The concept of “good governance” is now widespread worldwide and is actively propagated by international organisations such as the World Bank and the OECD. It includes general norms of good governance such as transparency, participation and accountability of those in power, but also, depending on the concept, very specific ones such as gender equality, anti-corruption and systematic evaluation of policies. Catalogues of norms of good governance are codified by many bodies, public and private, and they compete with each other. They become practically effective by being quantified, measured and enforced through indicators. Even though they are usually formulated in Western-style institutions, they claim universal validity. Conceptions of “good governance” address both the public and private sectors at the same time. States and municipalities, listed companies, financial market players and non-governmental organisations – they are all judged today according to their performance on “good governance” scales and placed in rankings.

As far as the public sector is concerned, the rise of these norms and practices is often interpreted as a technocratisation of governance that has at least the potential to displace classical ideals and practices of representative democracy. Against this backdrop, this RTG poses a two-part research question to be addressed jointly by the participating professors and the fellows. From an empirical-analytical perspective, we ask ourselves why concepts of good governance have become so popular, how they are implemented in practice and what possibly unexpected consequences this has. From a normative perspective, we ask what this means for the future of democracy as a form of government.

The innovative central idea of this Research Training Group is to understand and analyse norms of good governance as standards. The explicit analogy to standard-setting and technology brings some characteristics of good governance to the fore: standard-setting by public and private actors, the existence of competing conceptualisations, the universalisation claim, the need for quantification and the optimisation logic often associated with standardisation. By linking research subjects that are not normally considered together, this central idea also enables a dialogue of political theory and institutional studies with political economy, international relations (IR), jurisprudence and sociological modernisation research. At the same time, the idea of “standards of governance” also opens up a new view of the phenomenon of standardisation itself. In the attempt to optimise governmental processes, standardisation turns from a steering instrument into a self-reflexive endeavour.

In the Research Training Group, we will empirically explore how standards of governance emerge, how they spread, how they are operationalised in practice and how people try to enforce them. In order to understand how standards of governance work empirically, the close study of real-world practices, causal connections and (possibly counterintuitive) effects is indispensable. The RTG also gives space to the normative evaluation of the ideas and practices found. It will be critically examined how standards of governance in complex, internationally networked societies with a high degree of division of labour relate to the ideal of democracy, how they support, change or even undermine the possibility of collective self-determination.The RTG combines an empirical micro-perspective on social interactions and discourses in which standards of governance are codified, propagated and applied with a normative assessment from a democratic theory perspective.

The following five research questions will guide the joint work:

1) How exactly do standards of governance emerge and why are they codified?

2) Why do standards of governance spread across territorial and possibly sectoral boundaries?

3) How are standards of governance operationalised in practice and how is compliance measured?

4) How are attempts made to enforce standards of governance and why is resistance to such attempts being formed?

5) What are the consequences of the rise of standards of governance and how are these consequences to be normatively evaluated?

The college will focus on four policy areas, at least in the first few years. These are economics and finance, environment and climate protection, development and regional promotion, and fundamental rights and the rule of law.