This paper compares and evaluates two recently developed and increasingly popular general approaches in comparative and historical political economy: the regulation approach and theories of governance. There are at least four good reasons for such a review at the present time. Its first, and immediate, pretext is the close connection often made between the alleged transition from Fordism to a post-Fordist accumulation regime and the purported development of new forms of economic and political governance. Second, even without this direct and explicitly drawn connection, the regulation approach and theories of governance would seem to have enough (meta-)theoretical assumptions in common to merit a systematic comparison. Third, in addition to various underlying parallels and (sometimes conscious) convergences in their theoretical apparatus, the two perspectives share substantive or practical concerns across a wide range of topical issues. And, fourth, as anyone who has tried to grapple with the complexities of either the regulation approach or theories of governance will have found, there are serious difficulties with each paradigm. So it is worth asking whether such difficulties would be alleviated, left unchanged, or magnified in the attempt to combine them into a more general account of contemporary economic and political change. These four motives are reflected in the argument of the present paper. First it briefly reviews the conceptual background to current concerns with regulation and governance. Then it considers the basic (meta-)theoretical assumptions and core concepts of the two paradigms. This will enable me to identify major parallels and convergences and to identify areas where there are important differences in theoretical or substantive focus. I suggest that some of these differences are linked to the relatively 'pre-theoretical' and eclectic nature of work on governance; or, at least, to the far broader scope of studies of governance and hence the greater heterogeneity of their various theoretical objects as compared to those examined in the regulation approach. This in turn enables me to reveal some problems in earlier attempts to combine concepts and arguments relating to governance and regulation in research on local governance. Considerations of space as well as the specific thematic focus of the contributions in this issue prevent me from addressing governance and regulation in national and international regimes (but see also Jessop 1995). This article nonetheless concludes on an optimistic note with some suggestions for a way forward on both theoretical and empirical grounds which should be relevant to a wide range of regulatory and governance issues.
The final, definitive version of this article has been published in the Journal, Economy and Society, 24 (3), 1995, © Informa Plc