… a core concept in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100

Governance2Concept description

Merriam-Webster defines governance as “the way that a city, company, etc., is controlled by the people who run it.”

Political scientists elaborate on this description. For example, Mark Bevir (reference below) defines governance as:

“all processes of governing, whether undertaken by a government, market, or network, whether over a family, tribe, formal or informal organization, or territory, and whether through laws, norms, power, or language.”

Governance and government

Bevir notes that governance differs from government in that “it focuses less on the state and its institutions and more on social practices and activities” and that the word has a long history:

“The medieval poet Geoffrey Chaucer wrote of ‘the gouernance of hous and lond’ [the governance of house and land]. … The concept of governance has waxed and waned in opposition to belief in the sovereign state. When people believe in a unified sovereign state, they often talk about its government. When they do not believe in the state, they concentrate more on the complex and messy processes of governance. The word ‘government’ characteristically sits best with a moral or empirical belief in a homogeneous nation under a unified state. The word ‘governance’ evokes more plural moral and empirical visions.

“A state is an organized political community under one government. It is a political institution that has a monopoly of the legitimate use of force within its territory. This idea of the state arose in the early modern era.”

The new governance

Although Bevir notes that “some sceptics think governance is merely jargon … a vague euphemism for government” he believes that the current use of the term reflects a “shift in public organization since the 1980s”:

“The world of government has changed. Increasingly governments rely on private and voluntary sector actors to manage and deliver services. The state enters contracts with other organizations, for example, to manage prisons and to provide training to the unemployed. The state forms partnerships with other organizations, for example, to build roads and rail lines and to deliver humanitarian aid. Whereas government had consisted in no small measure of bureaucratic hierarchies, the new governance gives greater scope to markets and networks.

“… The more concrete empirical uses of governance refer to changing organizational practices within corporations, the public sector, and the global order. Although debates surround the extent of the new governance and also the role of the state in it, there is a widespread view that the processes of governing now involve more diverse actors and more diverse organizational forms. Observers often speak, more particularly, of a shift from hierarchy to markets and networks.

“… Further, the theories, practices, and problems of governance all stand in contrast to older ideas of government as monolithic and formal. For a start, theories of governance typically open up the black-box of the state. They draw attention to the processes and interactions through which highly diverse social interests and actors produce the policies, practices, and effects of governing. In addition, the relationship of state and society changed significantly in the late twentieth century. New practices of governance find political actors increasingly constrained by mobilized and organized elements in society. States and international organizations increasingly share the activity of governing with social actors, including private firms, nongovernmental organizations, and non-profit service providers. The new relationship between state and society admits of considerable variation, but it is au international phenomenon. The new practices of governance extend across the developed and developing world, and they are also prominent among strategies to regulate transnational activities and to govern the global commons. Finally, current public problems do not always fall neatly under the jurisdictions of a specific agency or even a particular nation state. Governance requires new governing strategies to span jurisdictions, link people across levels of government, and mobilize a variety of stakeholders.”

Atlas topic, subject, and course

The Study of Governance and Institutions (core topic) in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100 Governance and Institutions.


Bevir, Mark. 2012. “What is Governance,” in Governance: A Very Short Introduction, pp. 1-15. Oxford: Oxford University Press. at, accessed 2 August 2016.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified 2 August 2016.

Image: Sussex Downs College, at, accessed 2 August 2016.