Governing cyberspace policy boundary politics across organizations

Stephanie C. HOFMANN

Policy boundaries and issue interdependence are not a given. The stakes they imply—who governs, how, and where a policy domain is—become institutionalized over time, often first by the Global North. We know little about how these stakes are presented and institutionalized within and across organizations. We tackle this lacuna by asking how, and to what effect, an emerging policy domain is situated in a densely institutionalized environment. We argue that new policy domains such as cyberspace or artificial intelligence prompt resourceful governments to forum-shop policy frames by clustering promising issues in new and existing organizations in pursuit of coalition-building. Initially, resonance is more likely to be established in organizations with like-minded countries, leading to partially differentiated non-hierarchical regime complexes. In the long-term, competing adjustment pressures, particularly felt in the Global South, help trigger a regime-shift to an orchestrating general-purpose organization. Key actors must reconfigure their frames thereby reducing differentiation. In today’s geopolitical world, this hardens intra-organizational political differences. We examine three propositions in the case of cyberspace and show how the proliferation of competing frames across organizations led to shifting the policy debate to the UN, where only piecemeal policy adjustments are possible. Our analysis is based on primary sources and immersion strategies.