Governance: An international journal of policy, administration and institutions

Risse on “What is governance?”

RisseThomas Risse of the Freie Universität Berlin responds to Francis Fukuyama’s “What is governance?”:

I applaud Fukuyama’s attempt to come up with better measures of the quality of states and, as importantly, not to conflate state quality with democratic governance. However, Fukuyama’s commentary is flawed with regard to both concepts and empirics:

1) His understanding of governance as “governance by government” only is too narrow.

2) As a result, he misses that state capacity/statehood and the quality of governance are two different things which do not correlate on average.

First, as David Levi-Faur argues in his comment on Fukuyama, almost nobody in the field confines governance to what states do. Fukuyama misses the governance turn in the social sciences which is precisely about the governance contributions of non-state actors such as companies or NGOs and about non-hierarchical modes of governing. Thus, “governance by government” is only one mode of governance among others. Moreover, Fukuyama conflates state capacity/statehood and governance, since a “government’s ability to make and enforce rules” (p. 4) is Max Weber’s definition of a state as an authoritative rule structure (Herrschaftsverband), while the ability to “deliver services” (ibid.) refers to governance performance irrespective of who the “governors” are (for a discussion see Risse 2011).

Second, statehood understood as the capacity to make and enforce rules, on the one hand, and governance performance or effective service delivery, on the other, do not correlate on average, except for one segment in the contemporary international system (Krasner and Risse forthcoming): consolidated states with full enforcement capacity. All other states contain “areas of limited statehood” where governments systematically lack the capacity to set and enforce rules. Yet, areas of limited statehood are not ungoverned spaces. There is huge variation with regard to service delivery (as an output measure of governance). Take the quintessential failed state of Somalia: While the central state authorities have virtually no capacity (“failed statehood”), the quality of governance services varies across regions. The province of Somaliland is particularly well governed with regard to education or public health, even though the central government is virtually absent. Why? Because other actors rather than the central state – international as well as local, particularly non-state “governors” – step in.

In sum, by using governance as his conceptual framework, Fukuyama misses what he sets out to do, namely advocating better measurements of statehood and state capacity.


Krasner, S. D. and T. Risse, eds. forthcoming. External Actors, State-Building, and Service Provision in Areas of Limited Statehood.

Risse, T. 2011. “Governance in Areas of Limited Statehood: Introduction and Overview.” In Governance Without a State? Policies and Politics in Areas of Limited Statehood, ed., Risse, T. New York: Columbia University Press. 1-35.

Prof. Dr. Thomas Risse is director of the Center for Transnational Relations, Foreign and Security Policy at the Otto Suhr Institute of Political Science at the Freie Universität Berlin.

Written by Governance

March 10, 2013 at 5:48 pm

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