Polycentrism – How Governing Works Today

New Edited Volume from Frank Gadinger and Jan Aart Scholte

Centre researchers Frank Gadinger and Jan Aart Scholte have seen their latest book project published by Oxford University Press. Polycentrism – How Governing Works Today is an edited volume containing contributions from a diverse set of scholars and researchers from around the world. Engaging with the concept of polycentric governance, and with the aim of combining the work going on in 'discrete paradigmatic camps', the volume presents the fruit of rigorous research while simutaneously acting as an impetus toward increased transfer and collaboration across disciplines.

The Centre often acted as host to productive discussions and collaborations between the contributing authors. In addition to the two editors, Sigrid Quack and Nina Schneider contributed chapters, while senior researchers Lauren Eastwood, Katja Freistein, Volker Heins, Patricia Rinck, and Christine Unrau maintained the stimulating surroundings of the Centre's Denkfreiraum. The list of contributing authors (see below) features many alumni fellows of the Centre. Additionally, the editors also mention Maryam Deloffre, Maria Koinova, Zeynep Şahin Mencütek, and Jens Steffek, who fed richly into the polycentrism research group during 2019–2020.


How does governing work today? How does society (mis)handle pressing challenges such as armed violence, cultural difference, ecological degradation, economic restructuring, geopolitical shifts, global pandemics, migration flows, and technological change in ways that are (not) democratic, effective, fair, peaceful and sustainable? This book addresses this key question around the theme of 'polycentrism': i.e. the idea that contemporary governing is dispersed, fluctuating, messy, elusive, and headless. Chapters develop this notion of polycentrism from a broad spectrum of academic disciplines and theoretical approaches. Readers thereby obtain a full coverage of exciting new thinking about how today’s world is (mis)ruled. The book distinguishes four paradigms of knowledge about polycentric governing – organizational, legal, relational, structural – and pursues conversations across the divides that normally keep these approaches in separate research communities. These exceptional inter-paradigm exchanges focus especially on issues of techniques (how governing is done), power (what forces drive governing), and legitimacy (whether governing is rightful). Comparisons between the multiple perspectives on polycentric governing highlight, and help to clarify, the distinctive emphases, potentials and limitations of each approach. In addition, combinations across the diverse theories generate promising novel avenues of thought about polycentrism. Through their engagement with the book, readers can develop their own understandings of governing today and thereby become more empowered political subjects.

Keywords: governance, governing, interdisciplinarity, legitimacy, methodology, polycentrism, power, techniques

From the Preface:

'This book is born of a frustration coupled with an inspiration. The frustration is that smart people are not talking with each other. The inspiration is to nurture such a conversation. Many scholars of our time are saying many clever things about governing in contemporary society. Across widely dispersed disciplinary and theoretical positions, insights about how governing works abound in untold amounts and depths. We today face a staggering menu: arguably ingredients for a quantum leap in knowledge.

Yet current research on governing generally proceeds in discrete paradigmatic camps. What this book characterizes as organizationalists, jurists, relationists, and structuralists work apart, with little contact, limited communication, still less exchange, and only rare hesitant steps towards combination.

Dialogues of difference are, of course, among the greatest challenges of human being, including for academicians. While fights within a school of thought may be heated, they transpire with the contextual reassurance of familiar and shared ground. Far more testing is to venture beyond the comfort zone and encounter the intellectual other. In this borderland, effective dialogue demands to relativize position, relinquish power, deeply listen,openly learn, and mutually change.

We editors thank our fellow authors for embracing this experiment to meet, engage with, write for, and be transformed by each other. The long and often demanding journey to this publication has required no small courage, patience, and generosity from all contributors. Together we have sown modest seeds of inter-paradigm deliberation—in both substance and method—that future work can hopefully take forward'.

Contributing Authors

Frida Beckman, Stockholm University
Christian Bueger, University of Copenhagen
Alejandro Esguerra, University of Bielefeld
Tamirace Fakhoury, Aalborg University
Frank Gadinger, University of Duisburg-Essen
Alexis Galán, University of Bonn
Lasse Gerrits, Erasmus University Rotterdam
Rosalba Icaza, Erasmus University Rotterdam
Tobias Liebetrau, Sciences Po and Danish Institute for International Studies
Philip Liste, Fulda University of Applied Sciences and University of Duisburg-Essen
Marianne H. Marchand, Universidad de las Américas Puebla
Ina Möller, Wageningen University
Henk Overbeck, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Sigrid Quack, University of Duisburg-Essen
Jothie Rajah, American Bar Foundation
Nina Schneider, University of Duisburg-Essen
Jan Aart Scholte, Leiden University and University of Duisburg-Essen
Andreas Thiel, University of Kassel
Oscar Widerberg, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Fariborz Zelli, Lund University


Gadinger, Frank and Scholte, Jan Aart (2023)(eds). Polycentricity – How Governing Works Today, Oxford: Oxford University Press. DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780192866837.001.0001.