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Multi-stakeholderism in Internet governance: putting a fiction into practice

Author: Hofmann, J.
Published in: Journal of Cyber Policy, 1(1), 29-49
Year: 2016
Type: Academic articles

This article assumes that the multi-stakeholder concept is a fiction that provides meaning to a disorderly world. 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 and the Internet Governance Forum. 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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