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Whose rules? The institutional diffusion and variation of private participatory governance

Schleifer, Philip (2014) Whose rules? The institutional diffusion and variation of private participatory governance. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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As a mode of global sustainability regulation, private participatory governance first emerged in the forestry sector in the early 1990s and from there spread rapidly and widely in the global economy. The literature on the topic points to a good fit with democratic norms, neoliberal norms, social movement pressure, and the entrepreneurial activities of civil society actors and progressive firms as the main drivers behind this process of institutional diffusion. Today, multi-stakeholder initiatives operate in many industry sectors, ranging from apparel manufacturing and diamond mining to aquaculture production and soybean farming. Drawing on new developments in the philosophy of democracy, some see these arrangements as part of a ‘deliberative turn’ in sustainability politics with the potential to democratise global governance institutions. However, the legitimacy of multi-stakeholder initiatives remains contested, and there is evidence to suggest that the diffusion of private participatory governance in the global economy has introduced variation in a key dimension of institutional design: whereas some schemes involve a wide range of actors in their governance and standard-setting activities, others are significantly less inclusive. In order to explore this puzzle, this dissertation unpacks the process of institutional diffusion. It develops an analytical framework that distinguishes three stages in the diffusion process: source selection, transmission, and adoption. For the different stages, hypotheses are formulated about the factors that “intervene” in the diffusion process, leading to more or less inclusive institutional outcomes. This framework is put to work in three case study chapters, examining the diffusion of private participatory governance in the biofuels, soy, and sugarcane sectors. A major finding of this study is that varying levels of coercive institutional pressures influenced the diffusion outcome in the cases studied. In environments characterised by strong coercive pressures (biofuels and soy), adopting a more inclusive approach served institutional designers as a strategy to gain political authority – that is, legitimate decision-making power – in these arenas. In comparison, in the low conflict environment of the sugarcane sector, no comparable process of ‘institutional fitting’ could be observed. Furthermore, this dissertation shows that ideas about private participatory governance are far from set in stone. While multi-stakeholder institutions diffuse in the global economy, late adopters learn from the experiences of prior adopters. Based on these experiences and the lessons they draw from them, they interpret, innovate, and de- and recontextualise the model, giving rise to institutional variation.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2014 Philip Schleifer
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor > HD28 Management. Industrial Management
J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
J Political Science > JZ International relations
Sets: Departments > International Relations
Supervisor: Falkner, Robert

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