Global Norms Through Global Deliberation? Reflections on the World Commission on Dams

Global Governance, 31 March 2009

In recent years, global “deliberative processes” bringing together government, civil society, and private sector actors have become increasingly common on the global stage. Past work on these processes has either read them as relatively unproblematic consensus-building exercises, or exercises in global corporatism. Using a case study of the World Commission on Dams, this article explores how formal global deliberative processes can be a strategy for global norm formation and legitimation. It suggests that global deliberation can indeed be a vehicle for emergence and propagation of norms, but that these processes face multiple challenges that are structural in nature. Three factors are identified as key elements in understanding norm emergence through global deliberation: the legitimacy of global deliberation linked to questions of representation and democratic procedure; the micropolitics of norm emergence; and the process through which incipient norms are institutionalized by states.

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