Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Conference: Global Public Goods, Global Commons and Democracy: Interdisciplinary Perspectives

On February 22-23, 2016, the Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies will host a conference on "Global Public Goods, Global Commons and Democracy: Interdisciplinary Perspectives." The program is here. Here's the idea:

The immediate aftermath of the end of the Cold War sparked a new cosmopolitan enthusiasm for global goods, such as the environment, public health or knowledge, to be commonly governed. With the support of UNDP, a group of renowned scholars coined the term “global public goods” to express and frame the challenges urgently faced by the international community. Drawing a comparison with the literature on public goods at the level of the nation State, it was suggested that supreme international coordination was required to overcome the structural deprivation of certain public goods on a global level. The term has since then enjoyed a spectacular success and permeated much of the international policy discourse. Around the same time, many social activists across the world united around the idea that “the world was not for sale”, i.e. that not all goods were meant to be commodified, and that some areas of social life should remain governed as commons. The reference to a governance of the “(global) commons” as an alternative to both the State and the market has subsequently become central in many transnational social movements.

As a consequence, two different theoretical concepts, each relying on distinct analytical frameworks, have materialized. Although the two approaches overlap partly, they also hint at a different kind of literature and carry a different set of political, economic and legal implications. Furthermore, they put forward contrasting views on several key points, such as the role of the State, multilateral organizations (in particular the United Nations) and international law in providing global public goods and preserving the global commons. As a consequence of globalization and the perceived democratic deficit in the functioning of international organizations and global governance, an additional development soon emerged: a political discourse in support of global democracy and/or democratizing global governance. This led to a debate on the shortcomings of global governance mechanisms and how they can be addressed.

The present two-day international conference will explore the economic, legal and political underpinnings, premises and implications of global public goods and global commons for global governance institutions and international organizations, especially in relationship with the debate on their (non)-democratic nature. The conference aims to assess, from an interdisciplinary perspective, how the respective discourses surrounding global public goods and global commons diverge in their relation to global democracy, and in particular, to the advancement of democracy in global governance and international organizations. The aim is to turn the proceedings of this conference into a flagship publication.

We welcome, alongside a carefully selected cast of paper presenters, two eminent keynote speakers. Prof. Dr. Inge Kaul will open the conference with a keynote lecture on the relevance of the concept of global public goods. Subsequently, during the first day, three panels will focus on (i) an analytical comparison of both approaches in different disciplines, (ii) the role of democracy in the governance of global public goods and global commons, and (iii) the principle of the common heritage of mankind. At the beginning of the second day, Prof. Dr. Pierre Dardot will deliver a keynote lecture on the motives of his preference for the term global commons over the term global public good. Afterwards, a first panel will approach the issue of the structures of power underlying the governance of global goods. A second panel will ponder the added value of framing old issues in terms of common goods. The conference will culminate in a dialogue between Prof. Dr. Inge Kaul and Prof. Dr. Pierre Dardot and will be concluded with critical summaries by the rapporteurs.

The conference will bring new and refreshing insights to a larger interdisciplinary research programme, “Global Governance and Democratic Government”, which the Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies conducts as part of its KU Leuven Centre of Excellence status. This programme involves six doctoral and two postdoctoral researchers and several associated professors working across disciplines in order to provide a political paradigm able to reconcile governance and democracy on the international scene.