Globalization processes have led to the loss of convergence and territorial synchrony of politics, economics and culture at the level of the nation-state. Hajer (2003) argued that this loss of convergence and synchrony created institutional voids: “the lack of clear rules and norms according to which politics is to be conducted and policy measures are to be agreed upon” (p.175). In an institutional void, policymakers and politicians are not only deliberating favorable solutions for particular problems but also “negotiate new institutional rules, develop new norms of appropriate behavior and devise new conceptions of legitimate political intervention” (p.176).
Have these institutional voids now been filled? Is Hajer’s (2003) notion of institutional voids outdated or still appropriate? Well, since the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the declaration of the Washington consensus in 1989, many initiatives have been taken by both state and non-state actors to fill institutional voids in global governance. New rules, norms and authorities have been established for politics and policy in many different fields, including sustainable development, food security and human rights. Each and every attempt to establish new institutional rules, norms and authorities has been a demanding and delicate process, with unpredictable outcome and high risk of failure. Key challenges have been and still are how to create legitimacy in the shadow or absence of state power and how to seek or enforce compliance to new global norms that are voluntary.
Three examples of attempts to fill institutional voids in global governance of food and agriculture are the development of the FAO Voluntary Guidelines on the Human Right to Food in 2003-2004 (Oshaug 2009), the establishment of different commodity roundtables and councils with standards for sustainable forestry, fishing or cropping in the 1990s and 2000s (Schouten and Glasbergen 2011), and the declaration of Food Sovereignty by La Via Campesina at the FAO Summit in Rome in 1996, marking the rise of the food sovereignty movement as a global network (Hospes 2014a).
My first argument is that the many attempts to fill institutional voids have not only led to institutional density or crowdedness but also to the creation of new institutional voids. Hajer’s concept of institutional voids needs to be adapted to the situation of hybrid governance and global legal pluralism. My second argument is that state and non-state actors play or can play three games to cope with new uncertainties of new institutional voids: wicked problem games, scale frame games, and sovereignty games. My third argument is that the understanding of the complexity of new institutional voids and the different ways in which state and non-state actors play the three games can help to explain the transferability, or lack thereof, of different concepts and norms across scales.