Global cooperation and diverse conceptions of world order

Research > Thematic field

How diverse conceptions of world order shape global cooperation was a central focus of the Centre’s research in the final funding period. Amidst the resurgence of geopolitical tensions, the rise in power of authoritarian states, and the Russian war against Ukraine, traditional themes of international politics, such as polarity, the clash of civilizations, and ideological conflict, have gained renewed importance. In this context, the Centre’s research sought to address a plurality of conceptions of world order.

To that end, we examined world order conceptions from the perspective of collective identities and shared symbolic representations, understanding them as symbolic expressions of collective identities that emerge in various contexts and through interactions across different scales. Such identities form around cosmologies, shared goals, or symbols. These collectively-grounded world order conceptions are considered pivotal in shaping sustained cooperation or its failure. For instance, conflict may arise when hierarchies are constructed between identities, while cooperation can develop from social interactions between them. Therefore, these various conceptions of world order and their relationality warrant further exploration, not only in terms of the political order they imply but also with regard to their underlying assumptions and world views. Research at the Centre mapped distinct as well as related ideas and practices of world-making and world-ordering analytically. World-making refers to the ideas and practices through which people make sense of the world, while world-ordering describes how visions of world order relate to each other in processes of global cooperation and non-cooperation.

The Centre, thus, pursued a significant approach, investigating the symbolic dimension of these different identities. These investigations extended be yond politics to encompass arenas like art, sports, or popular culture. Such fields have always been and continue to be battlegrounds for establishing and reproducing hierarchies that constitute the deep structures of world order. Another focus of the Centre’s research were world order conceptions arising from the margins. This approach sought to (un-)cover critiques of and alternatives to existing world orders that emerge from groups, practices, and discourses at the margins of the established world polity. This involved reflecting on how colonial, imperial, or patriarchal power structures have influenced conceptions of the world and examining how academic knowledge production may reinforce (or change) the existing world order. The Centre’s research aimed to unveil how social groups challenge established world order conceptions or mobilize for alternative ones, originating from societies in the Global South as well as those from within the Global North. This approach aimed to capture the contemporary plurality of contested world orders. The Centre’s research on world order conceptions shed light on how right-wing populism, based on a revival of ethnocentric nationalism, aims at appealing to larger publics and has capitalized on transnational linkages. Collective identities formed around these symbolic representations may deepen divisions between groups without a common language or interest, especially in areas such as climate policy, and become an obstacle to popular support of governments’ global cooperation efforts. Finally, the Centre sought to study the world-making and world-ordering processes that can provide common ground for collectively addressing the multitude of contemporary global challenges across interest-, norm- and world-view-based divides.

Key publications:

  • Biswas, Bidisha, Quack, Sigrid, Rinck, Patricia, Tripathi, Siddharth and Unrau, Christine (2024) (eds). ‘World Ordering from the Margins’, Global Studies Quarterly, forthcoming.
  • Bird, Gemma, Freistein, Katja, Paker, Hande and Unrau, Christine (2023) (eds). ‘Imagining Common Grounds. New World(s) in the Making’, Special issue: Global Cooperation Research – A Quarterly Magazine, 2023(2), available at: