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

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Transnational Democratic Theory

In efforts to understand the possible path for democratic citizen response to globalization and to place the World Wide Views on Biodiversity network within a theoretical scheme, it is first necessary to identify the literature’s framing of conceptions and conditions for transnational democracy. I have identified three transnational democratic concepts within International Relations literature: Cosmopolitan Nationalism, (Liberal) Global Cosmopolitan Democracy, and Transnational Discursive Democracy (see Table 1). Theories of transnational democracy are predominately developed from the work of Robyn Eckersley, David Held, and John Dryzek. Drawing from the theoretical conceptualizations presented by the authors, I outline seven indicators as analytical tools for comparison. Developing a typology to understand the theoretical arrangement of WWVB as a transnational democratic network not only parses the differences between the presented concepts but also acts as a comprehensive tool to analyze the network through the methods of research. The applied identifiers are designed to not only provide analysis of institutional structure differences but also seek to connect theoretical standpoints to concepts of governance. Understanding International Relations literature’s embracement of democratic theory in lieu of the recognition of transitional networks necessarily needs to bridge conditions of which will execute the prescriptions of democratic theory. Addressing representation, participation, and process of deliberation, the indicators within the typology are designed to expose and explore fundamental conditions apparent within these conversations of transnational democratic theory.

Table 1: Transnational Democratic Theory Typology





Justice; Ecological Ideals; Humanitarianism; Membership

Justice; Liberal Ideals; Affectedness Principle; Legitimacy and Accountability

Inclusion; Pluralism


Communitarian; Deliberative Democracy; Critical/Ecological Theory

Communitarian; Liberalism; Deliberative Democracy

Post-Structuralism; Discursive Democracy; Critical Theory



Provide basic rights and constituted by institutions

International Institutions: Provide protection of rights through Courts; interact with regional institutions

Civil Society:

Social and cultural life (inclusive of protests, networks, and deliberations) dialectically interact with institutions of the state


Foreign Policy with Cosmopolitan Justice; Embedded in National Institutions; Legislative

Constitution-building; Legislative

Discourse in civil society: social choice theory

Discursive shifts can influence public policy

Communicative power


Communicative power & administrative power; Consensus

Representation through elections

Intersubjective communication generates public opinion as outcome of contestation


Reciprocity, publicity, accountability (to constituents and other citizens, to citizens of other political systems, and to future generations);

Communicative rationality

Public-reason - rationality

Democracy is pluralistic; layered belief system

Politics of identity and difference

Deliberative and communicative core

Democratic evolution


PS interacts with National Institutions; Justice determined by consensus; National identity with loyalty to humankind

Participation by those affected

Public spheres, relatively unconstrained

Cosmopolitan Nationalism

The Cosmopolitan Nationalist approach to transnational democracy accepts the platform for cosmopolitan ideals but bounds them to the institutional frame of the nation-state, albeit not exclusively (Eckersley 2007, 675). Robyn Eckersley’s account of Cosmopolitan Nationalism extends itself beyond the boundaries of states but adopts a global, cosmopolitan, ideal. The role of national institutions remains as a political vessel to the international sphere. Citizens, though, reason through the deliberative process in conditions of reciprocity, publicity, and accountability (to constituents and other citizens, to citizens of other political systems, and to future generations) (Dryzek 2000, 17; Gutmann & Thompson, 2004; Eckersley 2007, 675). Eckersley’s position for civil society, therefore, influences foreign policy, legislation, and embeddness of national institutions. Furthermore, Habermasian conditions for communicative rationality and consensus are intended to appeal to national institutions (Habermas 1997, 55; Rehg 1998; Dryzek 2000, 25, 172).

The concept behind Eckersley’s Green State (2004) foremost lays out its priority for the instituting of a state represented predominantly upon reasoning of ecological value. The “green state” seeks to assert ecological responsibility in the political realm through constitutional structures.

By “green state” . . . I mean a democratic state whose regulatory ideals and democratic procedures are informed by ecological democracy rather than liberal democracy. Such a state may be understood as a postliberal state insofar as it emerges from an immanent (ecological) critique, rather than from an outright rejection, of liberal democracy. (Eckersley 2004, 2)

Establishing an ontological starting point, Eckersley approaches the theoretical design with emphasis in theoretical traditions of critical, ecological thought (Eckersley 2004). Building upon an immediate reaction to global ecological crises, Cosmopolitan Nationalism rests upon national institutions, as established, based on reliability and prioritization. Eckersley suggests capitalizing on institutions in place to address immediate concerns of social and ecological justice and based off of citizen membership of nation-states.

Eckersley’s adapts a Habermasian approach towards consensus-building within a specified territory, pivoting on the concept of membership, as it encompasses overlapping and contesting interests (Eckersley 2007, 682). Challenging the liberal scaling up of citizenry (or the ‘we’) in efforts to appeal to international institutions, Eckersley suggests, “The missing ‘we’ follows from the fact that the global identity associated with cosmopolitan global citizenship lacks two key elements that help to define a meaningful collective identity: collective continuity over time and collective differentiation from others” (Eckersley 2007, 682). As the public sphere is observed to be in consistent interaction with national institutions, Eckersley relies on national identity to bound citizens to one another for purposes of consensus and humanitarianism. While Cosmopolitan Nationalism is still bounded by national institutions, it is more open to debate within the public sphere than liberal democracy; civil society is understood to have a dialectical effect on legislative processes (Dryzek 2000, 23, 25). In other words, there is a duality of modern law in its procedural formation through a deliberative public as it exhibits pressure on responsive democratic institutions (Rehg 1998, xii-xiii). Eckersley acts as a proponent for these methods as means to (1) acknowledge effectiveness of national democratic institutions of which are already embraced and (2) as means to work on institutions from the inside-out rather than developing anew (Eckersley 2004; Eckersley 2007, 676).

(Liberal) Global Cosmopolitan Democracy

(Liberal) Global Cosmopolitan Democracy emerges from the liberal-institutionalist approach to democracy observed in democratic nation-states but seeks to ‘scale it up’ to accommodate the international sphere. Proponent of Global Cosmopolitan Democracy, David Held supports the formation of democratic procedures to conform to a role within international institutions and institution-building (Held 2003, 173; Held and Patomaki 2006, 121). Similar to Eckersley, Held adopts a cosmopolitan ontology in that all those who are affected should be represented in the democratic process. Moreover, the theoretical tradition is strongly communitarian6 and liberal in its pursuit of justice (Rawls 1997; Goodin 2003). Recognizing cosmopolitan elements embedded in global institutions, Held believes they have not served the purpose well to date and have “. . . by no means generated a new deep-rooted structure of cosmopolitan accountability and regulation” (Held 2003, 172). The primary actors within Held’s theory are representative of public cosmopolitan liberal ideals, including concepts of liberty, prosperity, and individualism, devised from agreed upon notions of justice.

Liberal democracy is fundamentally based on the reasoning of rational decisions made by the public and entrusted in elected leadership. Institutions such as courts and legislative bodies of which directly contribute to constitution-building are the main forums for democratic development and influence (Dryzek 2000, 12-14). Institutions responsible for democratic evolution require and constitute liberal rights as means to influence the democratic processes (Dryzek 2000, 10; Held and Patomaki 2006, 116, 123). In building a foundation for democracy on these agreed upon principles, higher-level institutional venues (and officials) advise the democratic process with the rationale of common good in mind. Citizen deliberation is, therefore, not a normal process of government arrangements but may effectively contribute to the democratic process through mechanisms of voting and prioritizing the pluralistic components of a democratic society (Rawls 1997; Dryzek 2000, 14; Held and Patomaki 2006, 129). Held offers the opportunity to increase legitimacy in international institutions, such as forums and subdivisions of the United Nations and international courts. Furthermore, legitimacy is given to particular populations affected by events or phenomena, and accountability is provided through constitutions supported by institutions and judicial processes.

Global Cosmopolitan Democracy, as adopted by Held, finds reasoning through Rawlsian ideals of public reason and ration (Rawls 1997). Rawls highly emphasizes the concept of justice as means to verify democratic procedures, and democratic institutions reciprocally verify justice through the belief and ability of the public to establish and constitute reason (Baber and Bartlett 2005, 50). In consideration of the conditions of transnationalism, public reason would be demonstrated and reflected in regional and international institutions in response to legal procedures founded by public reasoning and shared ideals. “A cosmopolitan polity can only be satisfactorily entrenched if a division of powers and competencies is recognized at different levels of political action and interconnectedness – levels which correspond to the degrees to which public issues stretch across borders and significantly affect diverse populations” (Held 2003, 174). Bridging institutional structure and cosmopolitan ideals, Held (2003) recognizes international institutional fallacies, but at the same time, is optimistic of powers of deliberation, reason, and common good to reshape political space.

Transnational Discursive Democracy

Rather than embracing liberalist notions of democratic formation, including reliance on traditional liberal institutions, John Dryzek is an advocate for a bottom-up based response to transnationalism through methods of discursive democracy (Dryzek 2000). Transnational Discursive Democracy theoretically bridges the critical components of Habermasian democracy, such as the relevance and significance of communicative action, with Chantal Mouffe’s discussion of agnostic pluralism (or radical democracy) (Dryzek 1990; Habermas 1992; Mouffe 2000). Prominence is given to values of inclusion and pluralism within the ideal of democracy as people come together through experiences and interactions. Similar to Habermas, Dryzek suggests public spheres remain an important venue for democratic discussions (Dryzek 2000, 23, 103, 131). Dryzek, though, establishes a much more flexible structure and expectation for democratic processes – unconstrained by institutional foundationalism and relevant in social and cultural life in forms of public action including protests to formal deliberations (Dryzek 2000, 60, 100). Discursive Democracy is not bounded by institutions of state or identity, but rather, is founded in a communicative base of similar interests.

Civil society takes prominence as venue by engaging in discourse to breakdown barriers of intersubjectivity, generating public opinions as outcomes of contestations (Dryzek 2000, 56). The communicative power of citizen discourse has direct influence on the process and can inform and transform democracy as it finds appropriate, unbounded by institutional expectations (Dryzek 2000, 131). Moreover, there are no vivid distinctions and expectations for what democracy should look like, rather, it is embraced as a continually evolving process (Mouffe 2000, 17). Here is where the bridge between Habermas and Mouffe is built as the approach adopts a post-structrualist understanding of discursion in consideration and pretense to understanding a transforming democratic system. Consensus, in the Habermasian prescription, is not theoretically sound as citizens’ deliberation is constantly within a paradigm of antagonism, contestation.

Essential to Transnational Discursive Democracy is its deliberative and communicative core (Dryzek 1999, 44). The deliberative component not only fosters democratic evolution but also perpetuates democratic identity as that of which reaches beyond boundaries of nation-states and encompasses contesting ideals of identity (Dryzek 1999, 48; Dryzek 2000, 60). The process of reasoning is founded on the politics of identity, contestation, and dialogue as citizens work through differences to address social disputes, and consequently, evolving the democratic process. Civil society organizing in forms of networks, protests, and deliberations is legitimized as it dialectically influences institutions and push for changes. Discursive Democracy embraces transnationalism and envisions it as the most radical democratic shift as it separates itself from formal institutionalization and cosmopolitan ideals but finds home in civil society – inclusive of networks, non-governmental organizations, and social movements.

Cosmopolitan Nationalism, (Liberal) Global Cosmopolitan Democracy, and Discursive Democracy all present distinct approaches to pursue or conceptualize transformations into transnational democracy. With different values prominent – ecological justice, global liberalism, and pluralism – each pave a different path with different goals for how to readdress the limitations of state-based democracy. The three approaches to transnational democracy are presented to inform the World Wide Views project as a phenomenon. The process of analysis will be elaborated on in the following section as I present the typology as an analytical tool and attempt to shed light on the practicalities of transnational democratic exercises in lieu of the authors’ discussions.
Research Design

At the onset of my academic interest in the WWViews process, I began collecting data on individual organizational hosts sites in efforts to begin to paint strokes towards a comprehensive understanding of network diversity. Using methods of web-based content analysis, I utilized organization and affiliated websites to collect the following qualitative information from (at the time) 36 international sites7: (1) organization and affiliated networks, (2) organization mission statements, (3) association to World Wide Views’ agenda, (4) number of years as an organization, and (5) if the organization was environmentally affiliated. The web-based content sought to provide two main extractions of data – content for organizational capacity analysis of the network and insight for interviews with selected site managers. Three separate result typologies were created, representing citizen, network, and DBTF analysis.

Results: Theory in Praxis

The practice of transnational democracy through the case of World Wide Views on Biodiversity exhibits characteristics of the theories of Cosmopolitan Nationalism, Global Cosmopolitanism, and Transnational Discursive Democracy in the intersection of all actor levels: citizen, site hosts, and the Danish Board of Technology. While the network arises out of civil society networking, the design of the event focuses on legitimizing representation through the Convention on Biological Diversity, a convention formed through the United Nations. Citizen results, though, show strong support for national policies to protect biodiversity loss. The questions then become: Are theories of transnational democracy speaking past one another? Or is there disjunction in the operations of World Wide Views? I suggest it’s neither, but rather, speaks to the complexity of the network and the ideas it represents.

As the indicators provided a starting point for theoretical comparisons, in application they connect embedded axiological, ontological, and epistemological assumptions of the network to theoretical design. The observations and ability to identify through the indicators supports the notion that transnational democratic theory is applicable to analysis of WWVB. As Table 2: Transnational Democratic Practice illustrates, each indicator aligns with particular characteristics of practices, actors, institutes, or ideas situated within the network.

Table 2: Transnational Democratic Practice: World Wide Views on Biodiversity






Missions of institutes in the network included environmentally-focused and nationally-affiliated institutes; Regional demographic representation

Network founded to address democratic deficit of citizen recognition in international policy-making

Structure requirements for demographic inclusion; Missions of institutes in network include citizen participation in science and technology


Network developed around international environmental dialogue

Network established under tradition of deliberations; Practicality to establish citizen recognition on international level

Network established as an ‘idea’ by the DBT; Expansion of previous initiatives


Some actors identify as national institutes; Strong encouragement to use results to appeal to national policy; Regional sites by national identity

Contribution to reaching Aichi Biodiversity Target 1 of the CBD Strategic Plan

DBT as central to network; Sites join through snowballing outreach through partners


Citizen support for national policy on biodiversity conservation; One case used results for city planning; Some cases directly associated with national institutions

Official recognition from the CBD and supported to continue as an international project

Material and reports dispersed to policymakers, citizens, media; Results/Material used for side projects including youth outreach and research; Strong reliance on informative video and material


Structure provided uniformity and opportunity to influence national legislation; Consensus not enforced

Voting procedure by citizens; Quantitative, comparable results; Strict voting structure for presentation of representation

Deliberative (qualitative) conversations not recorded; Design of structure critiqued for lack of qualitative results


Desire for process and opinions to be reflected upon by citizens and policymakers within the political system

Citizens reflect on deliberation, order values, and vote

National results express differences in culture; Process understood to be ‘constantly reinvented’ and evolving


Citizens identified by nationality with loyalty to solving global biodiversity issues; Citizen results support for ecological value over economic

Citizens value biodiversity loss as a global crisis; All-affected

Varying reasons for individual citizen participation

Implications of Practice for Cosmopolitan Nationalism

Site hosts and citizens exhibit conditions supportive of a Cosmopolitan Nationalist approach to transnational democracy through ideological values and conditions of the public sphere. Citizen results do seem to support the notion that education and engagement in ecological issues maintains a value for policy enforcement and reform. In Eckersley’s idea of post-liberal democracy, citizen values shift from predominantly economic to predominantly ecological. Citizen response to the question of biodiversity protection in lieu of economic gains provides optimism for citizen value shift, possibly presenting a foundation or beginning reformation of citizen ideals. Although citizens discursively suggest a shift in liberal conceptions, actions according to these principles may vary or not hold outside of the deliberative event without institutional support.

Global citizen voice represents great concern for biodiversity loss, but how these voices provide influence in deliberative systems differs from the map provided by Eckersley’s Cosmopolitan Nationalism. For one, the deliberative forums are not instituted by national affiliations with the intent of directly feeding back into national democratic debate. Rather, there is only suggestion in the methodological design of the process. Partners who did engage a national forum found little or no influence in biodiversity policy changes. The goals of the network encouraged reflection of citizen consultations in national forums but were not the anticipated outcome. Secondly, because the consultations were designed to be foremost legitimized in international negotiations on biodiversity, uniformity for national processes were not pursued or enforced. Furthermore, the abilities for national democratic appeal very much differ within political landscapes of network countries. One can assume the process for implementing deliberative forums on biodiversity may be constructed very differently from China to Canada, Palestine to Denmark. Although national ministry representatives to the COP were engaged and informed of their countries’ results, ministries are not delegates within national institutions.
Implications of Practice for (Liberal) Global Cosmopolitanism

World Wide Views on Biodiversity most effectively displays characteristics of (Liberal) Global Cosmopolitanism in its deliberative design and interaction with international institutions. It is clear the design’s intent is to meet the goals of WWVB to appeal to and be recognized by (and even effective in) international negotiations. The design is strategic in its approach and able to source funding and support from the Convention. The road to permanent legitimization of citizen participation in international environmental negotiations may be along the path the World Wide Views alliance has begun to lay. The process could ultimately build the foundation for international legislative requirements for citizen feedback that are presently absent and of contribution to the democratic deficit Global Cosmopolitanism seeks to address.

Some critiques warn, though, that such a process would be beating the same drum of liberalism, curtailing from real problems of democratic deficiency. “We tend to think of the UN in terms of these romanticized contexts, but I think we also forget that the UN has interests,” one voice of feedback suggested, “…It’s not as though they are disinterested bystanders that just have provided a forum for different voices to be heard.” There are troubling realities of the Untied Nations as a forum for citizen voices to be recognized which may include, but is not limited to, that delegates at the United Nations are not citizen-elected officials and no direct accountability to citizen concerns. Moreover, questions of legitimacy and effectiveness of the United Nations and affiliated international institutions still hangs in question in Global Cosmopolitanism. The issue of symbolism in soft law versus the effectiveness of enforced hard law has spurred academic conversations for decades.
Implications of Practice for Transnational Discursive Democracy

Transnational Discursive Democracy shows most prominently in site host and DBT design analysis, although both citizen response and site hosts agree in favor of the educational materials used for the deliberations. I highlight the overlapping opinions in lieu of the communicative core of Discursive Democracy. Scientific and social information distributed to participants proved to be a positive tool for all parties. There is solidifying contentment with the information provided as the basic talking point and connection. These ideas of citizen deliberations and biodiversity issues snowballed a network of affiliates together in a common project. The capacity of the network exemplifies possibilities of civil society around a common idea, as suggested in Transnational Discursive Democracy. While the power of a communicative network is demonstrated in the organizing of World Wide Views on Biodiversity, the strength and extent of the network may come into question against such as: Would the network be more successful if it was institutionalized? Would greater decentralization and less strict and demanding procedures allow the network greater capacity to expand?

The design of WWViews, though, is continually evolving. Because the network or process is not constitutionalized, there is allowance for greater flexibility to exceptions and challenges. The flexibility in design and acknowledgement as an evolving project alleviates experimental pressures of one-off success of design and implementation. The network sees strength and longevity in the project and design to evolve and enacts such changes. Moreover, the network sees itself as part of a larger deliberative system with a communicative core to its existence. WWViews ability to evolve creates adaptability and resilience in its structure and could possibly benefit by allowing for greater flexibility and demands on individual site host locations.

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