Moral Agency and the Politics of Responsibility: 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Moral Agency and the Politics of Responsibility

1st Edition

Edited by Cornelia Ulbert, Peter Finkenbusch, Elena Sondermann, Tobias Debiel


210 pages | 7 B/W Illus.

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At a time when globalization has side-lined many of the traditional, state-based addressees of legal accountability, it is not clear yet how blame is allocated and contested in the new, highly differentiated, multi-actor governance arrangements of the global economy and world society. Moral Agency and the Politics of Responsibility investigates how actors in complex governance arrangements assign responsibilities to order the world and negotiate who is responsible for what and how.

The book asks how moral duties can be defined beyond the territorial and legal confines of the nation-state; and how obligations and accountability mechanisms for a post-national world, in which responsibility remains vague, ambiguous and contested, can be established. Using an empirical as well as a theoretical perspective, the book explores ontological framings of complexity emphasizing emergence and non-linearity, which challenge classic liberal notions of responsibility and moral agency based on the autonomous subject. Moral Agency and the Politics of Responsibility is perfect for scholars from International Relations, Politics, Philosophy and Political Economy with an interest in the topical and increasingly popular topics of moral agency and complexity.


"This wide-ranging, pluri-disciplinary, and insightful collection analyses the complex, frequently contested relations between moral agency, the conditions for its development; the mechanisms for holding agents accountable and responsible; and changing economic and political practices. Its authors develop different theoretical perspectives and explore diverse cases and, together, make important contributions to international relations, political economy, and governance studies."Bob Jessop, Lancaster University, UK

"Through compelling empirical cases and sophisticated theoretical analyses, the contributors to this valuable volume demonstrate that responsibility is something that is necessarily and vigorously contested. By addressing the complex political, social, economic, and technological contexts within which the concepts of moral agency and responsibility are negotiated and renegotiated, they succeed in enhancing our understanding of both."Toni Erskine, University of New South Wales, Australia

"What is it to be ‘responsible’ in today’s global world? Who is (made) responsible, for what, to whom, how, when, and to what purpose? The probing debates in this volume greatly clarify these issues, in particular the high-stakes ethics and politics involved."Jan Aart Scholte, University of Gothenburg, Sweden

"This timely book investigates the politics and contestations surrounding the notion of "responsibility" which has become a rather prominent topic in world politics (e.g. in the "responsibility to protect"). The authors approach the subject from a variety of critical perspectives, thereby taking a decidedly agency-centered perspective. A must-read for both academics interested in and practitioners of global governance."Thomas Risse, Free University Berlin, Germany

"This excellent collection offers a compelling range of perspectives on the politics of responsibility – the conditions under which responsibility arises; who can exercise it; and the roles it plays in international relations. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the development of contemporary conceptions of moral agency and practices of responsibility."Kirsten Ainley, LSE, UK

"Responsibility is one of the most contested notions in international relations. Unsurprisingly, I disagree with some of this first-rate team of contributors. But their provocative and thoughtful reflections must be read and pondered."Thomas G. Weiss, City University of New York, USA

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction: Moral Agency and the Politics of Responsibility Elena Sondermann, Cornelia Ulbert and Peter Finkenbusch
  2. Part I: Challenging Traditional Notions of Moral Agency and Responsibility

  3. Democratic Moral Agency: Altering Unjust Conditions in Practices of Responsibility Joe Hoover
  4. Promoting Responsible Moral Agency: Enhancing Institutional and Individual Capacities Neta C. Crawford
  5. Technologically Blurred Accountability? Technology, Responsibility Gaps and the Robustness of our Everyday Conceptual Scheme Sebastian Köhler, Neil Roughley and Hanno Sauer
  6. Part II: Demanding and Contesting Responsibility in the International Community

  7. The Lack of ‘Responsibility’ in the Responsibility to Protect Aidan Hehir
  8. Responsibility Contestations: A Challenge to the Moral Authority of the UN Security Council Antje Wiener
  9. Part III: Practising the Politics of Responsibility in Global Governance

  10. In Search of Equity: Practices of Differentiation and the Evolution of a Geography of Responsibility Cornelia Ulbert
  11. The Business of Responsibility: Supply Chain Practice and the Construction of the Moral Lead Firm Christian Scheper
  12. Pluralisation of Authority in Post-Conflict Peacebuilding: The Re-Assignment of Responsibility in Polycentric Governance Arrangements Tobias Debiel
  13. Part IV: De-Constructing Responsibility in an Interconnected World

  14. Responsibilising through Failure and Denial: Governmentality as Double Failure Jonathan Joseph
  15. Bringing Therapeutic Governance Back Home: US Responsibility and Drug-Related Organised Crime in the Americas Peter Finkenbusch
  16. Distributed Responsibility: Moral Agency in a Non-Linear World David Chandler
  17. Conclusion: Practising the Politics of Responsibility Cornelia Ulbert and Elena Sondermann

About the Editors

Cornelia Ulbert isExecutive Director at the Institute for Development and Peace, University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany.

Peter Finkenbusch is aResearcher at the Institute for Development and Peace, University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany.

Elena Sondermann is a Researcher at the Institute for Development and Peace, University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany.

Tobias Debiel is Professor of International Relations and Development Policy at the Institute of Political Science and Director of the Institute for Development and Peace as well as the Käte Hamburger Kolleg/Centre for Global Cooperation Research, University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany.

About the Series

Routledge Global Cooperation Series

The Routledge Global Cooperation series develops innovative approaches to one of the most pressing questions of our time – how to achieve cooperation in a culturally diverse and politically contested global world?

Many key contemporary problems such as climate change and forced migration require intensified cooperation on a global scale. Accelerated globalisation processes have led to an ever-growing interconnectedness of markets, states, societies and individuals. Many of today’s problems cannot be solved by nation states alone and require intensified cooperation at the local, national, regional and global level to tackle current and looming global crises.

We favour books that take an interdisciplinary approach and appeal to an international readership comprised of scholars and postgraduate students.

To submit proposals, please contact the Development Studies Editor, Helena Hurd ([email protected]).

Series Editors:

Tobias Debiel, Dirk Messner, Sigrid Quack and Jan Aart Scholte are Co-Directors of the Käte Hamburger Kolleg / Centre for Global Cooperation Research, University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany. Their research areas include climate change and sustainable development, global governance, internet governance and peacebuilding. Tobias Debiel is Professor of International Relations and Development Policy at the University of Duisburg-Essen and Director of the Institute for Development and Peace in Duisburg, Germany. Dirk Messner is Director of the Institute for Environment and Human Security at the United Nations University in Bonn, Germany. Sigrid Quack is Professor of Sociology at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany. Jan Aart Scholte is Professor of Peace and Development at the School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Patricia Rinck is editorial manager of the series at the Centre for Global Cooperation Research.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
POLITICAL SCIENCE / International Relations / General
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Developing Countries