An analysis of the roles and positions of the players within global civil society

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Authors cited (Barša and Soukup) offer a useful analysis of the present-day views on global civil society (GCS). The term GCS, in their interpretation, tends to refer to the diversity of players nowadays present in the structures of global politics. One group of theoreticians attempts to vest it with a clearly defined empirical meaning and defend it against alternative names (such as transnational civil society). Other authors see it as a name for ‘good’ movements (human-rights, environmental, etc.) and NGOs, thus refusing it as a concept capable of reflecting the diversity and complexity of the current world politics. There have been voices maintaining that the concept of civil society is so closely bound to the concept of national state that it cannot be used to grasp global processes.

International non-governmental organisations (INGOs) and transnational networks

In spite of such sceptic voices, however, we clearly see the relatively fast-growing numbers of international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) as well as parallel summits organised, for instance, by opponents of neo-liberal globalisation. The growing importance of transnational connections among various non-governmental players is stressed ever more profoundly. A new reality is mentioned: the transnational sphere in which civil activists, social movements, and committed individuals enter reciprocal debates, conflicts, and alliances.

In an attempt to avoid the term GCS, some theoreticians speak of transnational networks. They either promote certain interests at the global level, or they are networks of activists promoting ideas and values. Such networks tend to be established in political areas characterised by high normative and value contents.

Global issues networks

J. F. Rischard has recently contributed into the debate in an interesting way. He says that one of the ways to resolve the problem of global governance is to reinforce so-called global issues networks (GINs). Such networks focusing on solutions to global problems (which is a way of interpreting the name), according to Rischard, are highly flexible, which gives them several advantages: quick problem solving, legitimacy, diversity, and compatibility with traditional institutions.

Their speed is the result of their not relying on traditional bureaucratic (vertical and horizontal) structures. In this age of revolutionary communications, they mainly rely on direct communication across national borders.

The advantages of GINs – legitimacy, expertise, variety of opinion

GINs’ legitimacy can primarily be derived from the fact that they work globally, on a large scale, in a way that they concentrate their energy on one specific issue. That improves their chances to mobilise people. Rischard thus responds to the dilemma postulated by Jürgen Habermas, who says that global governance means making domestic politics for the planetary level. But, according to Habermas, severe obstacles are in the way. Political discussions at national level take place in an environment of shared political ethos and culture. To be able to do so at global level, people would have to acquire some sort of global identity.

Rischard is of the opinion that GINs especially can be helpful in building global citizenship. The latest means of communication, reducing distance and creating a new sense of time, could play a significant role in this process.

The legitimacy brought about by GINs is a horizontal legitimacy, emerging from shared deliberations among the people within the GINs. This type of horizontal network could therefore exert a healthy pressure for increased political accountability of the national state institutions because national state politicians, whose decisions are generally limited by the upcoming elections (thus often offering populist solutions), would be confronted with something much larger than their own electorates – a global network offering expertise in the field.

A third advantage to GINs is that they combine perceptions of the same problem from three different perspectives: the public (governmental), the private, and the transnational civil society. Knowledge offered by players so diverse is an indubitable benefit.

A fourth advantage consists in the fact that GINs are, in spite of the pressure they exert, tolerant to national state institutions – if only because they cannot achieve their goals without them. The result is that pointless conflicts with traditional institutions can be avoided.

Horizontal networks

Anne-Marie Slaughter offers a cardinal insight into global governance when she argues that the international community has for some time functioned primarily not only as a system of relations among governments of national states, but increasingly as a global system of horizontal networks, set up, above all, by various elements of governmental authority within national states and by non-governmental organisations.

Police investigators, financial market regulators, judges, and legislators, for instance, collaborate to a growing degree within supranational networks through which they exchange information and co-ordinate their operations. The global co-operation among such elements of governmental authority is becoming more important than that of the central government. It is complemented by the ever more solid network of non-governmental players.

The problem of global rules and accountability

According to Slaughter, the model of global political networks is a possible solution to the basic dilemma of global governance: we need global rules but without a centralised global government; we also need the political players in the system of global governance to be accountable to somebody by means of various political mechanisms. This accountability is derived from their affiliation to various structures (mainly democratic) within national states.

The modern state is therefore increasingly a multi-layered entity the various elements of which perform domestic political tasks on the one hand, but also, at an ever more intensive rate, network with their partners in other states at the supranational level. Rules and regulatory frameworks functioning on the global scale are thus emerging continuously.

According to Slaughter, many international organisations today are nothing but structures which provide institutional support to the functioning of horizontal networks consisting of governmental officials of various national states. Others are purely transnational in that their identities and loyalties are separated from the national states… and possess certain coercive authorities toward the national states.

Network networks, or supernetworks

Slaughter authored the concept of network networks. She speaks of the fact that various horizontal global governance networks (networks connecting various elements of governmental authority from various national states, networks among inter-governmental organisations, and transnational NGO networks) co-operate and thus form a sort of supernetwork, interlaced and complementary to each other in various points at various levels.

Lines of power and (dis)aggregation processes

Such network networks are ‘soft’ in the horizontal sense, meaning they have some influence rather than coercive power. Some of these networks, however, acquire the vertical dimensions at the same time. They develop – either spontaneously or by agreement among states – vertical power axes. Supranational organisations can thus be established that have coercive powers not only toward individual national states, but also toward the various players in the horizontal networks. Slaughter analyses examples from the European Court of Justice as well as the coercive authorities of certain sections of the World Trade Organisation.

With respect to the emergence of network networks, Slaughter maintains that whilst so-called disaggregation occurs in the national state (where an originally homogeneous aggregate composed of various constitutive parts falls into such parts), the global scale is contrariwise in that a sort of disaggregated whole represented by the various networks and their interactions appears gradually. What Slaughter has in mind is this: as the states lose parts of their powers in favour of supranational networks, inter-governmental organisations, and transnational civil society, their vertical structures and connections loosen. The elements of governmental authority continue to perform their domestic functions, but an increasing proportion of such elements function simultaneously in supranational networks – often seemingly without any central blessings.

With many functions previously possessed entirely by national states now being transferred to the supranational level, a mosaic-like supranational system of networks arises, mostly with no visible centre. This disaggregated whole is so far the best thing achieved in global governance.