Can Networks Govern?

Theorising transnational governance is of central importance to understanding how the world works. The proliferation of frameworks, compacts, accords and agreements across multiple policy fields begs questions as to how they emerge, how power operates within and through them, what they foreclose and in whose interests they work. When applied to the legitimation of organised violence outside the state, they seem to challenge foundational aspects of global order. 

In Deborah Avant’s article “Pragmatic Networks and Transnational Governance of Private Military and Security Services" she argues that an approach grounded in relational pragmatism can help us best make sense of these phenomena. This approach emphasises the power of networks, the re-shaping of actor preferences, creativity and openness and the significance of process in influencing outcomes. Avant concludes that rather than seeing global governance in terms of ‘wins’ and ‘losses’, emphasising its productive and creative character is a better way of understanding its potential.

In our symposium, four scholars welcome Avant’s piece and engage with the argument with contributions that are longer than usual, which reflects the richness of the questions raised by its arguments. Heikki Patomäki agrees that the relational ontology is an improvement on present debates, but notes that it does not extend to looking at the structures and context in which processes take place. Looking at the multiple sites of private security governance, Anna Leander asks whether the problem is located where Avant says it is, and whether network theory is mobilised to its full potential. In evaluating the pragmatist approach, Kavi Abraham wonders about the excision of politics, recalls Deweyan pragmatism as also concerned with domination, conflict and participatory democracy. In looking at Avant’s relationalism, Mark Laffey argues that a liberal ontology animates but also constrains the account of process and the assumed public-private divide.

Avant offers “A Pragmatic Response” to the symposium, engages with the questions and suggests provocatively that it is they, rather than she, who may be the real ‘optimists’ about global governance.

The ISQ Blog team heartily thank Debbi and all the contributors to this symposium for their thought-provoking and generous engagements on such an important topic. We hope you enjoy the symposium: do check out our others.

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