It’s Ordered Chaos: How Polycentrism Really Works


This forum reimagines polycentric governance. It develops ideas of “ordered polycentrism” that can help international relations scholarship make fuller sense of contemporary governance of global affairs. How can we theorize the implicit bonding forces that bring deeper order to the surface disorganization of polycentric governance? We offer a key corrective to actor-focused institutionalist understandings by showing how polycentrism also involves deeper relations and structures. Six contributions offer various avenues to theorize deeper order in polycentric governance, each with reference to a substantive issue area. Jens Steffek draws upon constructivist theory of “norms” to argue that standards acquire autonomous ordering power in polycentric governance of global business. Maryam Deloffre adopts a “metagovernance” perspective to identify norms as aspirational visions structuring the regulation of humanitarian assistance. Next, Frank Gadinger explores polycentrism through the lens of “practices” that organize the everyday activities by multiple actors such as negotiating as well as the objects, technologies and expertise they use in these governance efforts. Zeynep Mencutek highlights “techniques” as micro-carriers of ordering practices in polycentric governance of irregular migration, stretching the limits of institutional rules. Maria Koinova discusses “informality” as a deeper structuring force in the governance of transit migration and diasporas, and how it is shaped by state capacities, political regimes, and regional dynamics. Finally, Jan Aart Scholte adds “underlying order” through macro-frameworks and, with illustrations from Internet governance, suggests that polycentrism is structured through a threefold combination of norms, practices, and underlying orders. Together, the six commentaries offer a menu of ways that future research can explore order in what institutionalism has depicted as chaos.

The project resulted in this Forum publication of the International Studies Review (abstract above taken from the publication):

Maria Koinova, Maryam Zarnegar Deloffre, Frank Gadinger, Zeynep Sahin Mencutek, Jan Aart Scholte and Jens Steffek (2021).  ‘It’s Ordered Chaos: What Really Makes Polycentrism Work’, International Studies Review, 0: 1-31.

A review of this publiction was published in the Centre's Quarterly Magazine (Nov 2021).