Conceptualizing transnational democratic networks: a case study of world wide views on biodiversity

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Desirée Fiske

Western Political Science Association

Political Science Department

Colorado State University


Democratic theory has most recently found itself in a ‘deliberative turn.’  Extending beyond the capacity maintained by state institutions, the deliberative turn of democratic theory may be understood as necessary for conditions of democracy to move beyond the bounds of the nation-state to incorporate conditions of a globalizing world.  As global governance literature recognizes nuanced abilities to regulate through private and public interactions, the democratic voice of citizen input is in a shift.  Deliberative democratic theory has found its way into International Relations discussions, as it proposes methods for transnational democracy.  World Wide Views on Biodiversity is the second transnational citizen deliberation to be held on a global scale, allowing a window of opportunity to bridge the normative theories with empirical observation.  In support of the overall initiatives of the transnational network, this report simultaneously seeks to inform the project of its successes and limitations as a transnational network while placing it within International Relations theoretical discussions. Identifying three core concepts of transnational democracy present in International Relations literature - Cosmopolitan Nationalism, (Liberal) Global Cosmopolitan Democracy, and Discursive Democracy - the analysis of the network is placed in the greater context of transnational democratic theory. Through the analysis, all three theories of transnational democracy find relevancy in the empirical analysis of World Wide Views on Biodiversity. Transnational Discursive Democracy seems most equipped to explain and understand the network and will be used as results to provide implications for the network. In conclusion of the results, interest of expanding the network’s reach and accumulating greater discursive power are recommended for the network, and four implications for future World Wide Views events are suggested based on result analysis.

Introduction: The Democratic Deficit

Through nuanced methods of communication, society has advanced the complex ways in which we come together and organize. Political structures are nonetheless within a realm of social construction as it solidifies boundaries, geographically and morally. Because society has advanced the means by which we communicate, the coalition of knowledge and power opens an opportunity for global change more than ever before. Increased interactions with political reach have moved beyond the bounds of citizen accountability creating a gap known in literature as the “democratic deficit.” As collective outcomes are increasingly made and embedded more complexly in systems beyond immediate mechanisms for citizen accountability, academic literature has begun to address the question of the democratic deficit in the global public sphere (Dryzek 2010, 177). Facing an Anthropocene that requires reconfiguration of the political, my thesis presents an analysis of World Wide Views on Biodiversity, a transnational democratic network hosting global citizen deliberations on biological diversity issues and policies. 1

The Case: World Wide Views on Biodiversity

On September 15, 2012, World Wide Views on Biodiversity (WWVB) conducted the second global citizen deliberation event to occur worldwide.23 The launch of the project was orchestrated by the Danish Board of Technology Foundation (DBTF)4 and garnered support through transnational connections and networking. With 34 sites spanning across six continents, the event gathered approximately 3,000 citizens from around the world to advise biological diversity policies and recommendations during a global “Day of Deliberation.” Lay citizens were chosen to reflect the demographics within the hosting region. Citizens were considered upon age, gender, environmental organization affiliation, geographical zone of residency, education level, and occupation. With a goal to maintain at least 100 citizens for participation per region, the ideal was to have a representative demographic present at the Day of Deliberation. The global design was developed by the Danish Board of Technology and implemented through the same procedure in each host site. Deliberations were held in at tables of 5-8 citizens over the course of four sessions on topics around biodiversity issues and policies. Citizens voted on the four thematic sessions, of two to four questions each, with the option of a national or local session as a fifth. Anonymous votes were cast and uploaded to the World Wide Views on Biodiversity website live. As an organized transnational network, World Wide Views on Biodiversity collected and presented the results of the citizen deliberations at the United Nations Conference of Parties 11 (COP11) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Results appealed to COP 11 and World Wide Views (WWViews)5 increased support for biodiversity initiatives as representative of the global citizen voice.

Introduction to the Project

As global governance literature recognizes nuanced abilities to govern through private and public interactions, the democratic voice of citizen input is in a shift. In response to the changing climate, democratic theorists suggest the need for greater deliberative involvement of citizen input in important and pressing global policy issues. Deliberative democratic theory has found its way into International Relations discussions, as it proposes methods for transnational democracy. Merging democratic theory, concepts of globalization, and transnational network analysis, my thesis informs theoretical discussions of transnational democracy with an analysis of World Wide Views on Biodiversity. Simultaneously, my analysis provides feedback to the World Wide Views network for future projects as a network participating in global citizen deliberations. Transgressing these perimeters in my research, I respond to the integrative calling from World Wide Views’ proponents to assess practical implications of global deliberation while seeking to contribute to the reflective process of the event. “Realizing the potential of global deliberation requires not only continued research efforts but also calls for self-reflection by political actors on how WWViews-type activity fits into the extant institutional landscape, and what is required to make it fit there” (Worthington, Rask, and Jœger 2012, 284). Both academic based goals of the research project intend to advance the initiative as the network continues to organize globally.

The project is phronetic in the interest of evolving the network, theories of deliberative systems, and transnational democracy. My analysis offers a bridge of theory and praxis to steer theory and method while pragmatically appealing to application of global citizen deliberation. The discussion to follow identifies three core concepts of transnational democracy present in International Relations literature: Cosmopolitan Nationalism, (Liberal) Global Cosmopolitan Democracy, and Transnational Discursive Democracy. Recognizing disjunction between theory and practice, I intend to balance the two perspectives - empirically as a case study of a transnational democratic network and theoretically to address transnational democratic theory.  Because World Wide Views on Biodiversity is the second transnational democratic experiment, I utilize the case study to examine theories of transnational democracy, recognizing World Wide Views as a transnational democratic network
Literature Review and Theory: Transnational Democratic Theory

Global interactions have reshaped the directions of International Relations literature, prompting increased discussions of transnationalism. Literature attributes the concept to the increasingly complex movements beyond and between nation-state boundaries. The global economy and accessibility of communication between global citizens have jettisoned the process of globalization (Cox 1983; Rosenau 1995; Risse-Kappen 1995; Held and McGrew 2002; O’Brien and Williams 2010; Viotti and Kauppi 2010; Hay 2013). Globalization offers avenues for communication, accessibility, and flow not previously known in global interactions (Kütting and Rose 2006, 121). Recognizing the increased influence of these interactions under preconceived notions of the state, scholars became interested in globalization as an altering force on state behavior (Haas 1964; Keohane and Nye 1977; Ruggie 2004). Michele Betsill traces the theoretical shift of transnationalism in three waves: functionalism (Haas 1964), transnational relations (Keohane and Nye 1977), and global governance (Betsill 2006, 173; Keohane 2003). The progression of academic discussion reflects the pragmatic observation of increased global connectivity and dependency as influence on governance. Global governance had become recognized as a new avenue for formal and informal social, political, and economic governance.

John Ruggie cites the emergence of globalization as closely linked to the subsequent emergence of the new global public domain (Ruggie 2003, 504). The new global public domain is “an increasingly institutionalized transnational arena of discourse, contestation, and action concerning the production of global public goods, involving private as well as public actors” and moves beyond traditional decision-making bound-ness of the nation-state (Ruggie 2003, 504-505). “It ‘exists’ in transnational non-territorial spatial formations, and is anchored in norms and expectations as well as institutional networks and circuits within, across, and beyond states” (Ruggie 2003, 519). Moreover, states become increasingly embedded in frameworks of sociality rather than acting as a system of powers (Ruggie 2003, 521). In other words, as the process of globalization snowballed throughout the 20th century, an increasingly amount of private decisions were made, prompting responses from the global public domain, unbounded by spatial or temporal restrictions and with potentiality of being non-filtered through state-affiliation. The setting for World Wide Views is found within the non-bounded space as described by Ruggie. While state-affiliations may be present throughout the WWVB network, there is malleability in state influence or identity association between the various sites and participants.

Influence of transnationalism is felt not only through its disruption of institutionalized accountability but also as challenge for the global public to scale legitimacy. While nation-states previously constituted public accountability, the global public domain has found it necessary to respond and assert influence by new means. The sentiment for accountability responds to a multitude of globally-raised concerns, including in questions of humanitarianism, poverty, and ecological crises. As private interests extend beyond and between states, availability for scopes for public debate and forms of democratic accountability fall from decisions made that have socio-political-economic effect. Concerns about accountability subsequently raise questions about the legitimacy of transnational interactions (Biermann and Pattberg 2012, 274-275). With private interests finding ways to move beyond regulations of states and out of the hands of formal democratic processes of legitimation, citizen representation becomes bypassed. Global governance literature, therefore, has begun to explore theories of increased demands for citizen participation as complementary systems to transnational interactions (Dryzek 2000; Eckersley 2004; Picciotto 2008, 327; Baker 2009; Bexel et al. 2010). Although transnational relations may be to an extent informal, these relations often impact citizen life. Theories of democratic deliberation have been proposed as response to globalization. Transnational democratic deliberations offer a window for debates of accountability, new forums for norm and agenda-setting, and opportunities to legitimize new forms of global governance (Baker 2009, 196).

While the sphere of conceptualizing global interactions shifts, this also means there is a shift in individual identity recognition. National identities have been a formative foundation for individual orientation to the self and others (Anderson 1983; Haas 2000). While perceptions of a nation can be affiliated with a nation-state, a national identity is not necessarily bounded to the state but may be bounded to a common community seeking political power. In building national communities, individuals develop and respond to society under notions of citizenship, and particularly as members of nations. Discussions of transnational citizenship have emerged in literature, creating a space for the conceptualization of, what Jonathan Fox calls, the multi-layered citizen (Fox 2005, 175). The concept of multi-layered citizenship finds footing in cosmopolitanism and the individual’s relation to and function within the state (Fox 2005; Eckersley 2007). Multi-layered citizenship may take on two forms of meaning: rights-based and membership-centered (Fox 2005, 194). Rights-based citizenship refers to the idea of citizenship embedded in a liberal foundation of rights and accountability by nation-states as citizens engage a social contract. As national boundaries have blurred, identities have become multicultural and of multiple relations (Fox 2005, 177). The liberal frame of basic human rights, observable cross- and trans-boundary, may be observed as a “cosmopolitan citizenship” (Fox 2005, 177). In a more traditional, neo-liberal sense, individuals may have maintained transnational citizenship through memberships with two or more states, observing access to legitimacy and accountability through national accreditation (Fox 2005, 177).

Encountering new understandings of citizenship, therefore, highlights the evolving role of citizens and brings to light the evolving role of democracy. The evolution of transnationalism then leads us to ask what may be the most effective ways providing means for accountability as governance scales up transnationally and identities become less concrete in national bounded-ness? In practice, World Wide Views acted as a vessel for citizen voice in the global arena. To understand the existence of a global arena, we acknowledge the existence of transnational actors operating within and as a part of global civil society (O’Brien 2005). Within this framework, and building upon understandings of transnational relations, a picture is painted of WWVB - a network of organizations, scientists, universities, governmental institutions, and non-profits working together to exercise democratic principles.

Transnational Actors and Networks

Observations of transnational interactions have propelled further intrigue into transnational actors and their collectivity via transnational networks within International Relations literature (Betsill 2006; Bexell et al. 2010). Broadly speaking, transnational actors are often accounted for as non-state affiliated actors (Ruggie 2003, 104-105). The account of WWVB considers the roles of state-affiliated actors as vital to the project, though not acting particularly as representative or on behalf of a national government (Risse-Kappen 1995). Albeit, the influence of state-affiliated actors may manifest in state-identity form within the network. The WWVB project will be explained throughout this study as a transnational network based upon results of observation and testimony and in reflection to theoretical description.

Transnational networks create identities but may not necessarily have state affiliation, adding to the complexity for researchers to understand the dynamics of a network and conduct empirical studies (Betsill 2006, 177). Because the WWViews alliance is not an NGO nor MNC, the fluidity of actors involved in organizing better resemble networks. For example, in the study of Cities for Climate Protection (CCP), Betsill and Bulkeley identify the significance of CCP through its recognition as a transnational network and its ability to remain simultaneously state and non-state, operating at levels of governance from local to global (Betsill and Bulkeley 2006). The authors frame the network within a scale of multileveled governance to fully encapsulating the dynamics and conditions of the network (Betsill and Bulkeley 2006).

Furthermore, studies of transnational networks have identified three frequent forms of organization: epistemic communities (Haas 1989), transnational advocacy networks (Keck and Sikkink 1999), and social movements (O’Brien 2000; Betsill 2006, 176). As International Relations literature adapts to new ways of understanding global governance so does the ability to empirically describe and explain network organization and capacity of influence. While the study of WWVB will not seek to explicitly expose the capacity of the network (important studies of sort are concurrently being conducted throughout the network), rather, I will observe the network from a macro, theoretical lens, scaling the observation of the network from within a framework of global democratic organizing. Nonetheless, I will suggest World Wide Views operates similarly to a transnational advocacy network (Keck and Sikkink 1999) encompassing affiliates of epistemic communities and social movements.

Transnational advocacy networks may be understood as the entity scholars use to describe affiliates of actors operating under shared interests in norms or policy influence. Keck and Sikkink (1999, 90) see value in the role of transnational advocacy networks as communicative structures. While the networks may seek to influence policy changes, there is intrinsic value in the ability to enter into larger policy communities and open up dialogue while simultaneously initiating a political space for debates about change amongst varying stakeholders and perspectives (Keck and Sikkink 1999, 90). In other words, advocacy networks have discursive intrigue as methods towards organization. The WWViews Alliance seeks to broaden the scope of advocacy by opening dialogue and influence of international policy agreements through activating citizen voice. Although the focus of WWVB may be studied as a transnational advocacy network framed around concerns for international biodiversity policy, it may also be understood, as it is in this study, as an advocate of transnational democracy. While one may assess the network in its capacity as an entity seeking to influence international biodiversity agreements (through studies of citizen opinion; organization/stakeholder interests; or in continuation of dialogue surrounding biodiversity policy), the rotation of topics by the WWViews Alliance to coordinate with UN COPs suggests a grander concept of organizing for democratic purposes.

To more accurately describe the transnational actions of WWVB, I suggest linguistically moving away from the word advocacy and suggest highlighting the distinct action of the democratic processes in practice by the network. With two World Wide Views events completed and a third being discussed, consistency of the network is found in its ideological principle of scaling up democratic accountability through recognition (and consideration) of citizen opinion in international agreements. Furthermore, I present the study of WWVB as a transnational democratic network. In its nuance, the network’s organizing is viewed as an experiment in transnational democracy and not only a political space to discuss possibilities of hypothetical design. To highlight the democratic action of the network, three subfields of literature – Transnational Networks, Global Ecological Governance, and Democratic Theory – overlap to provide insight to theories of transnational democratic networks.

Transnational Networks, Global Ecological Governance, & Democratic Theory

Transnational networks have begun to organize in response to the complexity of ecological crises. While Peter Haas (1989) observes the formation of an epistemic community and its influence on Mediterranean pollution policies, Betsill and Bulkeley (2004) provide an analysis of a multi-city climate change advocacy network. The empirical studies observe the network under observation for their abilities to influence environmental policy. Though WWVB appealed to policy initiatives of COP11, citizen representation remained the primary target for the network. The network did not establish expectations for policy influence; rather, formal recognition by the UN Secretariats and COP were set as target goals. WWVB sought democratic legitimacy as a network. It was a strategic decision by the network to focus on environmental initiatives due to the perceived imminent need for citizen representation within international debates. Nonetheless, the focus of the project, biodiversity, speaks to the prominence and appeal of connecting globally on ecological crises. Studies, such as those aforementioned by Haas (1989) and Betsill and Bulkeley (2004), further support the increased accounts of transnational networks forming under pretense of ecological issues.

Speth and Haas describe biological diversity loss as having three dynamics of understanding: “the genetic variety within a given species; the millions of individual species of plants, animals, and microorganisms; and the diversity of different types of ecosystems such as alpine tundra, southern hardwood bottomlands, or tropical rainforests” (Speth and Haas 2006,39-40). Because we understand the intense interconnectedness of ecological crises, losses in these areas are often attributed to the unequal process of globalization, particularly as the suffrage of loss is predominantly felt in the ‘less developed’ states. The multi-scalar level of influence of biodiversity loss carries additional weight in the complexity of understanding, mitigating, or adapting to the issue. The complexities of ecological issues are reflected not only in the nature of ecosystems but also in the human systems and decision-making procedures intertwined (Dryzek 2013, 9). Hence, research in global ecological governance has emphasized the need to understand the multi-dimensional phenomena.

Scholars have begun to examine the ways governance may react in institutional design to cope with problems of the environment (Bocking 2004; Bulkeley 2005; Speth and Haas 2006; Biermann and Pattberg 2012; Bulkeley et al. 2012). Moreover, as globalization transforms the ways in which the global public domain understands its relationship with the nation-state, there have been increased discussions exploring deliberative democratic responses to ecological crises and issues of resources (Eckersley 2004; Baber and Bartlett 2005; Bäckstrand et al. 2010; Dryzek 2013). Ideals of deliberative democratic perspectives on ecological governance are in part due to the deliberative turn in democratic and critical theory (Dryzek 1990; Habermas 1992; Rawls 1997; Mouffe 2000). Within the scope of global environmental governance, therefore, the deliberative turn represents “…increased attention in environmental politics to procedural qualities such as participation, dialogue, transparency and accountability” (Bäckstrand et al. 2010, 3). Moreover, as supplemental means for citizen representation and participation are sought for overlooked means of accountability via national citizenship, global ecological scholarship calls for citizen participation as necessary feedback into the complexity of eco-socio-political debates.

Theoretical starting points of empirical investigation into the deliberative turn in environmental governance include such conversations about legitimacy, representation and participation but under assumptions of ecological rationality (Lövbrand and Khan 2010). Baber and Bartlett propose a typology consisting of three concepts to understanding environmental democracy based on foundations of rationale: liberal rights; public reason; and discourse (2005, 50). The study of WWVB, in a way, merges the tasks of these conversations, placing it back in International Relations and without preconceived notions of ecological thought. WWVB, rather, was a transnational experiment of deliberative democracy, using the catapulting appeal of biodiversity as grounds for legitimizing formal global citizen response. Furthermore, discussions of transnational democratic theory have begun to serve as ideological response to the global dilemmas presented.

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