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Private experiments in global governance: primary commodity roundtables and the politics of deliberation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 October 2012

James Brassett
Associate Professor, International Political Economy, Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK
Ben Richardson
Assistant Professor, International Political Economy, Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK
William Smith
Assistant Professor, Social and Political Theory, Department of Government and Public Administration, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, Hong Kong


Emerging scholarship on global governance offers ever-more detailed analyses of private regulatory regimes. These regimes aim to regulate some area of social activity without a mandate from, or participation of, states or international organizations. While there are numerous empirical studies of these regimes, the normative theoretical literature has arguably struggled to keep pace with such developments. This is unfortunate, as the proliferation of private regulatory regimes raises important issues about legitimacy in global governance. The aim of this paper is to address some of these issues by elaborating a theoretical framework that can orientate normative investigation of these schemes. It does this through turning to the idea of experimentalist governance. It is argued that experimentalism can provide an important and provocative set of insights about the processes and logics of emerging governance schemes. The critical purchase of this theory is illustrated through an application to the case of primary commodities roundtables, part of ongoing attempts by non-governmental organizations, producers, and buyers to set sustainability criteria for commodity production across a range of sectors. The idea of experimentalist governance, we argue, can lend much needed theoretical structure to debates about the normative legitimacy of private regulatory regimes.

Original Papers
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012

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