An article by Sasikumar S. Sundaram - freshly graduated Alumnus of our PhD program - has been published in Polity

February 20, 2017

Norm Contestation and Global Governance: Taking Actor Configurations and Practical Reasoning Seriously

Central European University, Budapest

A Theory of Contestation is an ambitious and rather challenging book that brings ideas from public philosophy to international relations analysis, but reaches far beyond existing debates on global governance. Wiener offers a theory of contestation and engages with the question of legitimacy in global governance from a new perspective. One helpful way Wiener suggests to think about the overall project she undertakes is to consider it in the context of a broadly critical constructivist approach to normativity. For critical constructivists, the meaning of norms is both constituted by and constitutive of specific uses by actors. In other words, norms are both structuring and constructed by actors through social practice. They do not merely function as “causal factors” that uniformly create some behavioral responses in the social world. To turn this conception of norms into an account of addressing actual governance challenges that are faced by political actors in inter-national relations, contends Wiener, one needs to embrace contestation as the basis of democratic legitimacy in global governance rather than as an obstacle to social order. The central task Wiener undertakes is to provide an account of how norm contestation works as a practice and how it can fill —not close—the legitimacy gap in international relations. Using three thinking tools—the normativity premise, the diversity premise, and the concept of cultural cosmopolitanism—Wiener outlines a theory of contestation based on contestedness as a meta-organizing principle of legitimate governance in the global realm. One of the book’s original contributions is its claim that in order for the legitimacy gap between fundamental norms and standardized procedures to be filled, one needs to recognize the importance of organizing principles at the intermediate level as a stabilizing force for global governance and to provide access to regular contestation at this level for all involved stakeholders.

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