In this article, we review the evolution and current status of global value chain (GVC) governance theory and take some initial steps toward a broader theory of governance through an exercise in ‘modular theory-building’. We focus on two GVC governance theories to which we previously contributed: a theory of linking and a theory of conventions. The modular framework we propose is built on three scalar dimensions: (1) a micro level – determinants and dynamics of exchange at individual value chain nodes; (2) a meso level – how and to what extent these linkage characteristics ‘travel’ upstream and downstream in the value chain; and (3) a macro level – looking at ‘overall’ GVC governance. Given space limitations, we focus only on the issue of ‘polarity’ in governance at the macro level, distinguishing between unipolar, bipolar and multipolar governance forms. While we leave a more ambitious analysis of how overall GVC governance is mutually constituted by micro/meso factors and broader institutional, regulatory and societal processes to future work, we provide an initial framework to which this work could be linked. Our ultimate purpose is to spur future efforts that seek to use and refine additional theories, to connect theories together better or in different modular configurations, and to incorporate elements at the macro level that reflect the changing constellation of key actors in GVC governance – the increasing influence of, for example, NGOs, taste and standard makers, and social movements in GVC governance.