Table of Contents

Handbook on Theories of Governance

Handbook on Theories of Governance

Edited by Christopher Ansell and Jacob Torfing

In the past two decades, governance theories have arisen semi-independently across multiple disciplines. In law and regulation, planning, democratic theory, economics, public management, and international relations, among other disciplines, scholars have sought to describe new strategies of governing. As a result, the notion of governance is now one of the most frequently used social science concepts in the world. No single theory encompasses this diverse body of work, but rather multiple theories with different aims and perspectives. The Handbook on Theories of Governance collects these theories of governance together as an analytical resource for governing in an increasingly complex, fragmented and dynamic society.

Chapter 23: Soft and hard governing tools

Paula Blomqvist

Subjects: politics and public policy, public policy, regulation and governance


This chapter provides an overview of the research on soft and hard policy instruments, asking what characterizes these two main types of steering and how they are used by governments today. Hard policy instruments are typically binding (like regular law), while soft instruments are based on voluntary compliance, incorporating measures such as regulatory guidelines, recommendations, objectives, targets and diffusion of information. It is noted that soft forms of governance have become increasingly common over recent decades, reflecting the growing complexity of modern societies and the need of governments to find more open and flexible ways to pursue their goals. The chapter also highlights the ways in which the literature on policy instruments has been enriched in recent years by developments in research areas such as European politics and international relations, where novel forms of soft governance have emerged as a means to coordinate activities between states.

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