The Theory and Practice of Global Governance: The Worst of All Possible Worlds?



This article takes the example of global governance in order to reflect on the problematic relationship between theory and practice and on the gap that exists between the academic and policy worlds. That there is a gap between the two worlds is clear. Some insist on the benefits to be gained from trying to bridge the gap, highlighting the contribution that theoretical inquiry can make to the policy world and the responsibility of academics to contribute towards resolving policy challenges. Others argue for the continued importance of a division of labour, stressing that the logic of theoretical enquiry demands analytical and critical distance from power and politics. This article does not examine either of these extreme positions but instead explores the dangers of the middle road. For academics, insufficient awareness of the problematic ways in which theory and practice are inextricably interwoven makes it more likely that they will fall hostage to the politics and parochial prejudices of both time and place. For policymakers and for those who teach public policy, the danger lies in seeking the authority and legitimacy of academic work that purportedly embodies objectivity and detachment but that in fact merely translates the prejudices and preoccupations of the policy world back into a different idiom. An unreflective and uncritical attitude to the relationship between theory and practice can leave the academic study of International Relations in the worst of all possible worlds.