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Workshop 2 Report

Challenging Orthodoxies: Developing Critical Governance Studies at Warwick

Workshop 2: Making Connections

Thursday, 31 January 2008


1. Overview

The second workshop in the Challenging Orthodoxies series of seminars followed on from the discussions and themes raised in the previous workshop. Panellists were asked to speak to a list of questions and address key areas of where criticality and governance intersected. The objective of the workshop was to draw upon the general discussions of the nature of critique and trends in critical thought and approaches which took place in Workshop 1 and contextualise them within specific disciplinary practice in relation to the concept of governance. The reflections of the speakers from their different disciplinary perspectives provided a good cross-section of how critique informs research on various aspects of governance studies.


2. Session Notes

The first panel was chaired by Professor Ben Rosamond from the Department of Politics and International Studies (PAIS) and the speakers were Professor Colin Crouch from the Warwick Business School (WBS) and Professor Shirin Rai from PAIS and the Centre for Globalisation and Regionalisation (CSGR).

Colin spoke to the concept of ‘governance’ and distinguished the term from the term ‘government’, noting the usefulness of the displaced characteristic of its etymology. To his mind, it is a term that has been used by both the orthodoxy and the heterodoxy as a contrast to the term ‘government’. Colin proceeded to sketch a brief history of the concept as used in the UK and European context.

Colin outlined three reasons why this contrast is erroneous from a critical perspective. Firstly, the term ‘governance’ – implying a shift from hierarchical regulation to dispersed and networked regulation – conceals the role of power within networks and displaces authority whilst maintaining the hierarchical nature of control. Secondly, governance often refers to three pillars – markets, states and networks – and absent from this construction is the distinguishing between actors within the three clusters. For example, clustering firms with markets ignores the vertical nature of firms. Thirdly, the conceptual error in contrasting ‘government’ with ‘governance’ is that ‘government’ is a part of ‘governance’. Colin was positive about the scope for collaboration on issues relating to the concept of ‘governance’, particularly in bringing together a number of academic disciplines. For him, the definition of governance captures the gamut of mechanisms for ensuring compliance and behaviour and this in itself was sufficiently broad to engender collaborative interest among a range of disciplines and research concerns within them.

Shirin’s presentation built upon Colin’s by conceptualising governance from the ‘subaltern’ perspective, contrasting with the vertical approach of studying governance. For Shirin, the key question was not the large conceptual issues of governance processes and institutions but that of the perspectives of those who are ‘governed’. Expanding upon the feminist principle that the ‘ personal is the political’, she highlighted the ways in which feminist perspectives could play a role in shaping critical governance discourse. Shirin argued that in mapping governance, we often obliterate the people – speaking of states, markets and networks but not bodies – and that while asking the question of ‘ who is the critic’, it is pertinent to also ask the question ‘who are the people’ ?

For Shirin, an important component of mapping governance is also addressing the impact of states and markets on people and within that, the differentiated impact of the state and market activities on different clusters of people, notably between men and women. It is necessary, in her mind, to examine the political economy of community within which governance mechanisms are targeted and also examine the role of ‘community’ and community rules as a form of governance. She reiterated that any project on critical governance must explore the notion of governance from the subaltern perspective – of how regulatory systems affect the people on the ground.

The second panel of the workshop was chaired by Dr Jonathan Davies (WBS) and comprised of Professor Noel Whiteside from the Department of Sociology and Professor Mike Geddes from the WBS.

Noel spoke about her experience in studying the role of the state in the provision of public services and social policy, noting in particular the shift away from the role of the state as a provider to a regulator. Her perspective on critical governance studies comes from her experience in researching the development of social and public policy and the construction of labour markets, labour policies and social security in the UK and Europe. She noted that the distinction between the notions of ‘private’ and ‘public’ are no longer useful analytical categories to describe the nature of governance in these areas. For example, the way states underwrite market activity and mediate for market actors have changed the nature of governance.

Noel highlighted the prevalence of the neoliberal discourse of ‘ market fairness’ and ‘price’ which permeates into policy interventions in the social sector and the internalisation of this neoliberal discourse among the regulators and policymakers, particularly the notion that markets are efficient and states are inefficient providers of public goods. To her mind, the shifting conceptions of the state and the faith in markets have made the private-public distinction spurious.

Mike Geddes’ presentation, while building on the previous contributions’ attempts to conceptualise governance within a critical frame of analysis, challenged the project participants to consider forms of opposition to the orthodoxy. He made four interlinked points about how he saw the nature of governance today and how the orthodoxy of governance can be challenged.

Firstly, Mike noted that the shift from ‘government’ to ‘ governance’ implies a neoliberal model of public policy and practice, the focus on form not content of regulation and the exclusion of organised labour but the inclusion of ‘community’ as central mechanisms to governing. Secondly, the result of the rise of global capitalism, the main beneficiaries of neoliberalism have been constituencies in the north and as a result, although there has been much academic critique to neoliberalism, there has been no overt opposition to neoliberalism in the north, no oppositional movement to challenge the hegemony of neoliberalism. Thirdly, as a result of this absence of opposition in the north, it is necessary to turn to the south for examples of opposition to neoliberalism, such as the social movements in South Africa and Bolivia. Mike furnished examples from particular campaigns in the two countries which challenged the policies of neoliberalism. Finally, Mike urged for greater collaborative research with practitioners and academics in the south in any project to develop critical governance studies in the absence of practical resistance to neoliberalism in the north. He called for such collaboration to be a central component of such a project.

3. Thematic Reflections and Recommendations

Both sessions at the workshop generated constructive discussion and lively debates between the panellists and the audience. What emerged clearly from the workshop was that all participants felt the need to broaden the critique of governance to encompass other discourses and perspectives which may capture the notion of critical governance more comprehensively. Criticality in the study of governance may need to capture forms of governance beyond the conventional categories of states, markets and networks which often delineate research into governance, whether from an orthodox or heterodox perspective. The role of critique in governance studies may also need to consider how forms of critique may contribute towards practical resistance to the orthodoxy, whether in terms of the broad-based studying of oppositional social movements in southern countries or more personal practitioner reflections on the role of government and governing.

The latter theme was brought in through the contributions of practitioner participants at the workshop, namely those from the WBS Masters in Public Administration (MPA) course. Interventions from these participants injected a dose of policy realism into a largely academic debate and highlighted some key areas which the project may wish to explore in the coming seminars, notably the question of voice and community participation in governance.

The issue of voice not choice emerged as a recommendation for follow-up discussion in the internal 15 May seminar with special consideration of how radical critique may be applied at the micro-level – that of the body, the person, the practitioner – to engender practical engagement with theoretical critique of the nature and forms of governance. This includes a consideration of what scope there is for ‘voice’ – individually or collectively, beneficiary or benefactor (ie policymaker) – as a challenge to orthodox notions of governance. There were also suggestions for greater consideration of the issue of private-public distinctions (or increasingly lack thereof) in public policymaking and the explorations of the concept of ‘self-governance’ – the governing of communities and individuals by internalisation of the orthodoxy.


4. Follow Up

Workshop 2 will be followed by a cross-institutional workshop on Tuesday 18 March 2008. The third workshop will bring together leading scholars from Warwick and a number of partner institutions. The objective is to begin establishing grounds upon which critical research partnerships in the sphere of governance studies might move forward on a cross-institutional basis.  Drawing on reflections from the first two workshops, this session will focus on developing the potential for cross-institutional collaboration around the following governance themes: citizens, money, space and science and information.  Each of these themes is co-convened by a lead from Warwick and a colleague from another participating institution. 

This will be followed by Workshop 4 – Building Research Networks – on 18 May 2008 and the final event – Towards a Research Programme in Critical Governance Studies – on 1 July 2008. The programmes for the two final workshops will be finalised in the near future.