Comprehending global governance: International regime complexity vs. global constitutionalism

Karen J. Alter*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The After Fragmentation special issue unites political science conversations about regime complexity with legal/normative conversations about global constitutionalism through a focus on the generation and resolution of interface conflicts, defined as moments when overlapping elements or rule incompatibilities generate actual conflicts. Yet scholars choosing among these two perspectives actually have different objectives. After reviewing the two literatures, I argue that this special issue is closer to the global constitutionalism perspective, which generally seeks legitimated order. By contrast, the regime complexity literature asks how does the fact that global governance is spread across multiple institutions in itself shape cooperation politics. Investigating what it means to get 'beyond fragmentation', I suggest that the potential or actuality of rule conflicts is not necessarily a problem because conflicts are a normal and even salutary aspect of politics. If conflict is not the concern, then what should we be worrying about? Both perspectives, I argue, are amoral because they normalise and help justify an international order where responsibility is spread across institutions, promoting order while failing to address fundamental problems affecting people and the world. In this respect, resolving rule conflicts does not get us beyond fragmentation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)413-423
Number of pages11
JournalGlobal Constitutionalism
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 1 2020


  • fragmentation
  • global constitutionalism
  • global governance
  • international law
  • regime complexity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Philosophy
  • Sociology and Political Science


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