Governing through Stakeholders: Systems Thinking and the Making of Participatory Global Governance
Abraham, Kavi Joseph
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This project is a genealogical account of how nonstate actors have come to participate in international organizations as “stakeholders.” Across multiple issue areas, global governance is increasingly organized around the coordination of not only states but all relevant stakeholders including private corporations, experts from think tanks and academia, nongovernmental organizations, individual activists, and others. How have nonstate actors come to participate in global politics? What logic of governance makes their participation desired? I use Foucault’s concept of governmentality to analyze this changing relationship among states, international organizations, and nonstate actors. Pushing against a literature that emphasizes democratic norms or neoliberal logics, I argue that the origins of stakeholder governance were made possible by the rapid introduction of systems thinking in the management of complex problems. It was through systems thinking – rather than democratic or neoliberal reasoning – that several organizations initially came to govern by principles of stakeholder inclusion. Chapter two sets the orientation for the rest of the project. I begin by defending the politically-informed ontology and method that I use to track the emergence of stakeholder rationalities of governing, or “stakeholder governmentality.” I then shift to defining governmentality, culled from Foucault’s later articulations of the concept, and outline a heuristic that guides my genealogical account. Specifically, I wager that when certain issues areas, or objects of governance, are made so problematic that the question of government itself is posed, that the question of how to arrange people and things toward purposeful ends is raised, we can identify the emergence of governmentalities. The remaining chapters outline the problematic conditions under which institutions came to reflect on questions of government, examining the practical discourse through which they then rationalized governing through stakeholders. Using archival documents, I show how corporate managerial practices developed in the United States circulated to US government agencies in the 1960s and 1970s. I then track how these same systems-oriented practices were taken up and mixed with other practices in institutions like the World Bank, ICANN, and the UN. Though the circulation of managerial practice from corporations to public institutions seems neoliberal, I find that the turn to stakeholders was initially rationalized in terms of systems management of complex problems. Though the subject of stakeholder becomes plugged into neoliberal rationalities, understanding its emergence cannot be reduced to them. In the conclusion, I sketch the consequences of this genealogy for the future of democratic global governance.