Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Negotiating Internet Governance$

Roxana Radu

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780198833079

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198833079.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2019. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 14 November 2019

Conclusion: Reflections on a Global Issue Domain

Conclusion: Reflections on a Global Issue Domain

Chapter:
(p.191) 7 Conclusion: Reflections on a Global Issue Domain
Source:
Negotiating Internet Governance
Author(s):

Roxana Radu

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780198833079.003.0007

Abstract and Keywords

The final chapter sums up the findings of the book and highlights the contributions of this study to international relations and to Internet governance, both theoretically and empirically. It clarifies how the findings of this research fit in the ongoing policy debates and in the global governance scholarship, while providing clues for understanding current trends and developments in the field. Reflecting on the value of the research agenda proposed here, this chapter notes the theoretical implications of studying the origins and articulation of global fields of power over time. Last but not least, it offers analytical directions for future explorations of governance emergence and structuration in nascent policy domains.

Keywords:   internet governance, multilateralism, private actors, emergence, articulation, international relations, public policy, theory

More than half a century after the deployment of the packet switching technology and twenty-plus years after the rollout of the World Wide Web and the rise of e-commerce, the Internet is a constant of modern life. Enticing and convoluted, its evolution from a technical experiment in internetworking to a ubiquitous presence encapsulates the tensions of globalization in the most concrete manner. The global governance of the Internet remains at odds with the research traditions of international relations (IR), none of them fully accommodating this new issue domain. As this study has shown, the Internet presents us with a ‘bricolage’ picture: different forms and varieties of governance emerging, with various degrees of institutionalization, at different stages and degrees of (re)negotiation, with varying degrees of success in addressing global concerns.

The prime objective of this analysis was to unpack the complexity of Internet governance (IG) and present a new analytical perspective for examining its genesis and structuration as a domain of global governance. This perspective, derived from the constructivist approach to IR, places IG amidst a changing global order and takes into account the broader context in which the debates over global rules regulating the network of networks are framed. Whether we discuss cybersecurity or an ethical framework for artificial intelligence (AI), it is the characteristics of the governance system in place that shape future decision-making processes.

The dataset constructed for this study—consisting of 311 governance instruments—provided a unique entry point for mapping and assessing the mechanisms and actors in the field. Spanning more than four decades, the governance instruments recorded here were assessed in interaction with external driving forces and with power positions specific to the field. The enactment of governance in this issue domain was further deconstructed along a praxis dimension, exploring dominant routines adopted by the core (p.192) community forming around IG. This holistic account, grounded historically, helps us understand the totality of debates constructing the Internet.

In the periodization exercise, three phases were identified as key to the evolution of the field. For each of these stages, specific governance patterns surfaced: (1) the early days of the Internet were dominated by informal governance and focused on technical standards (1970s to 1994); (2) the globalization of the Internet was closely linked to an increasing role of private actors and the salience of the market-oriented approach (1995–2004); and (3) the decade of global regulatory arrangements (2005–15) brought hybrid configurations to the fore, privileging cross-sectoral partnerships. Post-2015, new power trends indicate a stronger position of a limited number of companies and states, clashing more frequently over the fundamentals of governing the field. Across various subfields, whether related to infrastructure and critical resources, cybersecurity, legal issues, digital economy, ICT for development (ICT4D), or civil liberties, legacy configurations and specific patterns of community development predefine the terms on which governance is exercised.

This chapter presents comparatively the findings of this research covering more than four decades. An evolutionary perspective is offered for the IG community-building practices and internal dynamics. The empirical analysis brings us back to normative questions related to the creation of systems of global rule and opens a theoretical reflection on the constitution of IG as a global power field. The remainder of this chapter explores implications beyond this issue domain for the research agenda proposed here and potential future directions.

Findings

Originally designed as a technological facility for the use of academics and researchers, the NSFNET became the backbone of the global network which is currently an integral part of our social life. Coupled with a deregulatory approach, the worldwide development of the Internet led to a strong focus on legal, economic, and developmental aspects, subsequently reaffirmed at the UN-organized World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) in 2003 and 2005. The fast and substantial growth of the issue domain was fomented by technical developments and by an unprecedented institutional expansion. As the network grew manifold, the range of actors interested in its governance diversified; from the small group of individuals operating in loose structures at the outset, we nowadays have a highly diverse set of actors and a formalized system of rules (re)defined in numerous settings.

(p.193) Illustrative of this transformation is also the rising number of governance mechanisms applicable to the Internet, as summarized in Table 7. These take three main forms: legal enshrinement, institutional solidification, and modelling. In the last decade, the majority of these were specifically designed for the Internet. As for their binding power, the predominance of soft law instruments over hard law is hardly surprising: treaties and conventions are generally signed by governmental actors and are not open to new(er) actors in the international system, such as civil society groups or businesses. In IG, there has been intense political contestation surrounding legally binding agreements, revealed, for instance, in the lengthy negotiations around the specific wording of the WSIS outcome documents in 2003 and 2005, but also in 2012 at the World Conference on International Telecommunication. For the majority of concerned stakeholders, preference appears to be given to modelling activities, be they discursive or operational, in order to influence (p.194) the behaviour of other actors in this space. This deliberate choice signals their positioning in a field under construction in which priorities change fast.

Table 7 Overview of IG issues, instruments, and mechanisms over time

Timeframe

No. of instruments recorded

Broad vs. specific

Salient issues

Dominant Mechanisms

Dominant instruments

1969–93

25

90% vs. 10%

Infrastructure and technical standards

Legal enshrinement

Treaties

Security

Operative modelling

Guidelines

Institutional solidification

Specialized bodies

1994–2004

74

45% vs. 55%

Legal

Operative modelling

Model law, guidelines

Cybercrime

Discursive modelling

Recommendations, charters

Digital economy

Legal enshrinement

Treaties and conventions

2005–15

212

34% vs. 66%

Cybersecurity

Discursive modelling

Guiding principles

Civil liberties

Operative modelling

Model laws

Institutional solidification

Global agendas

The extent to which soft and hard law mechanisms coexist brings forward two important insights: the first is the fact that the logics of action pertaining to different actors involved in IG constrain the design of new rules; the second is the reality of multiple governance negotiations held simultaneously in different venues with minimum interaction across. The latter results in contestation at various levels, ranging from street protests (as in the case of ACTA) to the initiation of UN resolutions. Among the most salient issues in Internet-related discussions and governance actions, cybersecurity was a constant preoccupation for the main actors. It is in this area that all the different types of governance instruments were concentrated over the last two decades, but the search for cyber norms is not yet over. A securitization approach continues to be noticeable post-2015, especially as some initiatives involve more closely the private sector or are indeed proposed by companies. A similar level of concern could be observed in the 1990s for legal and economic developments, or for the promotion of civil liberties in the WSIS decade, setting the foundations for the structuration of the field.

Since its early days, authority remained embedded in horizontal structures such as technical communities, and in hierarchical ones, creating a decentralized system with one point of final control: the US government. Gradually, the hierarchical relations reconfigured as more and more governments started to participate actively in ruling the network by introducing domestic changes or by defining mandates inside international organizations and establishing specialized bodies.

Developing countries versus developed countries, smaller business players versus market dominant ones, and governments versus corporations are dichotomies that still apply to IG, adding to the specific tensions inherent to the maturation of the field. As this book shows, the rules designed for the Internet cannot be secluded from power plays, ultimately resulting in a certain variability of authority structures and exhibiting a hybrid character.

In addition to divergences over technical challenges, such as the need to maintain a unique, reliable, and resilient network, conflict over an appropriate model of IG has been recurrent, demonstrating the perpetuation of the high political stakes attached to this domain. The informal management of the Internet at the outset nurtured a culture of consensus that became dominant in the technical community. Negotiations on Internet matters outside these bodies remained, however, circumscribed to ‘politics as usual’, introducing a diversity of perspectives grounded in socioeconomic and power logics that have over time permeated the discussions on infrastructure, standards, and management of critical resources. The global rise of the commercial (p.195) network and related controversies in the late 1990s led to a formalization of practices and subsequently to their institutionalization. The anchoring practices discussed here—Request for Comments, multi-stakeholder participation, and ad hoc expert groups—reinforced the power distribution on two levels: the first was the global ordering reflecting who gets to govern and on what terms; the second pertained to the specific praxis among active IG participants, delineating volunteers from professionals, experts from non-experts, and last but not least, reaffirming categories of stakes.

This book’s historical approach uncovered the way in which personal interactions played out in the construction of a governance regime for the precursor of the Internet, ARPANET. The individuals with a critical role in sowing the seeds of institutional design remained highly influential throughout the following decades, either as community leaders or as corporate actors. Among these, Steve Crocker, Jon Postel, Robert Kahn, and Vint Cerf led a series of institutional developments that left an authoritative legacy. Similarly, the small group of people involved in negotiating the creation of ICANN became highly influential in discussions at WSIS and continues to form the core of the IG transnational network. Elements of informality continue to structure this issue domain, and ad hoc formations remain a constant, be it in the specialized work of technical bodies or as part of expert groups in various policy processes.

With the growing importance of the field emerged a set of tensions which called into question the fragmented approach to IG rule-making. Two main alternatives were debated: on the one hand, the private-sector led processes were strongly supported by the United States, which retained an authoritative role; on the other hand, the intergovernmental option increasingly came to the fore as governments sought to strengthen control beyond the national level. A basic point of divergence for power dynamics has been the position of the US government. Providing the funding for the development of ARPANET and, subsequently, the NSFNET, the US administration designed a private regime for the management of unique identifiers and the Internet addressing system. In the process, it retained oversight over a critical part of DNS management, namely the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) function. This tension underlined the negotiations at WSIS and, post-Snowden, globalized the debate.

On critical Internet matters, the position of the state (fluctuating between central and marginal) among market-based governance modes and hybrid configurations has brought new perspectives to the fore. For scholars of globalization, the longitudinal perspective presented here is particularly relevant as it demonstrates the reversibility of authority from governments to non-state actors, which is not only possible and deliberate, but also unfolding (p.196) in ways previously understudied. The undermining of democratic practices, under discussion following the 2018 Facebook–Cambridge Analytica scandal (around algorithmic manipulation of voters in the Brexit referendum and US elections in 2016), or the future of AI systems are just two of the many elements that restructure the debate around defining societal priorities before pursuing market and technological ones. Via institutional solidification efforts, these choices lead to path dependency and become a permanent feature of global governance.

Rather than fostering an array of separate initiatives, a relatively cohesive community coalesces around an ever-growing scope of IG. A stable group of experts, helping to spur interest in transborder solutions, has formed over time and continues to meet to enact governance in all its forms, from providing guidance in policy processes to moulding the next generation of community leaders. Generally grouped according to the stakeholder categories sanctioned in the Tunis agenda, participants in these processes are agenda-setters and legitimizers of discursive modelling actions, encapsulating unique expertise and know-how. By 2015, the majority of actors involved in IG acted in more than one policy field and community representatives regularly engaged in multiple governance processes simultaneously. The public–private restructuring of the digital markets (observed at the structural level) had a corresponding effect at the community level, bringing together a growing number of interests.

Understanding New IG Trends

The standing of IG grew over time from a technical area to a ‘new foreign policy imperative’.1 Yet a consensus of key stakeholders on issues of importance to the development of the field continues to be avidly sought. Policymakers are now confronted with cross-sectoral concerns combining socioeconomic, political, and ethical dilemmas simultaneously, for example in addressing the challenges of the sharing economy or in advancing digital rights. Cybersecurity and data protection continue to be critical points of deliberation, while technology-driven transformations, such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and AI, have imposed a wider public debate. If the three historical phases showed us that changes in the scope, size, and scale of the network were enthusiastically welcomed, the fourth period we see emerging might be driven by scepticism. Can and should this mature phase reached by (p.197) the Internet be sustained? Should the fundamentals be reconsidered? The first insights post-2015 bring mixed evidence.

The unprecedented level of global interconnectedness we have reached due to the Internet continues to be perceived as one of the main drivers of global governance, but the capacities of the current institutional patchwork to deliver on transborder challenges are called into question. Alongside other global governance challenges, such as international migration flows, water scarcity, or climate change, the collective management of Internet resources is premised on a cohesive vision pursued by a diverse, cross-sectoral leadership group. Nowadays, efforts by governments and international organizations to define governance norms are regularly paralleled by civil society and business sector actions aimed at modelling behaviour, exchanges, and responsibilities at the global level.

For the first time in the history of the Internet, an increasing number of tech companies have revenues that exceed the GDP of many countries; unprecedented cross-border influence in negotiations comes with this newly-acquired financial power. The friction between governments and industry, or the so-called ‘techlash’, started to profile itself as a tension likely to define the fourth phase in the development of the Internet. While the companies’ responsibility to abide by national laws goes back a long way, recent technological developments such as encrypted apps or self-learning algorithms have reframed the debate from ‘who should govern’ to ‘how and on what terms’ could the field be governed. On their side, legislators turned to monetary sanctions and laws with extraterritorial provisions for ruling on key matters, while the top companies decided to explore new investment opportunities in areas of no regulation. As Chapter 6 discussed, internationalizing coalitions promoting the Chinese or the Russian understanding of ‘cyber sovereignty’ are increasingly more vocal in IG spaces, where alternatives to the status quo continue to be sought.

Amidst these transformations, the power of multilateralism, which constituted a foundation for the neoliberal regime established in the 1990s, appears to weaken in IG processes. Three recent instances of failure to achieve consensus in different subareas attest to that and are indicative of dominant tensions. In light of more influential roles played by the business sector in IG, be it at the level of infrastructure or content, and the stronger national approaches adopted recently, will the Internet move closer to or further away from being understood as a global commons?

In the area of cybersecurity, the search for global norms becomes ever more intricate. The UN Group of Governmental Experts on Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security, meeting in its fifth working group since 2004, failed (p.198) to find a common ground for rules of state behaviour in the digital space. After defining the global cybersecurity agenda, and socializing the principle of international law applicability to cyberspace in its previous reports, the group met in 2016–17 to discuss how neutrality, proportionality, the right of self-defence, and other concepts from international law could apply to cyberconflicts. Despite the progress made on cyber-capacity building by the twenty-five UN member states participating in the negotiations, the process unearthed major disagreements over state responsibility, dispute settlement, and the potential militarization of cyberspace.

The main positions delineated in these debates reflected the deeply entrenched disagreements between the United States, Canada, and European countries, on the one hand, and Russia and China on the other, with developing countries placed in the middle. As discussed in Chapter 6, on the margins of this UN process, a proposal for a Digital Geneva Convention was put forward by Microsoft, representing a first attempt by a private actor to define an overarching set of norms for the field of cybersecurity, oriented not only at companies, but also at states. So far, this proposal has received limited support, but a related, voluntary industry Tech Accord has been signed by forty-five firms.

In the sphere of digital economy, the eleventh WTO Ministerial Conference held in December 2017 in Buenos Aires ended without a consensus on redefining e-commerce rules. The memorandum of understanding dating back to 1998 remained in place. The consultations leading up to the meeting were particularly heated, revealing a clear perception of unequal distribution of the digital transformation benefits. Some developing countries proposed that the issue is tackled as part of the Doha development round negotiations once they are set on track, while others found it necessary to have agreement on other important matters first, such as access to infrastructure, capacity development, and digital skills (Geneva Internet Platform 2017).

Beyond selling and buying goods online, the issues put forward ahead of the negotiations touched on the free flow of data, removal of localization demands, and technology transfer requirements. All of these raised concerns among IG civil society groups, which argued against a potential expansion of the WTO mandate into regulating issues such as privacy and cybersecurity. The second instance of contestation emerged around the lack of legitimacy that intergovernmental venues have for Internet-related decision-making, reiterating the need for a more inclusive approach with the participation of different stakeholders. Following the WTO Ministerial, work on an e-commerce reform continues both informally and formally, as plurilateral solutions have started being discussed by WTO member states.

(p.199) The third recent process that ended without a consensus was conducted within the Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation (WGEC) hosted by the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD). Derived from the WSIS process, enhanced cooperation represented a Gordian knot in IG discussions since the introduction of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), that many saw was a venue for exercising precisely that. Other pundits assessed the need for a separate track of negotiations. The WGEC was consequently entrusted to find a definition for enhanced cooperation in its meetings in 2013–14. A new iteration of the working group, this time comprising twenty-two national representatives from different regions, five representatives each from business, civil society, academic and technical communities, and international organizations met five times between September 2016 and January 2018. The goal of these diplomatic negotiations was to agree to advance a set of recommendations on public policy issues to the UN General Assembly through its Economic and Social Council. Two unresolved matters blocked the consensus: (1) proposals for the creation of a new institutional mechanism; (2) proposals for addressing enhanced cooperation within existing bodies, like the CSTD/UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) or the IGF.

At the core of the disputes was the idea of governments exercising control over international Internet public policy issues, which was opposed by Western countries and Japan, as well as by the majority of non-state actors involved in the process. The supporters of this proposal included countries such as Cuba and Saudi Arabia, which refused compromise on a middle-ground solution such as continuing to discuss Internet-related matters within the CSTD (Olufuye 2018). The enhanced cooperation track of negotiations broke down over the nature of the mechanism envisaged to take it forward and its different interpretations by UN member states, but its significance goes beyond this single process.

At a critical junction for IG, this reflective turn towards key evolutionary matters for the field, such as establishing definitions or creating new institutional venues, is reminiscent of the WSIS tensions in 2003 and 2005. The demand for a body in charge of Internet-related matters with equal-footing representation for all states, tabled several times since 2010, remains a fundamental rift in IG. In the three processes discussed above, the growing gap between the priorities of advanced economies and the Global South has become more obvious. The Chinese, Russian, Cuban, Iranian, and Saudi Arabian governments have repeatedly blocked consensus-driven deliberations in global venues. Other meetings, built around multi-stakeholder values, such as the IGF, have also seen a stronger presence of dissenting voices from these countries.

(p.200) Ensuring a stable, functional, and reliable use of the Internet became a completely different endeavour in 2018. Institutional and stakeholder diversity represents a key characteristic of contemporary Internet governance, but it does not go uncontested. The opening up of technical bodies to civil society has been a welcomed development, in stark contrast to the disputes over the participation constraints imposed in intergovernmental processes. In recent years, legitimacy, but also accountability have come more prominently to the public fore. The new dynamics formed around the strain of final decision-making in Internet public policy show that long-standing concessions may still be overturned. The alternative route pursued in the absence of global consensus is intervention outside an established framework, in informal settings, and among like-minded groups.

The search for global norms and rules for the Internet continues. As some processes have shown their limitations, others emerged to foster the supremacy of national approaches or, on the contrary, the vitality of the pluralist environment with multiple stakeholders represented. From basic connectivity restrictions to algorithmic injustice and invasive AI tools, the future IG struggles will make the definition of the field ever more challenging. IG is affected by national and transnational developments, but it also continues to impact development in others fields, such as global security, finance, or the environment. Absent new institutional reforms and innovations at the global level, the search for an inclusive power-sharing arrangement solely within IG is not likely to be successful.

Theoretical Implications

The genesis and structuration of a global field of action can be compared with the construction of a unique architectural site, which needs to preserve both its functionality and its appeal over time. Laying the foundations without a perfect understanding of what comes next and how the complete work would look like is the task at hand in the constitution of IG as a global domain. This analysis has shown that the tools available for construction are mostly defined by those who would be involved in the building process, based on a range of design choices partly inherited from other governance systems and partly developed as unique adjustments. While the genesis of a field might be the result of contingency and spontaneous action, its long-term structuration is a political endeavour par excellence.

The evolution of a global power field is governed by internal dynamics and responses to external factors, determining its salience. By definition, the (p.201) latter is irregular and relative to other policy fields. In turn, a nascent field influences or steers broader global changes, placing it in a dialectic relation with other, more-established policy areas. This reciprocity is central to conceptualizing an emerging domain on a broader governance spectrum. The interaction of powerful actors in this space can be disentangled by observing various phases in the evolution of a field, which might reveal common visions or contestation instances. For domains in the making, the structuration phase is open-ended and we can only speculate about its potential demise. It is worth exploring as we advance a research agenda on new global governance fields.

A structural constructivist understanding of the process of differentiation allows us to distinguish between different phases in the constitution of a new issue domain without neglecting the role of human agency. The Bourdieu-inspired analysis offered here presents individuals and institutions as interconnected and takes anchoring practices as a starting point for understanding how systems of rules are perpetuated. Governance articulation brings into focus pluralist explanations of authority and legitimacy, as various decision-making processes (generally driven by a few actors) overlap. Yet, to understand the different phrases in the evolution of a field, it is necessary to first disentangle the origins of governance and the structural conditions they enable.

Among the many insights derived from this study, three stand out as highly relevant for laying the theoretical foundations for understanding the lifecycle of new issue domains. The first is the drive for self-organization at the genesis stage, followed by adaptation and co-evolution in a more complex institutional arrangement. The second is the fluidity of developments and the vulnerability to changes, intrinsic to an emergent field of governance; unlike more established domains of action such as international trade, new fields are susceptible to a wide range of external variation, which may affect the power distribution among players. Third, while the demarcation line between different mechanisms of governance is constantly redrawn via changing political relations, the attention paid to defining principles for rule-setting emerges as a constant. Significant effort is put into designing codes of conduct, shared norms, and practices that inhibit the current balance of power or, as it is more often the case, uphold it.

Beyond the IG specific insights covered in this research, one question remains: Do the meanings derived here contribute to the development of an integrated framework for understanding global issue domains? As this study shows, the design of a governance system for an emerging issue domain is not the result of intent only. Contingency and technological advances also play an important role in the evolution of the field. Integrating the technical and the policy side of the discussions—a merger observed more frequently after (p.202) the WSIS Summit of 2003 and 2005—leads not only to a diversification of governance approaches, but also to the expansion of the field as a whole.

An emerging issue domain has a lifecycle of its own. Rather than developing linearly, new policy fields are built around underlying tensions that may be displayed continuously or only surface in crisis moments. This ordering in-the-making implies steering of processes, but also ‘rowing’, or the performance of specific functions for economic, social, political, environmental, administrative, or adjudicative purposes. The central role of states, emphasized by students of IR and IG, continues to inform global politics, but it is no longer the only authoritative source of power. As the number of actors involved in global governance grows steadily, defining their roles and agreeing on the basic rules for their engagement is the priority.

A new area of investigation in IR, issue domains that are by definition global—like the Internet—pose a set of distinct challenges to the theorization of governance. Not only are they fragile realities of global governance, but they also (re)present distinctive, partial spheres of authoritative rule-making. Early work on environmental, financial, or health governance provided useful reflections for tackling emerging policy issues, but their insights remained rather scattered. The practice-based theoretical turn, drawing on European critical theory and in particular on the work of Bourdieu, added the dimension of praxis to solving contemporaneous puzzles rooted in nascent fields of governance. This book took on the challenge of exploring what constitutes IG, how it emerges, and how it gets (better) articulated over time.

As posited in Chapter 1, the lack of a systematic focus on comprehensive, longitudinal analyses of the evolution of issue domains has obscured foundational subjects of inquiry, such as the emergence and articulation of governance. A permissive agenda spanning different theoretical paradigms, the IR literature has offered, so far, only limited empirical studies on the workings of global governance, the ‘who’, ‘why’, and ‘how’ questions remaining insufficiently addressed. To build a stronger conceptual and empirical link between governance enactment and the forms it takes, this study unpacked the global structuring for new issue domains, distinguishing between different evolutionary phrases.

An inward look at a global domain reveals a fragmented picture, with subfields developing their own specificities and institutional configurations. The conceptualization of the issue domain itself is partly the result of the governance patterns and power dynamics forming over time. From key decision-making to daily routines, points of control and inherent tensions around them drive both the cross-sectoral arrangements and the definition of spheres of authority. To explore the interaction at the heart of developments, the three-dimensional framework of analysis proposed here was highly (p.203) valuable: mechanisms, actors, and practices each reveal a crucial aspect for the formation and evolution of the field.

This study made four important contributions to IR and public policy: first, it helped close the gap between the conceptual and the empirical evidence for the origin and articulation of governance; second, it investigated the evolution of the Internet taking into account the underexplored dimension of dominant practices, alongside mechanisms and actors; third, it showed how continuity and change can be explained in a longitudinal analysis of over forty years; fourth, it laid the foundations for a new research agenda focused on the constitution of new issue domains. To take the latter forward, a comparison with governance patterns in other global domains (such as climate change, health, or global financing) could provide a useful avenue for assessing similarities and differences, unique features, and isomorphism instances. It would also help us grasp, in a more comprehensive manner, what challenges emerge for legitimacy and accountability in global governance when new policy fields become permanent features of the international system.

Future Research Directions

Theorizing the lifecycle of an issue domain in the making is an incomplete endeavour. In contemporary governance, just like in policymaking, we follow moving targets: the Internet is an eloquent example of that. The attention given to an issue domain varies in time, and may range from being assigned a global priority status to its obsolescence. The consolidation of a global institutional architecture and the political salience accorded to IG, as contested as it may be, indicates that the demise of this field is nowhere in sight. The reforms, adjustments, and adaptations it may undergo in the near future will determine which system of rules can effectively address the challenges facing users, governments, international organizations, business actors, civil society, and technical bodies.

This book investigated the collaboration and contention emerging over time in structuring a unique field of governance, providing a timely account of ongoing debates and their origins. Using many of the conceptual and empirical tools set out in the earlier discussion, complementary analysis can go deeper into theorizing the constitution of other new issue domains on the international agenda, such as global health, international finance, health, or environmental governance. The exploration of highly complex, cross-sector and cross-organizational policy arenas is a much-needed contribution to understanding contemporary global governance.

(p.204) At the outset, I noted that we lack a coherent theoretical approach to grasp the evolution of issue domains beyond fragmentary glimpses at key developments in specific policy areas. When analysing nascent issue domains, new opportunities emerge to unpack complexity and revisit theoretical foundations in IR. Regime theorists came closest to defining the conditions under which a domain of governance is constituted, but presupposed an agreement on norms and principles comes first. This longitudinal analysis of Internet governance showed that principles and values may remain subject to debate as work gets completed in a number of subfields.

A study employing both historical and empirical grounding helps us refine explanations for the continuity and change trajectories observed in international affairs. The research agenda proposed here could be further pursued by concentrating efforts in two directions. To begin with, the dimensions analysed in this book (cross-sectoral mechanisms, actors, and dominant practices) provide the first inroads and are limited to IG-specific dynamics. They could be further expanded to better capture informal relations that are authoritative. Second, more comparative research is needed, in particular for issue domains for which we can locate genesis around the same time. Unquestionably, such comparisons would provide a fruitful ground for furthering the theorization of global governance.

What this book has shown is the complex constitution of a convoluted system of global rules. It has thus opened the door for a fascinating, multifaceted inquiry into governance processes in-the-making. The decentralized nature of the Internet has been mirrored in the intricate configurations for its governance, but also in the attempts to override it. Collaboration, competition, and contestation lie at the core of this new domain of power and continue to drive its development.

Notes:

(1) As referred to by Hillary Clinton (Jamart 2014).