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Taking Uncertainty Seriously: Adaptive Governance and International Trade:A Rejoinder to Mónica García-Salmones

Published on April 16, 2009        Author: 

Andrew Lang and Rosie Cooney respond to Mónica García-Salmones’ comments on their article “Taking Uncertainty Seriously: Adaptive Governance and International Trade” published in (2007) 18 EJIL 523. A version of this response, with footnotes and full references can be found in (2009) 20 EJIL (see here)

It is always a pleasure and an honour to have a colleague engage with one’s work in detail. We are grateful, therefore, to Mónica García-Salmones for her response to our article, and are pleased to have this opportunity to clarify some aspects of our thinking and our approach that may not have been explicit enough in the original piece. Given the limitations of space available, we have decided to put to one side the many points of detail on which we may differ from García-Salmones, and provide simply the broad outlines of a response to the three primary lines of criticism which we understand García-Salmones to be offering. 

1.         Learning and the Power of Experts

 García-Salmones’ primary concern with adaptive governance is that, in her view, it enhances and valorizes the role of experts in international governance, and ‘contributes to the problem of depoliticization in the global sphere’ (at 168). Our emphasis on knowledge production and continuous learning is, from this perspective, equated with a turn to ‘managerial governance’ (at 177), in which political decision-making is understood as problem-solving, and policy choices are justified as products of enlightened rationality.

In raising these concerns, García-Salmones locates herself within a well-established and vitally important literature that highlights and critiques the reality of the growing ‘technicalization’ of global governance. But by directing this criticism at us, it is clear that she fundamentally misunderstands our argument. Indeed, we start with precisely the same aversion to technocratic politics as she does – and with a profound scepticism of hubristic claims to truth-telling which too often are advanced in the name of apolitical expertise. But since we distinguish ourselves from technocratic governance along a different axis from García-Salmones, the ways in which our ideas differ from the kind of managerialism that she critiques may not have been clear.

Our starting point is that structures of knowledge are inseparable from the practice of international politics. The distribution and deployment of political power are always mediated by dominant ways of knowing the world, by particular habits of interpretation, by the background assumptions of governing elites, and so on. The relevant distinction is therefore not between forms of global governance based on knowledge and those that are more ‘politicized’ (a term which is invariably vaguely specified). All involve ‘knowledge’, but all knowledges are necessarily constructed and deployed within a particular social and political context.

Rather, the choice for us is between different ways of ‘doing knowledge’. Adaptive governance is not intended to be a manifesto for increasing the role of experts in international governance. To the contrary, it involves an initial attempt to imagine new ways of doing knowledge in politics and law, predicated on a view of knowledge as multiple, contested, and provisional rather than unitary and finally provable, on an abandonment of the idea that there are usually ‘right’ or ‘rational’ solutions to objectively identifiable problems in any simple sense, on a commitment to the destabilization and remaking of knowledge rather than its uncritical dissemination, and above all on an emphatic rejection of the cult of expertise. Like García-Salmones herself, we therefore explicitly make the case for the inclusion of ‘local knowledge’ (at 186) with practices of global governance. We explicitly argue for greater public participation in apparatuses of knowledge production. And our focus on continuous learning is not about an ongoing search for ‘more true’ (at 185) or more ‘enlightened’ (at 169) decisions, but rather about the ongoing destabilization of settled assumptions, taken-for-granted definitions of problems, and the complacent faith of experts and policy-makers in their own solutions. Continuous learning, in other words, is about cognitive openness. Read the rest of this entry…

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