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Mapping the global governance research landscape

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How global is global governance research? To address this question, we created a unique dataset listing all those research enterprises that deal with the topic. What came out of this mapping exercise shows not only the impressive rise in the number of global governance research centres but also a strong clustering in Western Europe.

Global governance as an academic discipline emerged in the 1990s, providing an analytical lens better equipped to explain the complexities of the emergent multipolar and multilevel world politics. Its underlying assumptions of how international relations function can have strong implications on how international organisations and cooperation are perceived by actors and observers of global affairs. Thus, it is crucial to map and understand the diffusion of global governance thinking, which we begin with our analysis of the research landscape.

Furthermore, from an academic point of view, it seems fruitful to investigate a recurring claim in the respective literature: that the growing relevance of global governance research has led to its increasing institutionalisation (see Domíngues and Flores, 2018). Our findings support that thesis and provide a more detailed picture of how this institutionalisation looks like.

For our analysis, we gathered research institutions that are themselves dedicated to global governance or have programmes dedicated to it.[1] To collect the data, we first built on input from the GLOBE network of global governance scholars, existing literature providing similar - though less comprehensive - overviews (see Domíngues and Flores, 2018), and queries in the Yearbook of International Organizations. Finally, we crawled the web and contacted relevant institutions for further details, where they were not publicly available.

For a research institution, project or postgraduate programme to be included in our list, it has to meet the following set of criteria:

  1. explicitly deal with global governance topics, as per the project description;
  2. include the term "global governance" in their name or core project description; we also accepted issue-specific cases containing a topical qualifier (e.g., “environmental” as in “global environmental governance”); [2]
  3. either be affiliated with an accredited academic institution or be listed in the Yearbook of International Organizations or the University of Pennsylvania’s TTCSP;
  4. and have been active at least once within the last 3 calendar years (2018, 2019, 2020).

Note that for this analysis, we also included discontinued research centres and programmes (i.e., those that meet criteria 1, 2, and 3, but not 4). This allows for a more comprehensive historical look.

This exercise gave us a list of 59 research enterprises dealing with global governance (figure 1). Of those, we consider 10 as discontinued because they have been either renamed or do not show any activity within the last three years. The rise of global governance research enterprises has been remarkably constant over the past 20 years, with an average of 2.9 new enterprises per year (compared to just 0.5 discontinued per year).[3]


Figure 1: The steady growth of global governance research

As figure 2 shows, most of the enterprises (19) are university research centres, closely followed by master’s programmes (13). The other categories include research programmes (11) and projects (8), PhD programmes (4), think tanks (3), and one foundation.[4] This suggests that intellectual engagement with global governance is mainly driven by academic actors.


Figure 2: Types of global governance research enterprises

In geographical terms, our analysis very clearly shows the dominance of institutions based in the Anglosphere and Western European parts of the world (figure 3 and 4). This may in part be explained through the language barrier since our collection was mostly restricted to those institutions that conducted their activities in English or offered English translations. However, since we reached out to an extensive network of global governance scholars, we assume that our list is a good approximation of reality.


Figure 3: Global governance research per region

The role of the US (12 entries) is also noteworthy. While it ranks second only to the UK (13), it has a surprisingly low number compared to the large intellectual footprint of US-based research in neighbouring disciplines such as international relations, foreign policy and global studies. Both Canada (5) and the UK show relatively more activity on “global governance” research. Whether this is because of path dependencies (perhaps the US, where international relations as an academic discipline matured earlier than in other parts of the world, already had established numerous IR institutes before the term global governance became fashionable) or actually reflects differences in preferences (e.g., a possible bias against international institutions) is beyond the scope of this preliminary analysis, but certainly merits further exploration.


Figure 4: Map of global governance research enterprises around the world

Looking at the map (figure 4), one can hardly speak of global governance research as being a truly global undertaking. This finding is congruent with initial observations and intuition from many academic practitioners: the concept of global governance seems to be first and foremost a Western one. Coen and Pegram addressed this problem introducing their special section on global governance in the journal Global Policy.[5] In that same special section, Haufler then establishes the absence of global south scholars as a failing of the global governance scholarship in general.[6]

This is concerning because it can lead to large gaps in the study and understanding of the dynamics and mechanisms shaping global governance systems. Even worse, it risks reinforcing the exclusion of marginalised voices from academic and policy debates. Already in 2014, one of the leading scholars of the field, Amitav Acharya cautions global governance scholars to avoid the danger of reifying western or regional knowledge to the exclusion of different kinds of knowledge.[7]

While such a geographical bias is not uncommon to modern social science, which has long been dominated by Anglo-American and European universities, the glaring gap in global governance research should nevertheless be filled for at least two compelling reasons: (1) inclusion of more viewpoints and contexts greatly improves theorising and understanding of global governance phenomena, (2) it grants greater legitimacy – at home, but even more importantly, globally – to the sort of multilateral, cooperative world politics that the EU is keen to promote.

A possible remedy would be increased international cooperation of research projects and institutions. The EU’s various research funding schemes are already going into that direction and have achieved remarkable progress in many areas. The GLOBE project, with its global network of partners, is a good example of fruitful cross-fertilisation and academic cooperation of global governance scholars. Yet, for the discipline to become truly global, more efforts are needed to improve the inclusion of marginalised voices and perspectives.

Jacint Jordana is the Director of Institut Barcelona d'Estudis Internacionals (IBEI) and Professor of Political Science and Public Administration at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF), Lewin Schmidt is a Predoctoral Fellow at IBEI within the framework of GLOBE Project and Predoctoral Fellow at Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF), and Adam Holesch is Project Manager at GLOBE Project and Research Fellow at Institut Barcelona d'Estudis Internacionals (IBEI).

This article was updated on 03 April 2020 to fix a graph. 


[1] This list is by no means comprehensive and we grateful for any suggestions to info@globe-project.eu
[2] Restrictions B was necessary to limit the scope of institutions and make data collection feasible. While it leads to the exclusion of some prominent research institutions dealing with global governance topics (e.g., the Kennedy School or the Berggruen Institute), it also sharpens our analysis: in the end, we are interested in the dissemination of a very specific concept. This also applies to the exclusion of academic disciplines such as “International Studies” or “Global Affairs” from our analysis. Oftentimes, they touch upon the same topics and theories, yet there was a purposeful decision behind not naming them “Global Governance”.
[3] The low number of discontinued enterprises could of course be partially explained by our blindness to those that are no longer active.
[4] As programmes we understand a set of research activities within a research centre that are grouped under a specific theme. A project, on the other hand, is a specific research endeavour carried out by one or more project partners.
[5] Coen, D. and Pegram, T. (2018), Towards a Third Generation of Global Governance Scholarship. Glob Policy, 9: 107-113. doi:10.1111/1758-5899.12527
[6] Haufler, V. (2018), Producing Global Governance in the Global Factory: Markets, Politics, and Regulation. Glob Policy, 9: 114-120. doi:10.1111/1758-5899.12525
[7] Acharya, A. (2014) ‘Global International Relations (IR) and Regional Worlds’, International Studies Quarterly, 58 (4), pp. 647–659.