Global Governance: The Liberal Institutionalist and Constructivist Approach


The two of many building blocks in the discipline of international relations, i.e., liberal institutionalism and constructivism, have different views regarding global governance. It is not only the core elements of these two approaches that vary, but also the periphery concepts that revolve around them, such as ideas, norms, and the concept of interdependence. Regardless, prior to discussing the arguments of both schools of thought, it is necessary to define the following fundamental terminologies: liberal institutionalism, constructivism, and global governance.

What is Liberal Institutionalism?

Liberal institutionalism is a theory of international relations that puts forward the significance of international organisation and institutions in cooperation between nation-states, such as the European Union or International Monetary Fund. According to liberal institutionalists, e.g., Robert Keohane, the nation-states are one of the main actors in the international arena, however they are not the sole actors (Keohane & Martin, 1995). It is essentially the existence of intergovernmental organisations that maintain the state of political peace, by the means of economic, political, or social apparatuses. Respectively, Keohane and Nye introduce another important term to the liberal institutionalist approach: complex interdependence, which according to Nye and Welch is the condition of different parts of a system being affected by each other. Whether complex interdependence is a good or a bad phenomenon is a topic open to debate, as it strongly depends on the intentions of actors. Development of the complex interdependence may prevent acts of aggression, simply because cooperation – especially economic cooperation – helps stabilise peace between nation-states. The role of interdependence becomes apparent in global governance, as nation-states address cooperation when dealing with obstacles that affect more than one region. Global governance alleviates consequences of world problems because it is in every nation’s best interest to eliminate economic complications, and a lot easier to do so by cooperating.

What is Constructivism?

Constructivism, compared to liberal institutionalism, revolves around different core elements, such as norms, rules and social constructions. In a way, constructivism is more subjective, as it puts the development of actors into perspective. Constructivists often view interests of individual actors as constantly developing and changing, and often criticise state-centred approaches for dismissing the nonuniformity of objectives of people. Accordingly, identities, norms and rules shape state interests. Alexander Wendt, in his “Anarchy is what states make of it” points out that the anarchic state of international politics is not a natural state, but rather constructed. Wendt states:

“Identities are the basis of interest. Actors do not have a “portfolio” of interests that they carry around independent of social context… Sometimes situations are unprecedented in our experience, and in these cases, we have to construct their meaning, and thus our interests… More often they have routine qualities which we assign meaning on the basis of institutionally defined roles…” (Wendt, 1992)

Wendt depicts the significance and decisiveness of norms and rules in shaping of institutions, and how they affect international politics, objectives and approaches of nation-states. The formation of international institutions occurs when actors with similar interests accept one another’s existence, hence unify to increase functionality. Global governance, in constructivist lenses, is the product of international interactions, alongside identities and interests of actors. It does not necessarily emerge to diminish consequences of international interactions, on the contrary, it emerges as a result of continuing cooperation.

What is Global Governance? How do Liberal Institutionalists and Constructivists Approach?

Lastly, global governance is a term coined to identify the political cooperation of transnational actors in order to overcome dilemmas that affect more than one region. As mentioned previously, liberal institutionalism and constructivism approach global governance differently. Global governance – in constructivism’s perspective – is not a formation to ameliorate international politics, but rather is the product of it. According to liberal institutionalism, on the other hand, it is a necessary structure in order to maintain peaceful international relations and overcome shared global challenges. An adequate example to global challenges would be the Covid-19 pandemic, which shows its devastating effect across the globe as of February 2020. As an agency of the UN, World Health Organisation was one of the first intergovernmental organisation to declare and emphasize the dangers of the virus. Through liberal institutionalist lenses, WHO maintains order at times of global crises, and guide nation-states through necessary procedures regardless of their resources, hence reduce negative impact as much as possible (Weiss & Wilkinson, 2013). Moreover, evolution of international institutions strengthens their ability to overcome world issues. Constructivists, on the other hand, would argue that it is in fact perception of incidents and occurrences like Covid-19 that lead to the formation of intergovernmental organisation. In the long-run, occurrences such as Covid-19 will reshape norms and rules, hence international politics.

The liberal institutionalist and constructivist approach the topic of global governance differently. For institutionalists, global governance grows as nations become more dependent on one another, and it shapes international institutions for the necessities of global challenges. For constructivists, global governance is constantly changing depending on norms and rules that are shaped by global crises. To argue which approach is more appropriate to today’s international relations would be a very contextual debate, as both schools of thought propose equally coherent arguments depending on the context.


1-Keohane, R. O., & Martin, L. L. (1995). The Promise of Institutionalist Theory. International Security, 20(1), 39-51.

2-Weiss, T. G., & Wilkinson, R. (2013). Rethinking global GOVERNANCE? COMPLEXITY, authority, power, change. International Studies Quarterly, 58(1), 207-215. doi:10.1111/isqu.12082

3-Wendt, A. (1992, Spring). Anarchy is what states make of it: The social construction of power politics. International Organization, 46(2), 391-425. doi:10.1017/s0020818300027764



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