Transnational Governance as Contested Institution-Building: China, Merchants, and Contract Rules in the Cotton Trade

Amy A. Quark, William & Mary


We are in an era of uncertainty over whose rules will govern global economic integration. With the growing market share of Chinese firms and the power of the Chinese state it is unclear if Western firms will continue to dominate transnational governance. Exploring these dynamics through a study of contract rules in the global cotton trade, this article conceptualizes commodity chain governance as a contested process of institution-building. To this end, the global commodity chain/global value chain (GCC/GVC) framework must be revised to better account for the broader institutional context of commodity chain governance, institutional variation across space, and strategic action in the construction of legitimate governance arrangements. I provide a more dynamic model of GCC governance that stresses how strategic action, existing institutions, and dominant discourses intersect as firms and states compete for institutional power within a commodity chain. This advances our understandings of how commodity chain governance emerges and changes over time.