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Interregionalism  – multi-lateral meetings between different regions – has become an important aspect of governing global economic, financial and political issues. One such interregional exchange is the Asia-Europe Meeting, (ASEM). The 8th meeting just has been taking place in Brussels 5th-6th of October. ASEM is an informal dialogue bringing together Heads of Governments of the 27 EU Member States and 16 Asian countries, the European Commission and the ASEAN Secretariat.

The first ASEM meeting took place in Bangkok in 1996 in order to foster economic development and counterbalance the US influence in the Asian region. While these meetings are informal and non-binding, they are nevertheless aiming at strengthening economic and political relationships between countries. This year’s summit was dominated by the  financial and economic crisis. Under the heading ”More Effective Global Economic Governance” European and Asian officials agreed upon closer economic cooperation as well as financial coordination, and stressed the importance of sustainable growth and climate protection goals.

Such meetings – as international trade politics in general – suffers from the lack of democratic participation and support of citizens. Negotiations take place behind closed doors, the negotiation processes are intransparent and the parliaments are largely shut out of such processes. Consultative bodies and advisory committees are dominated by business interests or business affiliated lobbying groups.

As a response to the lack of transparency and democratic checks and balances, unions and NGOs found counter summit, the Asia-Europe People’s Forum (ASEF) where labor unions and social movements across Asia and Europe expressed their concerns about marketization and demanded  a “social and market regulatory dimension” of trade negotiations.

But in how far does challenging this global economic governance institution contribute to any kind of change?

At first sight it looks like a success story: Labor, environmental and human rights issues play a promomient role in the final ASEM declaration and the ASEM leaders promised a people-to-people approach. But the disappointment about the discrepancies between words and action is huge.

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I’ve recently been reading through the thought-provoking  (albeit somewhat attention-grabbingly titled) book Participation: The New Tyranny?. The authors from a broad range of disciplinary backgrounds take on the paradigm of participatory development from various angles, from failing to account for local power asymmetries and élite capture, to the technicalist perfunctory nature of many participation processes.

Part of Bill Cooke’s chapter entitled “The Social Psychological Limits of Participation?” caught my eye because of his consise elucidation of groupthink and its relation to development policy-making and practice, both at the transnational and the local level.

In a debate I had last month on this blog with David Roodman of CGD about Milford Bateman’s book, I levied what I thought was a rather strong charge against the (so-called, self-proclaimed) microfinance community: that its world-view is skewed and closed-off by mechanisms of groupthink. That was because I was trying to defend Milford Bateman’s argument against a misconception of  his critics, that he held a conspiracy theory of microfinance and neoliberalism. I begged to differ by explaining Bateman’s analysis of the microfinance community as a transnational epistemic community plagued by group-typical groupthink.

So I thought I’d put my allegation to a brief test here against Irving Janis‘ eight symptoms of groupthink as summed up by Bill Cooke:

Sypmptom 1: The illusion of invulnerability “An over-optimism about the power of the group and the lack of any real threat to the status quo.”

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The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
October 2010
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