International Handbook on Informal Governance
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International Handbook on Informal Governance

Edited by Thomas Christiansen and Christine Neuhold

Acknowledging that governance relies not only on formal rules and institutions but to a significant degree also on informal practices and arrangements, this unique Handbook examines and analyses a wide variety of theoretical, conceptual and normative perspectives on informal governance.
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Chapter 15: Non-state Actors and Global Informal Governance: The Case of ICANN

Jonathan Weinberg


Jonathan Weinberg* INTRODUCTION In 1998, the Internet world began an experiment in governance: the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN. ICANN is an unusual beast. A private entity (formally, a California nonprofit corporation), it plays the sort of role more commonly played in our society by governmental entities. It sets rules for an international communications medium of surpassing importance; its decisions turn not on technical considerations, but on competing values and competing claims of right. Some of its activity looks uncannily like command-and-control regulation. When ICANN came into existence, some were unconvinced that ICANN was an appropriate wielder of the power it claimed, that they had any obligation to cooperate in its governance functions, or that they should comply with its pronouncements. Onlookers raised obvious questions about ICANN and its board of directors: who were these people? Why should the 19 members of ICANN’s board of directors be the persons making important decisions about the shape of the Internet name space? And on what did this private body base its authority? What justified this seeming exercise of public power, and creation of public policy, by an entity without democratic credentials or direct political accountability? In seeking to bolster its legitimacy, ICANN invoked the rhetoric of technical coordination, urging that it was a mere technical body articulating consensus in the model of the Internet Engineering Task Force. It experimented as well with representative government, at one point holding elections open to anyone with an email address. Neither approach...

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