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Thursday, October 15th 2009 was a day of good news. The FT print version headlined “JP Morgan profits lift the Dow”, as JPM posted a net income of 3.6 billion US $ in the three months leading up to September (online article of similar contents). Goldman Sachs posted earnings of nearly as much, as the DOW soared above 10,000.

A good time to be unemployed (for the wealthy)

Meanwhile, the preparatory discussions for Germany’s new coalition government brought an improvement for Germany’s unemployed. If the new government goes forth with its plans, unemployed people will be allowed up to 750 Euros savings per year of age (up from currently only 250) – that means, for instance, if you’re 30 years old and lose your job, you’ll be allowed 22,500 Euros on your bank account and still receive minimum social security cheques (Hartz IV). Sadly, however, according to local radio station WDR5 last night, only 0.2 per cent of currently unemployed people will benefit. It seems appropriate, therefore, to call the move mere “social cosmetics”, as the Frankfurter Rundschau did.

Probably the best financial news of the day was that the top 23 financial institutions in the USA (alone) will pay out 140 billion US $ in bonuses this year, as the Wall Street Jounal reported – the biggest round of bonuses ever. And that’s among a significantly reduced population of bankers compared to 2007. Goldman Sachs is paying out 743,112 Dollars per employee, on average.

Thursday, October 15th 2009 was also a day of bad news, however, though reported by fewer. At least, the left-leaning German newspaper “die tageszeitung” (taz) framed the good news above in a shocking fashion by underscoring it with pictures of starving Ethiopians. Read the rest of this entry »

According to the press release of the Nobel Foundation, Elinor Ostrom was awarded The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel aka Nobel Prize in Economics “for her analysis of economic governance, especially the commons”.

Both, economic governance and commons are recurrent themes in this blog. And while most of Ostrom’s works deal with traditional commons such as forests or fisheries, Creative Commons’ Vice President Mike Linksvayer was eager to point to an article on knowledge commons she co-authored with Charlotte Hess titled “Ideas, Artifacts, and Facilities: Information as a Common-Pool Resource”.

Nevertheless, I fear that applying Ostrom’s insights for transnational governance of transnational commons is far from trivial. This is emphasized in the very article mentioned above for the example of scholarly information:

“But analyzing the whole ecosystem of scholarly information is much more tenuous than in Governing the Commons, where (1) the boundaries were clear, (2) the resource systems studied were small and easy to observe, (3) solving problems was of high salience to appropriators, (4) institutions were long-enduring and had evolved over time, and (5) extensive field observation was available.


Information, on the other hand, often has complex tangible and intangible attributes: fuzzy boundaries, a diverse community of users on local, regional, national, and international levels, and multiple layers of rule-making institutions.” (p. 132)

And as Sean Safford at orgtheory states, Ostrom’s main conclusion for governing traditional commons is “that coordination happens through self-organization and local (very local) governance”.

Consequently, Ostrom herself makes a difference between local and global commons. Together with others, she lists the following “challenges to establish global institutions to manage biodiversity, climate change, and other ecosystem services” in a Science-article titled “Revisiting the Commons” (2007, p. 282 f.):

  • Scaling-up problem. Large numbers of participants lead to greater “difficulty of organizing, agreeing on rules, and enforcing rules.”
  • Cultural diversity challenge. While diversity can be an asset, Ostrom et al. fear that it also “can decrease the likelihood of finding shared interests and understandings.”
  • Complications of interlinked common-pool-resources. Global issues have more interactions and, with increased specialization, become more interdependent, which also increases the difficulty of governance.
  • Accelerating rates of change, which make, due to Ostrom et al., “’Learning by doing’ […] increasingly difficult, as past lessons are less and less applicable to current problems.”
  • Requirement of unanimous agreement as a collective-choice rule for global resource management.
  • We have only one globe with which to experiment, which leaves “less leeway less leeway for mistakes at the local level, while at the global level there is no place to move.”

To sum it up, as far as transnational governance of common pool resources are concerned, Elinor Ostrom’s work predominantly helps in identifying difficulties. For finding solutions, however, these works – according to herself and her colleagues – at best “provide starting points for addressing future challenges.” (p. 282)


This entry is part of a series in which we discuss concepts and phenomena in the field of transnational studies.

The major critique of cosmopolitan sociology on empirical research in social sciences is its methodological nationalism. Methodological nationalism means that most studies define (explicitly or implicitly) the nation state as the container of social processes. Thus the nation state unit is the key-order for studying major social, economic and political processes. One of the major critics of such a perspective, Ulrich Beck, argues that it is wrongly based on assumptions of the congruence of political, cultural and social borders. The nation state perspective doesn’t capture transnational linkages, structures or identities.

But how can one analyze transnational phenomena empirically? It is a fundamental problem of research on transnationalism that most data sets and strategies of social inquiry are nation state bound. That makes inferences on transnational phenomena difficult or impossible. This methodological problem is therefore fundamentally linked with sociological concept formation, which is  – from a cosmopolitan perspective –   nation state bound and thus unable capture the multi-dimensional process of change.  Or as Beck and Sznaider formulate it:

The decisive point is that national organization as a structuring principle of societal and political action can no longer serve as the orienting reference point for the social scientific observer (Beck and Sznaider 2006).

Read the rest of this entry »

Governance across borders or transnational governance looks at rule making, standard setting and institution building across borders. Empirically one can see the rise of a variety of patterns of regulatory governance. But transnational regulations are only one aspect of a whole field of transnational phenomena. Social life has always crossed, connected or transformed borders and boundaries.  Social processes have been transborder even before the spread of the nation-state system, as well as states also got shaped transnationally. Hirst and Thompson for example analyse different historical forms of transnational markets and long before the rise of the nation state.

Other transnational processes include transnational social movements, migration, communities, citizenship but also religion or various cultural practices (see for example Olgas entry on transnational ideas and local culture). In Europe, progress has been made specifically in regards to transnational phenomena within the European union, on debates about a European governance, public sphere or a collective identity (see for example also the new European Journal of Transnational Studies ) .

So far, there is no real discipline of transnational studies, but only a fragmented body of scholarship across sub-fields of sociology and other social science disciplines. To get into dialogue with and to learn from the insights of some of these studies, some general questions on transnationalism should be raised here, in a new series on transnational studies: What does it imply to analyze the global, national, local through transnational lenses for different approaches? Which phenomena are identified as transnational, how and why? How are the phenomena analyzed, how are flows or identities that cross certain spaces captured? How do transnational theories or theory building interact with traditional theories? And finally, what do all these different perspectives, including the governance research have in common, where are the biggest differences and what can we learn from each other? These are only some of the questions, which I think are important to discuss in order to be able to better understand transboundary social processes.


Sigrid Quack and Leonhard Dobusch comment on the election results of the German “Piratenpartei” based on their research project “The Copyright Dispute”.

On Sunday, 27 September 2009, the Pirate Party running for the first time in German federal elections promptly won 2 percent of the votes. In some constituencies, particularly in university towns and urban centres, it gained up to 6 percent. In total, 850.000 voters cast their ballot for the Pirate Party (see official results and DW-World).

Piratenergebnisse-BRD-WebWhile this result does not bring the Pirate Party into the German parliament because of its 5 percent barring clause, this is nevertheless a quite impressive result for a young party which was founded only three years ago. Just to compare, the Green Party gained only 1.5 percent in its first run for German Federal elections in 1980, even though it had reunified a number of regional parties with experience in municipal councils and Länder parliaments. According to Forschungsgruppe Wahlen, an independent polling institute, the gains of the Pirate Party are part of a “historic gain’” of small parties in the last elections.

First signs of the Pirate Party gaining electoral support became visible in the elections for the European Parliament earlier on 7 June this year, where the Pirate Party obtained 0.9 percent (see also “Copyright Related Social Movements: Pirate Parties and the European Parliamentary Elections”). In the North Rhine-Westphalian communal elections on 30 August, members of the Pirate Party gained seats in the municipal councils of the cities of Münster and Aachen. In parallel to its public visibility and electoral support, the membership of the Pirate Party has been growing rapidly to currently close to 10,000 members, out of which about 8,000 joined the party during the last four months.

Still, this leaves interesting questions about what made nearly a million people vote for a relatively unknown and unestablished party, and what the perspectives of this party are for the next elections in North Rhine-Westphalia in 2010. Is the Pirate Party comparable to a “Biertrinker-Partei” (“beer drinker party”), as suggested by political scientist Oscar W. Gabriel (see, German), and is therefore its success a short flash that will disappear as soon as it popped up?

In the following we will suggest that to be better understood, the development of the Pirate Party in Germany needs to be situated in a broader context: The gains of the Pirate Party build on both, a network of transnational activists criticising an, in their view, unbalanced extension of copyright protection and more localised social movements concerned with new data retention and surveillance plans. The internet is the place where these rather broad trends enter everyday life experience of people, and particularly those of having jobs in computing, software, creative industries, media, education, research, universities – not to speak of the palpable and rather concrete experiences of all those who wish to download music, share files and access open content in their free time. Read the rest of this entry »

The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
October 2009

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