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GOVN 540: Global Governance and Law

View current syllabus

Delivery mode: Grouped study.

Credits: 3

Prerequisite: Students who have received credit for Athabasca University's undergraduate course Governance 440 must obtain permission to register in GOVN 540 from the Program Director for Integrated Studies.

Precluded: GOVN 540 cannot be taken for credit if credit has already been obtained for Athabasca University's GOVN 440.

Centre: Master of Arts Integrated Studies

Program: Master of Arts Integrated Studies


Governance 540: Global Governance and Law is a three-credit, graduate-level course which provides an overview of the theoretical debates on law as governance in an increasingly globalized world. The study of law and governance is multidisciplinary, including sociology, political science, political theory, international relations, psychology, and law. Thus it is not possible to cover the vast subject of global governance and law in a single course. The issues that we will study here reflect the significance of globalization to contemporary politics. Each unit is a sampling of some of the recent thinking on governance and law, rather than an exhaustive overview of the literature.

Here are some of the questions posed by this course:

  • Under what circumstances do people conform?
  • Why do states cooperate?
  • Does law prevent violence?
  • How does governance function without government?
  • What is the relation of law to democratic practice?

Rather than reviewing institutions and structures of government, this course provides the tools and concepts necessary for you to understand and think critically about practices of governance, and how and towards what ends they function in contemporary societies.

We will explore some of the current debates on globalization, especially in relation to violence and the use of force, political community, legal legitimacy, and democratic practices. We will discuss a number of key questions related to these debates:

  • What is governance for?
  • Where does accountability lie?
  • How does law function?
  • Who is being governed?
  • Who participates in governance?

We will consider these and other questions, and will look at various institutions of governance, including several institutions of the United Nations, multilateral economic institutions, and international criminal tribunals. You will gain a broad understanding of some of the problems for governance and law in politics posed by globalization, from a contemporary social theory perspective.

Governance 540 does not assume that you already have a background in global governance and law. The textbooks and course materials in the Reading File are meant to offer a sophisticated introduction to some of the key concepts in the area. Together with the commentary in the "Study Guide," the readings for Governance 540 introduce the interdisciplinary terrain of the study of law and governance and situate these discussions in the context of globalization. We will pay particular attention to the ways in which international organizations and global social movements impact how violence, economics, and politics are regulated globally, and we will look at a number of governmental and non-governmental organizations. Throughout the course our discussion will be informed by contemporary theoretical debates.

The three textbooks for the course offer an introduction to some of the key concepts related to global governance. The first, Foucault and Law: Towards a Sociology of Law as Governance, compiles and interprets a wide range of the thought of philosopher and social theorist Michel Foucault in a compact and highly accessible manner. Selections from the second textbook, On Humane Governance: Toward a New Global Politics, open up a range of questions about the purpose and function of governance and offer an argument for redirecting international governance towards humane and just purposes. The third textbook, Contesting Global Governance: Multilateral Economic Institutions and Global Social Movements, is a highly accessible overview of non-governmental interventions (women's, labour, and environmental movements) into the function of multilateral economic institutions (the World Bank, the IMF, and the WTO). A selection of articles in the Reading File and the Digital Reading File introduces a range of international relations debates about international criminal tribunals.

In addition to the required readings, please read national and international newspapers on a regular basis so get a sense of the different ways in which globalization is discussed. Useful news sources for this exercise include The Globe and Mail, The Financial Times, The New York Times, The Economist, Le monde diplomatique, and The Guardian Weekly. As well, a number of useful Web sites and supplementary readings are listed in the "Supplementary Reading List" after the "Study Guide."

Course Objectives

The primary objective of Governance 540: Global Governance and Law is to introduce students to the interdisciplinary study of governance and law and, in particular, global governance and law. When you have completed this course, you should be able to

  1. discuss the significance of modern forms of state and global governance.
  2. analyze the challenges to the sovereign state system and the possibilities of legal governance in globalization.
  3. offer a detailed account of the many ways in which globalization is manifested.
  4. discuss the significance of global social movements in globalization.
  5. analyze contributions that social movements make to food, environmental, military, and human rights security globally.
  6. evaluate the different kinds of democracy that global social movements propose.
  7. discuss the interrelationship of the environment, gender, human rights, and social and economic wellbeing.
  8. understand the politics of legal systems, whether global or domestic.
  9. gain an understanding of how to read and write with critical interpretation.
  10. develop a sense of how theories inform policy and legal decisions.

Online Discussion

In this course you will be required to take part in (and occasionally initiate) discussions about the topics posted by your course professor on Monday of each week. In order to help you prepare, these topics are given in outline at the end of each unit in the "Study Guide." You are expected to engage in substantial reading so that you are able to make informed contributions to the online discussions. Your mark for online discussion (worth 20% of your final course grade) will reflect the quality and relevance of your submissions and the understanding of the subject matter that your submissions demonstrate. In order to develop a group culture and a flow of conversation, you are expected to participate in online discussions each week.

Student Evaluation

Governance 540 is divided into five parts, comprising ten units, which are to be covered over fourteen weeks. During this period you will complete two essay assignments and a major research paper.

To receive credit for this course, you must participate in the online discussion, successfully complete three written assignments, and achieve a composite course grade of a least 60%. Instructions for completing the assignments can be found in the "Assignment File" near the end of this Course Guide. The Master of Arts-Integrated Studies grading system is available online linked to the MAIS home page. If you are a program student, please note that it is your responsibility to maintain your program status. Any student who receives a grade of "F" in one course, or a grade of "C" in more than one course, may be required to withdraw from the program.

Course Activity Weighting
Online discussion 20 %
Assignment 1: Theory Paper 1 20 %
Assignment 2: Theory Paper 2 20 %
Assignment 3: Major Research Paper 40%
Total 100%

Course Materials

The course materials for GOVN 540: Global Governance and Law include the items listed below. If you find that any items are missing from your course package, please contact the Course Materials Production department at Athabasca University as soon as possible. You may call Athabasca University, toll-free, from anywhere in Canada or the United States at 1-800-788-9041 and ask to speak to someone in Course Materials Production (ext. 6366). Students in the Edmonton and Calgary dialling areas are asked to call the Learning Centres to connect with the automated attendant, and then dial the four-digit extension. You may send e-mail to cmat@athabascau.ca, or write to Course Materials Production at Tim Byrne Centre, 4001 Hwy 2 South, Athabasca AB T9S 1A4.


  • Falk, Richard. 1995. On Humane Governance: Toward a New Global Politics. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.
  • Hunt, Alan, and Gary Wickham. 1994. Foucault and Law: Towards a Sociology of Law as Governance. London: Pluto Press.
  • O'Brien, Robert, Anne Marie Goetz, Jan Aart Scholte, and Marc Williams. 2000. Contesting Global Governance: Multilateral Economic Institutions and Global Social Movements. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Athabasca University materials

Course Guide: This Course Guide contains the course introduction, objectives, commentary, reading assignments, online activities, assignments, and other information that you will need to complete the course successfully. The "Course Schedule" identifies the course activities and assignments that you are to complete each week. Please take time now to review the information in this document in order to become familiar with the design of the course

Reading File: Most of the assigned readings, which supplement the course textbooks, are included in the Reading File.

Forms: The forms that you will need to request an extension, register in a course, or request a letter of permission are included with the course materials.

Online Materials

Digital Reading File: Any assigned readings that are available online can be accessed via the GOVN 540: Global Governance and Law Digital Reading File, which is linked to the course home page.

Online Resources

Course Homepage: Each course offered through the Master of Arts-Integrated Studies program has a course home page that provides links to additional resources and Web sites. From the MAIS home page at http://www.athabascau.ca/mais/, select Conferences, Bazaar; enter your username and password, then select GOVN 540. The home page provides links to relevant policy, research, and other Web sites.

Athbasca University Library: Explore the Library's Web site at http://libraryathabascau.ca to review our collection of journal databases, electronic journals, and digital reference tools.

Master of Arts-Integrated Studies Web Site: Visit the MAIS home page at http://www.athabascau.ca/mais/ for information on the MAIS program and to access a number of resources useful to you as a graduate student.