Struggling with Complexity: How Governments Fail to Limit Fragmentation in Global Governance

36th Käte Hamburger Lecture

Online Lecture with Orfeo Fioretos, Associate Professor of Political Science at Temple University in Philadelphia
Tuesday, 16th June 2020 (17:30-18:30)

Comment: Maryam Zarnegar Deloffre, GCR21 Senior Fellow / George Washington University
Moderator: Christine Unrau, GCR21 Research Group Leader

Global governance is commonly described as complex and governments as motivated by efforts to limit such complexity. This lecture inquired into how governments manage global governance complexity, specifically the question of international institutional proliferation. Government officials often profess that they wish to limit institutional proliferation and cite a variety of reasons, including high administrative burdens, and costs from redundancy and contradictory mandates. Academic studies point to additional reasons why governments have incentives to limit international institutional proliferation, such as the fragmentation of power, organizational inefficiencies, and legitimacy costs. Yet, international institutional proliferation has not abated in recent decades; the number of organizations and the complexity of global governance have, if anything, increased. The lecture explored what historical records reveal about the reasons governments have failed to limit institutional proliferation. It used historical material from government archives in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States to examine the assumptions, claims, and conclusions of common theories of global governance. The principal empirical focus is a failed initiative by the Group of Seven to limit institutional proliferation. The lecture suggested that innovations in informal cooperation emerged as a means of containing the costs of (formal) complexity and to harness some of its benefits. One effect has been that overall greater global governance complexity has been entrenched despite governments’ professed ambitions to limit such complexity.

Related Publication

In the meantime, Professor Fioretos published a special issue article on the topic of this lecture:

Orfeo Fioretos
Rhetorical Appeals and Strategic Cooptation in the Rise and Fall of The New International Economic Order

Open Access (first published: 17 November 2020):

Global Policy 11 (S3), 73–82

Special Issue: Global Power Shifts: How do International Institutions Adjust?

Lecture programme and concept note