This paper contributes to the recent move towards a more systematic reflection on the conceptual foundations of Internet governance. It is led by the question of how to define (Internet) governance in a way that is theoretically grounded as well as empirically instructive. For this aim, it mobilizes literature from the broader field of governance and regulation studies as well as sociological theory and applies these concepts to issues of Internet governance.
A brief literature review reveals that studies on Internet governance rely on partly contradictory notions of governance. The common understanding as some form of deliberate steering or regulation clashes with equally common definitions of Internet governance that emphasize its distributed and heterogeneous character taking ordering effects of interconnection agreements or discursive arenas like the IGF into account. Drawing on controversies in the broader field of governance and regulation studies, we suggest to dissolve this conceptual problem by grounding governance in mundane coordination activities. We then define governance as reflexive coordination focusing on those “critical moments” when routine activities become problematic and need to be revised, when regular coordination itself requires coordination. Regulation, in turn, can then be understood as intentional interventions by public or private actors aiming to influence the behavior of others. Differentiating between governance and regulation in this way resolves the contradiction between different forms of political ordering found on the Internet.
With this conceptualization of governance in Internet governance we hope to contribute to an emerging debate on the conceptual foundations of Internet governance and to prepare the ground for new angles and insights on ordering processes on the net.
Keywords: Internet Governance, Governance, Regulation, Coordination, Ordering, Reflexive Coordination, Governance Theory, Economics of Convention, Intentionality, IGF, ICANN