By Janet Newman
"to attempt explanations without reference to the meanings and values held by actors, and without regard to their underpinning symbolic codes, is to provide a very thin account of reality" (Freeman and Rustin)
Governance theory, unsurprisingly, tends to conceptualise 'the social' through frameworks in which governance is itself the primary analytical concept and the social a residual category. The social is viewed as something defined by its 'other-ness' to the state and economy: as an entity to be governed, a resource to be mobilised, or the site of social reproduction. The result tends to be a 'thin' conception of the social. A 'thick' conception of the social is one that not only takes account of the lived experience of social actors but one that views the social as an intractable and contested domain rather than simply an object or effect of governmental practices.
I want to begin by tracing a number of different critiques of the governance literature that might be made from a standpoint that privileges 'the social' dimensions of societal governance. The critiques operate unevenly across the literature depending on the theoretical approach taken by different writers. In this brief sketch it is likely that I will be charged with having misrepresented those I am critiquing. Theoretical work is always incomplete and exists in dynamic interactions with other theoretical traditions. So for example Rod Rhodes, rooted in political economy and one of the architects of the market/hierarchy/network models pervading political science conceptions of governance (
of governance (
collaborative governance, developed, with Sorenson, the concept of the 'everyday' maker
that foregrounds the study of patterns of civic engagement in everyday life in a way that
has clearly been influenced by feminist sensibilities, not least in their depiction of the
everyday maker as 'she' throughout the narrative (Bang and Sorensen). However my
purpose here is to highlight trends and tendencies in the literature and the ways each
might produce an impoverished conception of the social.
The subordination of the social
The governance literature tends to depict the social as something distinct from economy
or state: as the realm of civil society, the domain in which networks of actors are drawn
into governance processes; as the site of intractable governance problems; or as the place
where social reproduction takes place. That is, it is something 'other' and separate, as in
the oft quoted triad of market, state and civil society, a triad in which civil society tends
always to be positioned as subordinate and dependent. Work on network based
governance suggest a narrative of change in which networks are gaining increasing preeminence
over markets and hierarchy. While there is a clear equivalence between state
and hierarchy, markets and exchange, it is less clear what networks denote. Sometimes
they imply a weakening of the boundary between public and private sector, as in the
analysis of public-private partnerships. Sometimes networks are viewed as
encompassing voluntary and other third sector organisations, conceptualised in the
language of civil society. Sometimes it is the public themselves that are to be drawn into
collaboration with state and non state actors, with communities being viewed as a
governance resource. The slippage between these conceptualisations muddies the
analytical water but in each case the social that is called into being in theories of network
governance tends to be under-theorised.
The neo-Marxist regulation school offers a more theoretically developed conception of
the social but nevertheless conceptualises it as a subordinate category. For example
Jessop situates his analysis of governance in the dynamics of the capitalist state, making a
clear distinction between the 'economic' and the 'extra economic'. The neo-liberal roll
back of the state, driven by economic processes of capital accumulation, "tends to
displace the burdens of adjustment and market failure onto the family (for which read, in
most cases, women) or the institutions, networks and solidarities of civil society".
He recognises the significance of domestic labour in the process of social
reproduction and notes that the growing significance of such labour performed outside
the cash nexus means that "the family and/or household forms (and hence gender and
intergenerational relations too) are always objects of governance as well as sites of
struggle". However gendered inflections and racialised or sexualised
characteristics are deemed to be merely 'secondary variations' of the key features of the
Keynesian welfare state. The economic/extra-economic duality of capital
accumulation is replicated in his analysis of the Shumpterian workfare state in which the
concept of the 'lifeworld' is mobilised: "In the latter [lifeworld] respect, welfare regimes
are heavily implicated in governing the economic, gender, ethnic, intergenerational and
many other aspects of the division of labour throughout the social formation. Indeed, they
also contribute to the 'labour of division' through their differential treatment of existing
social identities and/or their creation of other social identities". Here there is
a recognition that the practices of societal governance contribute to the classification and
normalisation of individuals and groups, and that such classifications act as a basis for
differential treatment and produce processes of social inclusion and exclusion. However
the social is derived from and subordinated to the economic processes of capitalist
The social as source of governance problems
The literature from continental
social is viewed both as a source of governance problems (new social needs) and as a
resource to be utilised (social actors being drawn into reflexive processes of
collaboration). Economy and society are conceptualised as interdependent elements of an
overall system that is to be steered through governance processes. Changes in the
economy are viewed as impacting on society, raising new problems that require different
approaches to the process of governing. Growing social complexity, the development of
greater access to information and other social changes make the task of governing more
difficult, and produce a greater reliance on networks in order to draw social actors into
the process of collaborative governance. For example Klinj explores the implications of
the 'network society' for the processes of governance. He links sociological work on
individualisation to the demise of social solidarities and the loss of attachment to political
parties and concludes that
"the rise of the network society will make society more fluid, more horizontal,
more pluralistic in values and less likely to be governed from above by public
actors. At the same time, problems in this society will call for more integral
solutions that have to be implemented with many different actors with different
knowledge of the issues involved" (Klinj).
Among writers on governance from Continental Europe, networks are viewed not just as
means of economic and political coordination but as a response to deep social changes.
Writing on the German experience, Messner highlights the growing social as well as
economic differentiation that poses problems of coordination in firms and societies alike.
In such conditions a
"But a third way seems to be developed and not in terms of more 'neo-corporatist
arrangements'. … In the new forms of governance one can see a shift from a
unilateral focus (government or society separately) to an interactionist focus
(government with society)" (Kooiman).
This is more evidently 'social' in its attempts to link governance processes to social, as
well as economic, change. However it makes rather sweeping assumptions about the
characteristics of the social and the direction of social change. Rather than the social
being subordinated to the economic, it is collapsed into it as part of an interactive system.
The result is a 'thin' conception of social change.
The social as a-political
Third, the social tends to be conceptualised as an apolitical entity, stripped of questions of
tension or antagonism. In the work of many continental European governance theorists,
the close links with systems and cybernetic theory produce a tendency to view systems as
inherently adaptive or self-balancing, rather than as the site of unresolved conflicts or
tensions. Kooiman's notion of dynamics rests on an image of "societies moving from one
state to another, in irregular and unpredictable patterns: pushed, drawn or in other ways
influenced by technological, economic, social or political forces" (2003 p 199). These
forces sometimes produce gradual (evolutionary) developments, but more often result in
non-linear patterns of change. Tensions exist, are part of the dynamics; but how these
might become the focus of antagonism or open up contradiction that might become the
focus of social and political mobilisation is not addressed. Governing diversity, for
Kooiman, means finding ways of balancing difference and similarity within a system.
The desired state is one where the forces produced out of the politics of identity, diversity
and difference are balanced by forces that provide integration and coherence; that is,
producing a system in equilibrium.
This can be contrasted with
governance as assemblages that may not necessarily be coherent:
"There is not a single discourse or strategy of power confronted by forces of
resistance, but a set of conflicting points and issues of opposition, alliance and
division of labour. And our present has arisen as much from the logics of
contestation as from any imperatives of control" (
The processes of contestation are, however, not the focus of his analysis.
The social as gender and racially blind Fourth, the social tends to be conceptualised as gender and racially blind. This takes different forms across different literatures. Work on networks is strongly associated with economic models of coordination, models in which the actor is conceptualised as a rational, instrumental being stripped of social characteristics.
The more 'social' governance literature from continental
"Governing diversity means influencing diverse social or natural entities by
protecting, maintaining, creating, promoting or limiting the similarities or
differences of their qualities".
Diversity, then, has its boundaries.
Work associated with the regulation school is concerned with the state's role in the social
reproduction of labour power, so necessarily addresses questions of the family, questions
that cannot be stripped of gender. Indeed Jessop highlights tensions in the ways in which
women are positioned in the process of capital accumulation, both in reproducing labour
in their familial roles and as subject to strategies of re-commodifying women's labour in
the search for workforce flexibility. But such issues are not central to the analysis, as he
himself acknowledges. Questions of gender and race are implicated in the
analysis of the outcomes of neo-liberal welfare state restructurings. However governance
is driven, in this account, by the processes of social reproduction required by capital, and
the divisions produced are formed through the division of labour. Gender, race,
generation and so on are not conceptualised as specific formations with their own
dynamics but always as part of a list in which they are constituted as both separate and
The 'unplaced' social
The final problem - for now - with many conceptualisations of the social is that they are
universalising across spatial differences. Nation states present distinctive cultural and
social formations and are associated with different governance traditions and strategies.
The depiction of 'collaborative' relationships between state and society in Scandinavian
and some German writings rests on historically embedded networks drawing voluntary
and other bodies into the process of governing. The focus on network governance
represents specific forms of economic and policy coordination that might be linked to the
governing (see Newman 2004).
anglo-centric conception of the hegemony of the form of advanced neo-liberalism
established in the
the conceptualisations of the relationship between state and society reflect the political
and cultural traditions on which they draw. This does not mean that governance regimes
are delimited by nation states. In a globalising world characterised by neo-liberalism as a
dominant transnational political force this is far from the case. However the ways in
which nation states - and transnational bodies such as the EU - respond to the challenges
of governing in this global context, and the conceptions of 'the social' on which they draw
in doing so, are shaped by culture as well as driven by economic imperatives. As well as
reminding us of the cultural contexts that inform specific bodies of theory, a cultural
analysis can also 'spatialise' governance itself, illuminating the spatial characteristics of
social practices, social relationships and the moral and political orders associated with
particular sites (Knowles).
Κυριακή, 27 Ιανουαρίου 2008
The impoverished social of societal governance
By Janet Newman