance. They distinguish between three modes that are used to induce collective decision-making and rule-based behavior on a global level. The three modes – hierarchies, networks, and markets – constitute a typology that they use to map essential features and differences in global governance arrangements across more than a century and a dozen issue areas. The typology provides a tool to answer many questions, such as how far or near arrangements are to the aspirations of their architects, and the extent to which features change with time. Barnett, Pevehouse, and Raustiala’s framework also provides the means to map and theorize the sources of institutional development, including patterns that entail more or less institutional integration or fragmentation. They use the typology to reveal the relative prominence of hierarchal, network, and market-based modes over a century of global governance across the security, economic, health, humanitarian, and many other domains, and paint a picture of ebbs and flows in the integration and fragmentation of global governance arrangements.

In this contribution I explore analytical payoffs from the modes of governance typology for comparative, historical, and institutional analysis of global governance. I discuss the advantages and limitations from bringing together structural explanations of global politics with theories of governance. And I probe alternative understandings of the totality of global governance, suggesting that this volume presents an image of global governance as a system of deep institutional diversity that is distinct from common conceptualizations. The implications of this representation for pathways to and from greater integration and fragmentation are discussed in a separate section. In the Conclusion I highlight some lessons that comparative institutional analysis holds for understanding contemporary junctures in global governance and the prospects for significant redirections in the future.

Payoffs from Shifting the Study of Global Governance

Global governance in the twenty-first century is often described in terms of a mixed system of unprecedented numbers of formal and informal intergovernmental organizations, global civil society organizations, and, primus inter pares, powerful sovereigns (states, governments). In their Introduction, Barnett, Pevehouse, and Raustiala provide a comprehensive sense of this system across a century and a dozen domains, distilling the essence of global governance into “the institutional arrangements used to identify problems, facilitate decision-making, and promote rule-based behavior on a global scale” (p. 4). The authors underscore that these arrangements have taken diverse forms across time and urge scholars to adopt a comparative institutional approach to disentangle this diversity. To capture the variety of institutional arrangements, they champion a typology that distinguishes between three generic modes of governance: hierarchy, markets, and networks. These represent alternative ways of facilitating “decision-making” and “rule-based behavior” with long histories in the social sciences.Footnote 11 Developing and applying this typology has several payoffs for the study of global governance.Footnote 12

Comparative Institutional Analysis

First, the typology recasts the comparative institutional analysis of global governance. Many studies of global institutions focus on variations in the number and formal properties of organizations (e.g., membership, decision-making procedures). These have contributed greatly to explanations of why spatial and temporal variations exist (or are absent) in global institutions.Footnote 13 For Barnett, Pevehouse, and Raustiala, however, comparative institutional analysis should be less about differences in the formal properties of individual organizations and more about variations in the nature of institutions, or what they conceive of as distinct constellations or “modes” of governance. This is an important difference for it makes comparative institutional analysis less about the presence or absence of institutions or the value these take (e.g., large versus small membership, majoritarian versus non-majoritarian), but about diversity in the type of institutions.

Anchored within the social science tradition of discrete structural analysis, the hierarchies-networks-markets typology features within a substantial literature devoted to organizations and institutions where the analytical fulcrum is placed on diverse solutions to social coordination.Footnote 14 This tradition views alternatives as functional substitutes, meaning that they are incentive incompatible and thus not easily integrated. For Barnett, Pevehouse, and Raustiala the three modes represent fundamental “organizing principles” that underlie the institutional arrangements that govern. In the context of global governance each mode thus represents a departure from a world of anarchy, the canonical starting point for much international political theory.Footnote 15 Unlike in anarchy where there is an absence of a central legitimate authority, in a hierarchical model there is a clear relationship between who establishes and enforces rules and norms, even if the ways in which it is experienced varies.

Hierarchical models are found in many state-centric accounts of global governance that place an emphasis on formal and informal arrangements through which hegemonic powers exercise decisive influence over the nature and content of global rules.Footnote 16 Hierarchies can also be observed in more discrete contexts, such as in the practices that structure the interactions among diplomats in a multilateral setting, the deference that some ideas are afforded over others, or the ways in which states and global actors are stratified even before they gain agency.Footnote 17 While some disagreement exists among scholars regarding what exactly is the best way to understand hierarchy in global governance, there is now a great appreciation that hierarchal arrangements are common features of global governance, including in the security, economic, legal, and other domains.Footnote 18

Barnett, Pevehouse, and Raustiala want to move beyond contrasting hierarchy with anarchy and push for comparisons with two other modes of governance. Markets are the second mode and are understood to be systems in which autonomous actors hold the authority.Footnote 19 In the contemporary setting, market-based models of governance are most familiar from a variety of economic contexts where actors compete in offering services and preferred blueprints without a designated central authority. They also inform areas of cooperation where global standards are set by private actors, as Deborah Avant notes in Chapter 1 in her study of private security services and as Miles Kahler shows with respect to commercial arbitration in Chapter 2. Like the other forms of governance, markets have certain institutional advantages, with flexibility and adaptability being the dimensions that receive the most attention. Their liability is that they are prone to an eponymous governance failure. To many observers of global governance an overly strong reliance on these models risks “market failures” and thus an undersupply of public goods without which the ability to achieve greater global security, prosperity, health, or justice is put in jeopardy.Footnote 20

Networks represent a third mode by which actors arrange themselves. Networks are semi-voluntary arrangements in which actors with considerable degrees of equality address common goals through negotiation, established rules, and persuasion.Footnote 21 Networks may lack some efficiencies associated with hierarchies, but are generally thought to make up for that in terms of legitimacy, greater learning opportunities, and more.Footnote 22 Because the modern sovereign state occupies such a central position in global affairs, encompassing networked arrangements among these are thought to be positively associated with effective solutions to collective action problems.Footnote 23 The notion of networked global governance, as opposed to a hierarchical model, became prominent in the aftermath of the Cold War and is linked to trends of actor pluralization.Footnote 24 From models capturing alliances among activist networks and novel arrangements between public and private entities, networked global governance may be welcomed on normative grounds.Footnote 25 But while networked governance arrangements are often a potent means for addressing global issues, they also entail some comparative institutional disadvantages. For example, while networks may be effective in solving specific categories of governance challenges they can also become the means through which select entities extend their power. Networked governance systems are sensitive to hold-up problems and give those members with great network centrality outsized influence over the ways in which global challenges are managed.Footnote 26 Network governance, in other words, can be far from the harmonious arrangement it is frequently made out to be. And it can be normatively suspect on grounds of limited representation.

One of Barnett, Pevehouse, and Raustiala’s messages is that contemporary global governance is different from the past because it has become more diverse. To them there is not one or a few hierarchically integrated arrangements, or harmoniously arranged networks, or smoothly functioning markets that imperfectly resolve global governance challenges. Rather, global governance is full of hierarchies, networks, and market-based arrangements that exist side by side. Even if some modes may be more dominant in some periods or policy domains it is rarely the case that all arrangements in an area always employ the same mode. For example, hierarchical modes of governance remain central in the contemporary global economic system, but they exist alongside other modes. Notably, a variety of decentralized arrangements have emerged in the last several decades that use markets and networks to furnish solutions to complex governance challenges. As Michael Barnett and Suerie Moon show respectively in Chapter 5 and Chapter 8, responses to humanitarian and health crises are also highly multifaceted: complex interlinkages between more state-centric, top-down, hierarchical governance arrangements where significant power is vested in a small number of nation-states have developed into systems where such structures exist alongside networks of public, private, and other actors of different size who operate across global, national, and local levels. Seen from this vantage point, global governance is a patchwork of arrangements. One may say that the three modes are the three primary colors that give the patches their hue. The patchwork will not always have the same arrangement across domains; in some instances one color will appear more dominant, in other cases a different color shines brighter. Barnett, Pevehouse, and Raustiala leave somewhat open why particular configurations emerge, but underscore that at no point has global governance been monochromatic.

Historical Analysis

A second payoff from using the typology concerns its applications to historical analysis. The typology can be used to mark moments and narrate developments in global governance. If the analysis of global economic governance begins in 1945, for example, the narrative is one of change from a historic high watermark for hierarchical governance to its nadir in the 1990s when market-based models were ascendant. But if the narrative begins in 1920, as Miles Kahler notes in Chapter 2, then the period between 1945 and 1980 is one where hierarchical intergovernmental organization had a “transitory monopoly” that no longer applies. The typology, in other words, furnishes a means for identifying institutional baselines against which change and continuity in a mode can be referenced and for identifying ebbs and flows in diverse arrangements.

The irony with many big social science concepts – “transaction costs,” “regulation,” “power,” “anarchy,” “order,” and indeed “market,” “hierarchy,” and “network” – is that there are no widely accepted or easy ways of measuring them. The governance typology comes with a notable benefit in this context by furnishing a threshold that can be used to distinguish between degrees and kinds of change.Footnote 27 In the tradition of discrete structural analysis, alternatives are functional substitutes.Footnote 28 Adjustments within a mode represents degrees of change and processes of incremental change, while shifts of the mode or kind of governance is associated with radical or transformative change. In such analyses the study of governance can be distilled to a distinction between the politics of incremental change or pathways of institutional continuity, and the politics of a wholesale transformation from one to another mode of governance.

Some big historical punctuations, notably the two world wars, are often understood to have generated transformative shifts in global governance.Footnote 29 The Bretton Woods organizations, for example, are said to have marked a radical break from the past through the addition of hierarchical models of governance that placed governments from large industrialized economies in leading roles within formalized international monetary and development systems. In the area of human rights the 1970s feature as a major punctuation.Footnote 30 But studies show that in both cases what went into agreements and what followed were the product of processes of incremental institutional adaptation that spanned decades.Footnote 31 Today both areas feature a mix of institutional designs, including network- and market-based modes of governance. Nonetheless, what passes for innovation may hide deep-seated continuities. Neither the monetary nor the development domains are devoid of hierarchies, for example. The International Monetary Fund and World Bank are still focal organizations in which a small number of industrialized economies retain disproportionate influence.Footnote 32 New arrangements that have been added, such as the Group of 20 (G20), may have altered some hierarchies but have certainly not overturned the presence of that mode of governance.Footnote 33 In other words, when temporal contexts are considered the governance typology provides the means to identify both types of change and how they are related over longer periods of time.

The global health system has also gone through distinct periods during which the mode of governance and the structure of international organizations have changed, including their relationships with each other and national authorities. The WHO, the focal organization after 1945, has seen its authority wax and wane as a panoply of public, private, and public–private arrangements have come to populate the area. In Chapter 8, Suerie Moon argues that it is a “complex adaptive system” in which WHO remains central, but where its primary functions are less to direct and coordinate global scientific action than to serve as a convener and legitimator of a political space in which states, especially larger ones, retain outsized influence. Moon admits that the future path of such systems is difficult to predict, but ventures that this domain will continue to feature a mixture of governance types, including novel hybrids of national and international authorities as well as private organizations.

Revealing Gaps

A third payoff from the typology is that it helps capture instances where governance is in short supply. A gap is easier to identify when one is familiar with its opposite. From the perspective of the typology there is a gap of governance if no arrangement represents a hierarchical, network, or market-based mode of governance. That global governance is incomplete to some extent is to be expected. It is difficult to anticipate all future problems and find global agreement on integrated designs even in the best of times. When it is further recognized that global governance often is reactive, in the sense that many initiatives have come about after some major event has revealed the costs from inaction or gaps of governance, it is easier to recall that global governance never has been fully complete.

Ascertaining the presence and size of gaps is not a task that any study has yet mastered. Barnett, Pevehouse, and Raustiala take such an inquiry many steps forward, however. Their typology provides baselines when considering the sources, nature, and consequences of gaps in global governance patchworks. For example, looking back to the origins of global health governance in 1851, or theorizing about its future, the typology provides an effective tool to identify past, present, and potential future gaps in governance. In the process it also opens up room for new questions. If a hierarchical model of governance is absent, for example, it means there is an absence of a strong central authority, which in turn opens inquiry into why such authority is absent at a particular time. In this way the study of hierarchy, which primarily tends to be about its presence, also becomes one of its periodic absence. By expanding the number of periods and type of cases that are studied the typology thus facilitates a more encompassing set of cases from which to analyze ebbs and flows in global governance arrangements.

This volume is deeply aware that many gaps exist not because there are no feasible solutions, but because some political actors reason that they are better served by gaps than the alternative. Many voids exist because those with power prefer a gap to its opposite. Counterfactual analysis is a valuable complement here, for it encourages scholars to consider why some feasible alternatives fail to emerge and what drivers are most important in pushing or pulling the path of development in one or another direction.Footnote 34 The typology facilitates historically situated counterfactual analysis by providing the material for exploring what specific structures could have been present or absent at any particular moment, or what movement in a different direction would have looked like had conditions been different. In this way the typology provides both a palette from which to paint an image of extant global governance arrangements and to imagine what potential alternatives would look like.

Theorizing Past and Present

This volume aspires to extend beyond categorization to explain why global governance looks different in a variety of temporal and spatial contexts. To this end the volume explores a multitude of potential causes behind specific, varied, and changing modes of global governance. With a strong nod to conjunctural causality, authors are urged to move away from monocausal and monochromatic accounts of global governance and to recognize that it is often shaped by a confluence of factors that interact in diverse ways across temporal and spatial contexts.Footnote 35 At the center of their inquiry are fully nine causes or “structural drivers” of change. Several of these feature regularly in global governance studies and others receive overdue attention.

Some Usual Suspects

This project relies extensively on structural analysis, which is to say that it emphasizes developments that actors cannot meaningfully shape on their own. Geopolitics and domestic politics are structural factors that feature in many studies of global governance, and they also make an appearance here. That shifts in global distributions of power have altered the prospects of global governance is widely documented,Footnote 36 and this volume provides additional examples where geopolitical developments have impacted how actors arrange themselves globally. The “rise” of large developing economies in the past two decades, for example, has made comprehensive and integrated agreements in the area of global climate cooperation more difficult and encouraged creativity in the type of governance arrangements that are used. In Chapter 3, Jessica F. Green shows, for example, that this has entailed greater reliance on informal and market-based designs. Meanwhile, as Liliana B. Andonova underscores in Chapter 10, the retreat of governments from some global organizations and limited budgets have pushed intergovernmental organizations to develop partnerships with nongovernmental organizations. The domestic politics of countries is also known to exert powerful influence on global governance. In 2020, for example, to consider the state of global governance without reference to the sovereigntist politics of governments in the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, China, or Brazil would be to underestimate the consequences of domestic politics for global governance and to overestimate the prospect that multilateral solutions will be supplied in ways that quickly reduce gaps in global governance. At the same time a reversed scenario is also important to consider, one in which global governance remakes domestic politics.Footnote 37 The latter scenario does not get as much attention in this volume, even though it may in some cases be an integral element behind why the fortunes of global governance change over time. The construction of a neoliberal economic globalization around the millennium, for example, was a significant source behind the electoral fortunes of several populist nationalist governments two decades later who made international institutions their preferred targets. But this ideological current is by no means the only factor that contributes to a sense of stagnation in global governance in 2020. In Chapter 4, Susanne Mueller and Jon C.W. Pevehouse reason, for example, that even “if Donald Trump woke up as David Ricardo reincarnate, multilateral trade negotiations would still be a long slog.” In other words, even if a nationalist political leader (“Trump”) were to have a sudden ideational conversion to more liberal trade (“Ricardo”) it may be insufficient to alter the complex dynamics that shape the course of global trade governance.

The global economy features as another structural force behind changes in global governance. Industrialization and modernity, science and commerce, are all implicated in the origins of global governance.Footnote 38 In some cases the links are more direct, such as efforts by scientists to create agreements on physio-sanitary standards in the middle of the nineteenth century or more recently in cooperation with other public agencies in constituting global climate governance.Footnote 39 In other cases the impact of changes to industrialization and economic globalization have been more indirect. New technologies and greater commerce facilitated the creation of more sovereign states, for example, which in turn made agreement more difficult in some areas and in the process created incentives to use decentralized modes of governance that acknowledged diversity among sovereigns. Increases in the number of actors have impacted what type of governance solutions are considered effective and legitimate. With four times the number of members than when it was founded, the UN is one prominent example of how an increase in actors can serve to stimulate demand and supply of global governance institutions in one period, only to later be considered a reason why global agreement has become more difficult with time.Footnote 40 But the increase of numbers and types of international actors goes much further. Actor pluralization, which Barnett, Pevehouse, and Raustiala treat as a separate driver from increases in the number of actors, has impacted many fields of governance. In the health field, for example, Suerie Moon shows in Chapter 8 that power has devolved to many non-state actors who now hold significant material and moral power and have become indispensable partners to national and international public agencies, including the WHO. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the prior pluralization of actors within the global health domain meant that efforts to find a remedy were fragmented. Select governments sought to coordinate a solution, while public–private partnerships such as Gavi played prominent roles.Footnote 41 This suggests that even if a more integrated response is desirable, prior levels of fragmentation make it likely that a response to a crisis will be disjoint and may enhance the prospects that the aftermath reinforces rather than overturns prior arrangements.

Newer Faces

Drivers that feature less commonly in the large global governance literature but are given their due in this volume include the ease with which problems are solved and the effects of rationalization. The world of global governance has come a long way since the front pages of the world’s newspapers featured ribbon-cutting ceremonies for new universal intergovernmental organizations. That such stories should have been particularly common in the aftermath of the Second World War is natural given the momentous punctuation of that global political event. It is nevertheless remarkable that in the contemporary period, one in which a large number of global challenges remain unsolved, there is scarcely ever a picture or major headline featuring the creation of a new large organization to manage global concerns. The forces militating against it are many and are on ample display in this volume, including opposition by powerful states, coalitions of smaller states, and global civil society.

Barnett, Pevehouse, and Raustiala suggest that an eighth reason for the current state of global governance is that the “low-hanging fruit” has already been picked. That is to say, the areas where agreement would have been particularly likely – international trade, global health, and to some extent human rights – are the ones that have seen the biggest advances. By contrast, in areas where problem structures are complex, or “super wicked” as in the case global climate change, effective and legitimate solutions are harder to come by and very rarely are they presented at ribbon-cutting ceremonies.Footnote 42 Past structures to manage cooperation also matter here, for many are defined by arrangements where small numbers of states, sometimes single ones, wield veto power over major changes. As a consequence, collaborative efforts to reach the high-hanging fruit are easily upended. Some global governance actors may attempt to keep the ladders to themselves, while others look to devise alternative ways of collecting the fruit. From this perspective the future of comprehensive solutions to global problems looks dire.

The final driver behind global governance is the process of rationalization. Barnett, Pevehouse, and Raustiala see global governance as a modernist project. After each of the big wars of the twentieth century delegates at conferences sought to construct international organizations that would be capable of solving major challenges, including preventing armed conflict and economic crises. International organizations that resembled legal-rational bureaucracies were those that were “increasingly valorized” and became the metrics for effective and legitimate governance.Footnote 43 Rationalization refers to a process in which the objective of governance is to enhance standardization and specialization with the goal of providing effective responses to new demands. In the contemporary period rationalization is a central feature in the introduction of new management techniques as well as greater investments in the development of performance indicators. Each of these represents a way of incentivizing governments and others to behave in specified ways without the presence of coercive hierarchal models of enforcement.Footnote 44

Networks have become deeply implicated in rationalization processes. In the area of humanitarian assistance Michael Barnett shows in Chapter 5 that networks of humanitarian elites have come to interact more intensely after 1989 and contributed to the emergence of a more rationalized field; yet he also argues that while the sector might appear to have flattened, hierarchy still very much remains. Networks of transnational experts have also propelled new areas of governance, such as the management of post-conflict reconstruction in fragile states. In Chapter 7, Leonard Seabrooke and Ole Jacob Sending detail a transformation in sites of collective decision-making toward greater incorporation of networks, which has contributed to a significantly more differentiated system for managing postwar reconstruction and strengthen national public authority. In Chapter 1, Deborah Avant underscores that even in the security area where hierarchies are thought to be particularly entrenched, processes of rationalization have pushed multi-stakeholder initiatives forward that regulate private security companies, including the use and conduct of mercenaries.

Agency and Contingency

The nine drivers all have structural qualities, which means that each exerts an influence on global governance arrangements beyond the power of individual actors, whether states, governments, international organizations, or individual leaders. In placing such a strong emphasis on structural variables, however, Barnett, Pevehouse, and Raustiala run the same risks as a long history of structural theorizing in international relations, namely overlooking the role of agency and contingency in shaping global arrangements. But, unlike systemically oriented IR theories where such blind spots are dismissed in the name of parsimony, this project’s openness to causal conjunctures help contributors be attentive to the interplay between structure, agency, and contingency. They use this opening to explore how the structural drivers identified by the editors shape the agency of political actors, hide or amplify their political entrepreneurship, and how unexpected events impact paths of global governance.

In the security, health, and environmental domains, where national interest and resource scarcities may impose significant constraints on ambitious global governance arrangements, the room for agency is often small. But it exists, and when exercised can have far-reaching legacies. In Chapter 1, Deborah Avant shows how the Swiss government and the International Committee of the Red Cross exercised decisive entrepreneurship in the creation of a mixed system of governance for military and security services that linked networks of actors to formulate rules and norms that are sustained through hierarchical governance channels at the national and local levels. In Chapter 8, Suerie Moon shows in the case of global health that the material and later normative power of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation redirected not only the priorities of national and global health governance but contributed to the consolidation of a multi-stakeholder model that is anchored by the WHO. In Chapter 10, Liliana B. Andonova shows how incentive-based, normative, and epistemic motivations led individuals and groups of actors to work with, against, and around structural constraints to shape the path of global environmental governance.

The role of contingency is a second blind spot of structural theories. Even when considered as a product of conjunctural circumstances where several factors interact to produce a given outcome, a whole lot in global governance appears contingent. From that which did not happen to that which did happen and prevented other developments, global governance could have taken different pathways. As contributors to this volume illustrate, committed diplomats and policy-makers attempt to use even the smallest windows of opportunity to overcome structural constraints. The success of such entrepreneurship finds little room in structural theories, yet may be important to consider when answering why rules of global governance are transformed or, indeed, remain intact under duress. For these reasons, studies of past, present, and future global governance should be mindful not to overinvest in structural theory without simultaneously renewing their commitment to identifying the conditions under which agency and contingency impact the institutional arrangements associated with global governance.

The Totality and Pathways Questions

Typologies are about differences and thus about specificities. They are not intended to stand in for general claims or be the foundation for large generalizations. They are fundamentally about making possible claims with respect to particulars and sometimes about the sum whole. In the context of governance typologies, Bob Jessop brings the sociologist’s wisdom when he observes that “there is no governance in general nor general governance. Rather, there is only particular governance and the totality of governance.”Footnote 45 Barnett, Pevehouse, and Raustiala are careful not to make statements about global governance in general or to offer a general view of global governance. They focus instead on the particulars of global governance, conceived of in terms of constellations of institutions representing diverse modes of governance. But in their careful assessment of the particulars of the three modes it is not clear what defines global governance in the aggregate, or in its “totality”? Does global governance come only in three colors – representing, respectively, hierarchies, networks, and markets? Do hybrid or mixed types exist and what effects do they have, if any, on how the totality of global governance is understood?

Without answers to these questions there can be only partial resolutions to the sort of conundrum raised by UN Secretary-General Guterres. How a deficit in institutional integration is addressed, for example, will look different if the totality of global governance is understood as primarily representing a system of one dominant mode, or a mixed system of three modes, or a system of hybrid types. The pathways to and from integration will take different form as well, and so will understandings of what constitutes fragmentation.

Four Images

Four images of the totality of global governance figure in this study. Though not explicitly discussed in such terms by Barnett, Pevehouse, and Raustiala, these totalities are a function of two considerations that feature in their study: (1) whether global governance in the aggregate has a dominant mode of governance and (2) whether mixed varieties enjoy equal status to the three ideal types. Table C.1 distinguishes these four images in the simplest of terms.

Table C.1 Four images of the totality

This volume departs from representations of global governance as a largely uniform arrangement. In particularly strong versions of the latter, an image emerges of global governance as deep uniformity. Theories of isomorphism and convergence lurk behind such images. They feature in theories of governance and IR alike, including in models focused on organizational competition under anarchy and sociological models of socialization and emulation where patchworks have dominant colors.Footnote 46 Though not painted in quite such stark terms, this is the image of global governance from which Barnett, Pevehouse, and Raustiala depart. It centers on the institutional arrangements of 1945 and highlights the hierarchical arrangements in which intergovernmental organizations reinforce a system of state sovereignty that gives special privileges to the most powerful. This system had far-reaching consequences for global developments, including the reproduction of inequalities among states despite legal equality among them.Footnote 47 However, as Barnett, Pevehouse, and Raustiala note together with their colleagues, hierarchy has rarely been the dominant mode across multiple domains and its relative imprint has varied over time.

At first sight Barnett, Pevehouse, and Raustiala’s representation of global governance corresponds to a second image, one of a mixed system made up arrangements representing all three modes of governance. In this image no mode has an overly commanding presence. It represents the world as one where three different modes simultaneously coexist, though with some variations in their relative imprint across domains and time. But discrete structural analysis risks exaggerating differences between modes of governance at the expense of hybrid modes. Several contributions to this volume show that hybrid systems are relatively common.

Hybrids are arrangements that are not reducible to one single mode, but constitute the integration of elements from more than one type. Contemporary governance studies underscore that hybrid forms of governance have become more common with time.Footnote 48 For example, when the United Nations, an organization that reflects a relatively hierarchical model of political authority, developed an arrangement that encouraged corporate social responsibility by embracing a model that itself combined network and market-based modes of governance, it championed a hybrid arrangement that was not reducible to one or another mode of governance.Footnote 49 But hybrid forms have existed for longer. In Chapter 9, Vincent Bernhard and Anne Quintin document that the development of international humanitarian law over two centuries produced a hybrid arrangement that has been resistant to fundamental change. In Chapter 6, meanwhile, Michael W. Manulak and Duncan Snidal show that the emergence of new technologies has upended some and reinforced other governance arrangements in what they describe as a “Hierarchy plus Networks” model of global governance. If most domains are characterized by hybrids then the image of global governance is a third image, one of a system of hybrids rather than one of structurally diverse systems with or without dominant colors (first and second images).

Barnett, Pevehouse, and Raustiala’s representation of global governance points to a fourth image. That image is one of global governance as deep institutional diversity that accommodates both the second and third images of global governance. In this image global governance entails areas that conform more closely to one of the ideal types, other arrangements to different ideal types, and includes a variety of hybrid models. From this perspective the totality of contemporary global governance is definitely not one of uniformity (first image), but nor is it reducible to simply a mixed system (second image) or a system of hybrids (third image). It represents a fourth alternative in which the primary colors of the three modes exist, in various combinations, alongside new colors generated by their mixing. It is an image of global governance that is more El Anatsui than Jackson Pollack or Mondrian.

Pathways to Integration

How the totality of global governance is conceived impacts how pathways to and from greater integration of institutions is understood. If the image is one of deep uniformity then integration entails institutional transformation in areas that are incompatible with the dominant mode. While such notions feature in utopian models of global governance, in some understandings of global governance under anarchy, as well as under highly socialized system, this volume finds little support for such an image. For example, by comparison to the structure of the modern sovereign (nation) state, which shares a great many governance attributes across space and time, global institutions have been institutionally very different. The two parts are of course linked. Since state interests take different forms and often compete, and since there are upper limits to how much authority governments are willing to vest in international forums, there are structural limitations on creating integrated solutions through uniformity.

Also the image of global governance as a system of hybrids suggests that none of the three modes is dominant and that pure versions of them are rare. The path to integration in this image is one in which reforms aim to move specific arrangements away from any one of the three ideal types with the goal of lessening incentive incompatibilities between arrangements. But encouraging a world of hybrids also entails challenges. Hybrid arrangements may fail to reconcile differences among diverse modes and become self-undermining. This may be one reason why Barnett, Pevehouse, and Raustiala are reluctant to place hybrids at the center of their analysis or to suggest that hybrid forms are the dominant mode.

If global governance in its totality is a system of deep institutional diversity then integration is not about convergence, specialization, or uniformity. But nor is it about denying the prospects for such developments in limited contexts. Deep diversity is about managing multiple arrangements, often traveling their own paths, and it is thus about managing institutional incompatibilities, large and small. Rather than having complementary effects the integration of diverse modes of governance can produce sums that are less than their parts. In the characteristic prose of economists this is a scenario of incentive incompatibility.Footnote 50 One way to reconcile different modes is to reduce the intensity of incentive incompatibilities by distancing arrangements from their respective ideal types and/or to make their imprint highly domain-specific. For example, in instances where hierarchy remains a dominant feature and market or network-based arrangements appear secondary, integration can theoretically be improved by moving arrangements some distance from their ideal type. “Shadow of hierarchy” models suggest that a mixed system generally has one dominant mode (hierarchy) and that alternative arrangements (markets, networks) exist under the former’s umbrella. In such models the pathway to integration entails an incremental process in which the dominant mode is prioritized, and other modes are adapted in such ways that they do not significantly undermine the returns from the former. In this pathway the goal is not to eliminate all incentive incompatibilities but to manage and contain them without significantly reducing the presence of multiple modes of governance. Over time such an arrangement of deep diversity will include single-colored pieces and a mixture of colors and novel mixes (hybrids) – in short, there is an expectation that the future will see more, not fewer, color combinations beyond those already known.

Deep Diversity and Path Dependence

A system in which deep institutional diversity persists suggests that there are strong internal or endogenous reasons to why arrangements with less diversity face long odds. These reasons may be found in logics of path dependence. While the underlying mechanisms that propel institutional developments along a particular path may be different across cases, it is a well-known phenomenon that the further down a particular path history moves the less likely it is that reversals take place.Footnote 51 This does not mean that radical change through some rupture does not take place, but simply that it is a less common mode of change. Much that is associated with global governance is characterized by incremental processes of change. Even the productive elements of critical junctures, those which give junctures their content, have been found to have developed incrementally.Footnote 52 In a global system where designs have emerged at different moments and in distinct contexts, institutional diversity has been the norm, even if periodically punctuated by moments in which integrated arrangements favor one mode of governance. Over time this has served to reinforce institutional diversity, if for no other reason than staying the course serves interests or inertia better than switching modes and the paths that go with them.

Path dependence has been identified as an obstacle to reform in global governance, as a source behind inefficient adaptation and for making it less likely that new, potentially more representative global institutions emerge in practice.Footnote 53 This is a plausible scenario. It is also possible that logics of path dependence have contributed to the long-term viability of many global governance arrangements. Had global leaders attempted to construct de novo a “league” or “united” anything in 2020 it would not have met with much success, even in the face of a calamitous pandemic. Contemporary gaps in governance would have been even larger. Instead, logics of path dependence have effectively locked in a diverse set of arrangements that have helped states and other actors manage global challenges better than in their absence. Seen from this perspective, path dependence may retard progress to an aspirational mode of global governance, but also has the power to protect institutions from a worse alternative if that is how a gap in governance is understood. The most creative agents from this perspective are not those who manage to create unified or integrated modes of governance, but those who successfully navigate and innovate amid institutional diversity.Footnote 54 In this view path dependence is not an obstacle, but can be a beneficial constraint that anchors experimentation and sustains a foundation of coordination under high levels of uncertainty.

Deep institutional diversity may be both a cause and effect of contemporary global governance. Against the bedrock of continuity that many established international organizations and global institutions have provided over decades, whether for reasons of path dependence or not, institutional diversity appears to be a more likely scenario in the long term than its opposite. Institutional integration through convergence has not been a trend in recent decades. The contemporary period is different from the past when solutions to global challenges often featured well-developed and integrated plans, frequently with hierarchical elements. There is no zeitgeist today analogous to San Francisco in 1945, even a pale version. As contributions to this volume suggest, the resources and agency required to reproduce arrangements are less than those needed to reach agreement on transforming designs given the multitude of structural factors that have already contributed to institutional diversity.

Theories of path dependence come in for regular criticism, generally for failing to account for one or another instance of change. But when political passions shift, and institutions remain more stable than widely anticipated, such theories offer a particularly valuable point of departure. They suggest, for example, that institutional diversity is a more likely outcome when existing arrangements are highly contested than is the emergence of a streamlined system. Under such conditions arrangements with strong support are reproduced while those that no longer enjoy support are dismissed, often without much consideration of how either will affect arrangements in other domains. As the empirical studies in this volume confirm, a dominant approach to dealing with new challenges is to add new layers of governance rather than transforming select bits in ways that enhance institutional integration. While the creative agency of political leaders and unexpected historical events may alter this dynamic, Barnett, Pevehouse, and Raustiala underscore that there are at least nine structural forces pushing and pulling global governance along pathways that in the aggregate will reproduce a world of deep institutional diversity before its alternatives.


Barnett, Pevehouse, and Raustiala do not traffic in presentism. Their comparative institutional approach is deeply anchored in the rich history of global governance and has important implications for how the study of global governance is approached in the future. Since 2016 and what is broadly understood to be a populist nationalist surge, including in two countries that were intimately connected with the post-1945 order as well as in three other major powers, much meaningful attention has been paid to the potential fragility of global governance. Much of it is framed in terms of an end to the past, especially key features of the post-1945 world order with its emphasis on rules-based governance and liberal notions of progress. In 2020 the notion of effective global governance was further bruised and portended prospects of significant change, at least in the global health domain.

Barnett, Pevehouse, and Raustiala are attentive to the influence that populist politics and global health and economic crises may have on ebbs and flows in modes of global governance. But their telling of the history of global governance is not one that stresses populism over other factors or one of worries that it will plunge global governance to ever new low watermarks in global cooperation. They remind us that the beginnings of critical junctures, if that is what 2016 and/or 2020 represent, do not determine their closure. The impact of the policy choices of sovereigntist world leaders can be profound. Few observers of global politics, for example, dispute that had the response of US President Trump to a global pandemic been more in line with his predecessor the future of global governance would look more similar to its past. But it is also plausible, indeed likely from the perspective of Barnett, Pevehouse, and Raustiala, that many structural drivers make it unlikely that any particular national leader can fundamentally upend or undo the deep diversity of contemporary global governance.

While it is commonly said that there is nothing inevitable about what the future of global governance will look like, the long history of global governance strongly suggests that whatever patchwork arrangements emerge in the future they are more likely to feature colors of the past than to entail a radical shift to a new color spectrum. Even if many international organizations have died and lost vitality, a great many formal and informal organizations have remained durable.Footnote 55 More likely than not, suggests Barnett, Pevehouse, and Raustiala’s analysis of the past and present, the future of global governance will come in multiple colors and include a growing number of hybrids that will make the future of global governance look like another version of deep diversity.

Secretary-General Guterres and others who hope for greater integration of global governance institutions are likely to remain disappointed. Such efforts may have profound impacts but are often not lasting. Uniformity, completeness, and seamless integration have not been the primary features of global governance. 1919, 1945, and 1989 may have briefly paused a trendline born from greater modernity, as one reading of Barnett, Pevehouse, and Raustiala may have it, or even reversed it momentarily. But overall the trend has been one of greater institutional diversity and with that elements of greater fragmentation. The challenge this represents, as Guterres noted, is particularly acute in moments of crises. The first phase of the Covid-19 pandemic did not foster movement in the direction of greater integration, whether by reconciling diverse modes of governance within the global health governance field or filling gaps in governance capacity. Rather, history underscored again that scholarly attention is wisely steered to answering why fragmentation is so conspicuous.

Seen through the lenses of Barnett, Pevehouse, and Raustiala’s structural approach, the near future of global governance is more likely to look like its recent past than to look like the models idealized by populist nationalists or those hoped for by global civil servants. With colleagues, they document that global governance has gradually become characterized by many more types of governance arrangements, including a variety of hybrid arrangements that have widened the color palette with time. From their perspective, then, there are good reasons to expect the prominence of some colors to vary from context to context also in the future, and that the totality of global governance will be another version of deep diversity before it resembles a mixed system, much less one of deep uniformity.


Exchanges with many colleagues have contributed to this chapter. My deepest thanks to Michael Barnett, Jon C.W. Pevehouse, and Kal Raustiala for sharing their wonderment of global governance and deeply constructive feedback on earlier versions. Many thanks also to Liliana B. Andonova, the Graduate School of International Affairs in Geneva, volume contributors, workshop participants, as well as press reviewers for sharing thoughts and suggestions along the way.

1 In a 2019 survey of foreign policy experts, global health received the highest grade among all areas (Council of Councils 2019). Tallberg (Chapter 11, Figure 11.3) reports that in 2019 surveys of politicians, civil servants, media, business, civil society, and global institutions themselves, WHO enjoyed the greatest confidence of all big international organizations.

3 Guterres Reference Guterres2019, 1.

4 United Nations General Assembly 2005, 1.

9 If global governance institutions were uniform, aligned, and complete, then there would be no deficit of integration. Notions of cohesive and integrated models are particularly sharp in world government and world federalism models. See Wynner and Lloyd Reference Wynner and Lloyd1949; Baratta Reference Baratta2004; Rosenboim Reference Rosenboim2017.

12 The typology has featured also in the international relations field (IR), though generally with an emphasis on one or two modes of governance (e.g., Koenig-Archibugi and Zürn Reference Koenig-Archibugi and Zürn2006; Lake Reference Lake1996; Avant and Westerwinter Reference Avant and Westerwinter2016).

14 Common features along which modes of governance are compared include incentive structures, provision of information, administrative oversight, modes of conflict resolution, quality of autonomous and cooperative adaptation, and relational calculus (Williamson Reference Williamson1991, Reference Williamson1996; Powell Reference Powell1990).

18 Bially-Mattern and Zarakol Reference Bially-Mattern and Zarakol2016.

19 Analogies have been made between anarchy and markets, though there are important distinctions to consider, especially in the slippage of terms and connotations when describing the worlds of politics and economics. While anarchy is understood to involve the absence of a central legitimate (global) authority, markets are understood to be systems in which autonomous actors hold the authority. This distinction can be reconciled, even if awkwardly (Waltz Reference Waltz1979). Others are more difficult to reconcile in the context of global politics and economics. For instance, unlike the notion of the market, where cooperation is generally presumed to be welfare enhancing, the notion of anarchy begins from the assumption that the world is one of scarcity and ever present threats of domination and violence.

21 Network models of global cooperation are explored in a large and diverse literature, including Avant and Westerwinter Reference Avant and Westerwinter2016; Kahler Reference Kahler2011; Goddard Reference Goddard2009.

23 E.g. Slaughter Reference Slaughter2004; Slaughter Reference Slaughter2017.

26 Farrell and Newman Reference Farrell and Newman2019.

27 On governance typologies, see Williamson Reference Williamson1991. More broadly, see Collier et al. Reference Collier, Laporte and Seawright2012.

32 Fioretos and Heldt Reference Fioretos and Heldt2019.

35 Conjunctural analysis concerns the “interaction effects between distinct causal sequences that become joined at particular points in time” (Pierson Reference Pierson2004, 12).

38 Murphy Reference Murphy1994: Mazower Reference Mazower2012, 94–115.

43 See also Barnett and Finnemore Reference Barnett and Finnemore2004.

44 Cooley and Snyder Reference Cooley and Snyder2015; Kelley and Simmons Reference Kelley and Simmons2020.

45 Jessop Reference Jessop, Amin and Hausner1997, 105, emphases added.

50 Hurwicz (Reference Hurwicz, McGuire and Radner1972) defines incentive incompatibility as scenarios in which participants find it advantageous to break rules or behave in ways that undermine arrangements.


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Figure 0

Table C.1 Four images of the totality

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Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats