Quality standards in polycentric systems: A case of shipping

Daria Gritsenko & Michael Roe (2019)

Geoforum, Online first

Abstract. This article contributes to the literature on transnational environmental governance (TEG). Polycentricity is a popular conceptual approach in TEG, but coordination in polycentric systems remains largely unexplored. We put forward a conceptual model of quality standards as a productive links between different orders of governance in polycentric systems. Existing theories distinguish between regulative, institutional, and normalizing functioning of quality standards. We develop an integrative approach highlighting the mechanisms of coordination that rely on these three functions of quality standards. The case of TEG in shipping is used to illustrate how quality standards function not only as soft rules, but also as institutionalized references and shared conventions, enabling coordination across levels and scales. The paper draws attention to the limits of regulatory standardization, outlining how practical value can be gained from emphasizing the normative work associated with promulgation of quality standards.

Keywords: Transnational environmental governance, Quality standards, Polycentricity, Coordination Shipping

Excerpt. “The last strand of theorizing focuses on the normalizing function of quality standards. Some GVC scholars integrated convention theory stemming from the French sociological tradition (Boltanski and Thevenot, 2006) into the study of quality standards (Ponte and Gibbon, 2005) to emphasize that alongside with rules rooted in collective intentions, mutual expectations that arise in the process of actions, called conventions, not only guide, but also legitimize actions. The normalizing function of quality standards allows bridging immediate (and often tacit) and broader codified knowledge by providing vocabularies for describing expectations and visions of desirable outcomes (Ponte et al., 2011). These visions and associated vocabularies defining what quality is, which procedures for quality governance are appropriate, and who can exercise control over it, are rooted in the broader historical context and societal values (Busch, 2000; Barham, 2002).”

(p. 3)

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