UW-Madison Center for the Humanities

Center for the Humanities

Past Faculty Development Seminars

Fall 2007: International Governance


Led by Professor Jeremi Suri (History) and Jonathan Zeitlin (Sociology, Political Science, and the LaFollette School of Public Affairs)

"International governance" is an area of research that has drawn major interest in the last decade from scholars in numerous humanistic and social science disciplines. The growing dangers attributed to unfettered competition among states in a world of proliferating weapons, rapid environmental degradation, and widening economic inequality have pushed diverse observers to contemplate alternatives to Westphalian presumptions about state sovereignty. The nation-state, in this sense, has lost some of its historical legitimacy. Numerous groups and institutions have coalesced in recent years to offer new approaches to governance on a transnational scale. Our seminar will not seek to build expertise about particular proposals for international governance, nor will it offer any proposals of its own. Instead, we will seek to interrogate the core conceptual issues behind the movement toward international governance. We will treat this topic as central humanistic dilemma - how to build order in diversity, cooperation with competition. In addressing questions of international governance in these terms we will take a broad approach, interrogating some of the most influential public discourses, historical experiences, and contemporary experiments with international governance. We will also examine some of the criticisms of globalization, especially those that question its effects on local culture, political accountability, and social equality. We expect that this is an approach that can draw fruitfully on many different humanistic fields of study, and contribute to the research of many diverse humanities scholars.

The texts will offer diverse perspectives on three theoretical and empirical questions, around which we will structure discussions:

  • What kinds of authority are legitimate for governing diverse cultures and societies?

What are the appropriate aims of international governance?

  • What are the effective mechanisms for instituting international governance?

In the end, we hope to build a community of scholars interested in one of the most enduring questions at the root of humanistic study: how can human beings live peacefully together. Recent scholarship on international governance returns us to this basic question, with clear and obvious connections to our contemporary world, and the many disciplines that comprise a vibrant "republic of letters."