“Transnational” is a frequently mentioned key word in international relations today; it is used to denote in a simplifying manner an organization working beyond state boundaries and acting independently from traditional state authorities. The scholarly recognition of such actors occurred relatively late in the field and advanced with the acceleration of globalizing economic, political, cultural, and social processes. Despite the appearance of transnational actors as a topical and palpable concern for academics and practitioners alike, questions of conceptual vagueness and relational indeterminacy remain, and the continual proliferation of these entities lend urgency to the need for more scholarly attention to these agents.
Markus Thiel and Jeffrey Maslanik
Much of the contemporary literature in the field of international studies deals with the concept of authority. Scholars concerned with global policymaking often suggest that the increasing importance of transnational actors, such as subnational networks, nonprofit organizatons, and business associations, leads to a loss of authority at the expense of state-based forms of governance. This perspective is closely linked to the concept of global governance and challenges classical approaches to international politics and conventional concepts of authority in world politics. However, other scholars take a different view and contend that the development of transnational governance initiatives does not imply a one-sided shift of authority from national governments and international institutions to sub- and nonstate actors. While these authors recognize the emergence of novel forms of authority in global policymaking, they stress the persistent authority of nation-states and underline the centrality of established modes of interstate cooperation. In terms of a theoretical middle ground between these two perspectives, one can argue that we observe a reconfiguration of authority across various actors and levels of decision making. This development does not automatically question the prevailing position of national governments and their institutions. Instead, state power seems to be expressed and rearticulated in new ways within a changing global environment. This ongoing debate pertaining to the changing patterns of authority is key to our understanding of the role and function of state and sub- and nonstate actors as well as their interactions in contemporary global politics.