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Multi-Stakeholderism in Internet Governance: Putting a Fiction into Practice

Author: Hofmann, J.
Published in:
Year: 2016
Type: Working paper

This article assumes that the multi-stakeholder concept is a fiction that provides meaning to a disorderly world. Calling multi-stakeholderism a fiction does not mean to say that the term creates a non-existent reality but that it provides coherence to an often messy, incoherent and ambiguous reality. However, the multi-stakeholder concept does not only represent reality, it also gives rise to expectations, objectives and benchmarks. A second assumption of this article, therefore, is that the multi-stakeholder concept is performative. To the extent that the actors in Internet governance identify with its tale of inclusion and bottom-up policymaking, they are struggling to achieve its goals including those that Yaron Ezrahi would call a "publicly 'believable impossibility'". It is the effort of implementing the multi-stakeholder fiction which is at the centre of this article. Its performative power will be explored with regard to three common imaginaries: the imaginary of global representation, the democratisation of the transnational sphere, and the possibility of improved outcomes. Two organisations, both of which strongly promote the multi-stakeholder approach, will serve as examples: the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). Following a brief overview of the origins of the multi-stakeholder concept and the empirical evidence of its performance, the article will focus on institutional practices in Internet governance.

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