While our common theoretical focus at the Käte Hamburger Kolleg/Centre for Global Cooperation Research is to gain a better understanding of how global cooperation takes place in complex and polycentric governance contexts as well as how and why it unfolds (or fails) over time, we are well aware that there is not one single answer to these questions. Rather to the opposite: We expect to find patterned variety rather than uniformity. Such patterned variety asks for systematic comparative analysis across policy fields within each of our thematic fields.
In respect of ‘Global Cooperation and Polycentric Governance’, a comparative analysis of policy fields will be useful to identify and explain the diffuse/decentralized and fluid/changeable arrangements that tend to mark contemporary regulation. Comparisons can also contribute to a better understanding of how, why and with what consequences governance of a global problem is spread across geographical scales (local, national, regional and planetary) as well as social sectors (public, private, and public-private combinations). Between policy fields, we are likely to find variation in the degree of overlapping institutional mandates of agencies, as well as in the extent of blurred hierarchies and lines of command among the various governance agencies.
Our study of ‘Pathways and Mechanisms of Global Cooperation’ will also benefit from a comparison across policy fields: Forms, patterns, and lines along which global cooperation evolves, fluctuates or dissolves over time are also likely to differ significantly. For example, different actor constellations as well as cooperative or conflictual interactions between them can be expected to generate varieties of sense making, actions, mobilizations and outcomes. Depending on the constellation, we might discover diverse social mechanisms, defined as recurrent causal processes that explain the movement of global cooperation along specific trajectories. Furthermore, geographical scales can vary, too: Not every trajectory of global governance might start as a global initiative from the beginning, given that local, national or regional trajectories can develop into a global initiative over time.
In terms of our research, both clusters of questions are inherently related. Conditions of polycentric governance influence pathways of cooperation, and, in turn, trajectories of cooperation have an impact on the constellations of governance arrangements.
To identify and study this patterned variety, empirical research on ‘Global Cooperation and Polycentric Governance’ and ‘Pathways and Mechanisms of Global Cooperation’ at the Centre will comparatively analyze four policy fields where global cooperation is urgent and often hard to achieve. We seek to focus on the governance of
- climate change
- the Internet
Focusing our empirical research on four specific policy fields has practical and theoretical advantages. First, focusing on common policy fields facilitates interdisciplinary exchange and discussion at the Centre. Studying a common empirical phenomenon makes it much easier for people coming from different disciplines and applying different theoretical approaches and methodological traditions to talk with each other. Second, studying a limited number of policy fields allows us to compare forms, trajectories and architectures of global governance across these fields thereby also facilitating communication across the two research themes ‘Global Cooperation and Polycentric Governance’ and ‘Pathways and Mechanisms of Global Cooperation’. Comparing across different global policy fields is a useful method to assess under what boundary conditions basic human cooperative capacities are mobilized, in which ways, and with what effects.
While one could think of many more policy fields in which global cooperation is urgent but difficult, we have chosen these four fields because they represent variation along several dimensions that we consider as relevant for understanding global cooperation. Among these conditions are:
- the presence or absence of state, private and civil society actors in global cooperation and the patterns and intensity of their relations to each other
- the relative strength or weakness of multilateral institutions relative to more diffuse and fuzzy forms of governance architecture
- the relative length of global cooperation, where its evolution over time may create liabilities as well as opportunities for subsequent developments.
While we believe that a systematic comparison across global policy fields is theoretically fruitful in order to identify the characteristics of different architectures and trajectories of global cooperation, it is also methodologically challenging. How can we make sense of interwoven, overlapping and multi-layered structures and processes in different issue contexts? Where are the boundaries between global policy fields, and how far are they separated from or interconnected with each other? We also want to explore negative cases for comparison, in order to avoid positive bias toward instances where global governance ‘worked’.
The following short descriptions of each policy field present our current provisional ideas of what might be of particular interest for the study of the conditions and processes that foster or hamper global cooperation in the complex, culturally diverse and uncertain global environment of the 21st century.