Democratic Governance

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Overview

"Democratic Governance is a highly original, broad-ranging, and ambitious book that makes distinctive contributions to democratic theory, the sociology of knowledge, and public policy. Its major contribution is to show how relatively abstract social theories have informed, down to the details, agendas of political, administrative, and policy reform."—Archon Fung, Harvard University

"This impressive book draws upon a wide range of literatures in political science, sociology, policy analysis, and public administration to raise—and attempt to answer—pressing questions about the undemocratic or even antidemocratic implications of emerging models of 'governance.' Bevir traces the appeal of this recently coined term of art to conservative and neoliberal dissatisfactions with government, whose supposed inefficiencies could be corrected by allegedly more efficient modes such as markets."—Terence Ball, Arizona State University

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"To my knowledge, Bevir is the first to systematically examine the ideas and practices of governance in a longer historical perspective. On this point the book is a much-needed correction to the popular delusion—propagated and sustained through the language of governance itself—that what is currently being broached under this label is all new."—Henrik Enroth, Governance

"[I]n this densely argued book, Bevir connects theory and practice in a sophisticated and compelling way."—Heather Blakey, Parliamentary Affairs

"Bevir . . . has made an important contribution to the redemption of modern social science—making a stand against the new institutionalism because of the belief that, in the end, it is people and not institutions that ultimately make and remake our world."—Susan Hodgett, Environment and Planning

"[T]his is a compelling, lucid and accessible account of the emergence of the new governance. It serves not only as a useful reference for students, but also as a stimulus for wider debate."—Rob Manwaring, Political Studies Review

Governance
To my knowledge, Bevir is the first to systematically examine the ideas and practices of governance in a longer historical perspective. On this point the book is a much-needed correction to the popular delusion—propagated and sustained through the language of governance itself—that what is currently being broached under this label is all new.
— Henrik Enroth
Parliamentary Affairs
[I]n this densely argued book, Bevir connects theory and practice in a sophisticated and compelling way.
— Heather Blakey
Environment & Planning
Bevir . . . has made an important contribution to the redemption of modern social science—making a stand against the new institutionalism because of the belief that, in the end, it is people and not institutions that ultimately make and remake our world.
— Susan Hodgett
Environment and Planning

Bevir . . . has made an important contribution to the redemption of modern social science--making a stand against the new institutionalism because of the belief that, in the end, it is people and not institutions that ultimately make and remake our world.
— Susan Hodgett
Political Studies Review
[T]his is a compelling, lucid and accessible account of the emergence of the new governance. It serves not only as a useful reference for students, but also as a stimulus for wider debate.
— Rob Manwaring
Governance - Henrik Enroth
To my knowledge, Bevir is the first to systematically examine the ideas and practices of governance in a longer historical perspective. On this point the book is a much-needed correction to the popular delusion—propagated and sustained through the language of governance itself—that what is currently being broached under this label is all new.
Parliamentary Affairs - Heather Blakey
[I]n this densely argued book, Bevir connects theory and practice in a sophisticated and compelling way.
Environment & Planning - Susan Hodgett
Bevir . . . has made an important contribution to the redemption of modern social science—making a stand against the new institutionalism because of the belief that, in the end, it is people and not institutions that ultimately make and remake our world.
Political Studies Review - Rob Manwaring
[T]his is a compelling, lucid and accessible account of the emergence of the new governance. It serves not only as a useful reference for students, but also as a stimulus for wider debate.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691145396
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 4/26/2010
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 963,009
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Bevir is professor of political science at the University of California, Berkeley. His books include "Key Concepts in Governance" and "New Labour: A Critique".

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Read an Excerpt

Democratic Governance


By Mark Bevir

PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS

Copyright © 2010 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-691-14539-6


Chapter One

Interpreting Governance

Once you start to listen out for the word "governance," it crops up everywhere. The Internet faces issues of Internet governance. International organizations promote good governance. Hospitals are introducing systems of clinical governance. Climate change and avian flu require innovative forms of global and transnational governance. Newspapers report scandalous failures of corporate governance.

Unfortunately, the ubiquity of the word "governance" does not make its meaning any clearer. A lack of clarity about the meaning of governance might engender skepticism about its importance. The lack of clarity lends piquancy to questions such as: How does the concept of governance differ from that of government? Why has the concept of governance become ubiquitous? What is the relationship of governance to democracy? How do policy actors respond to the challenges of governance?

This book attempts to answer these questions. It argues that:

The concept of governance evokes a more pluralistic pattern of rule than does government: governance is less focused on state institutions, and more focused on the processes and interactions that tie the state to civil society.

The concept of governance has spread because new theories of politics and public sector reforms inspired by these theories have led to a crisis of faith in the state.

Governance and the crisis of faith in the state make our image of representative democracy implausible.

Policy actors have responded to the challenge of governance in ways that are constrained by the image of representative democracy and a faith in policy expertise.

While these arguments might seem straightforward, we will confront a host of complexities along the way. These complexities often reflect the limited extent to which we can expect concepts such as governance to have fixed content. "Governance" is a vague and contested term, as are many political concepts. People hold different theories and values that lead them, quite reasonably, to ascribe different content to the concept of governance. There are, in other words, multiple theories and multiple worlds of governance, each of which has different implications for democracy.

I have responded to this complexity in part by mixing general discussions of the new governance with specific case studies that locate Britain in various comparative and international contexts. In the particular case of Britain, this book argues that:

The concept of governance evokes a differentiated polity that stands in contrast to the Westminster model.

The concept of governance has spread because new theories of politics and also public sector reforms inspired by these theories have eroded faith in the Westminster model.

A shift of perspective from the Westminster model to the differentiated polity poses challenges for the constitution and public administration.

Policy actors have generally responded to these challenges by promoting reforms that remain constrained by the Westminster model and a faith in policy expertise.

Diagnosis and Prescription

My aims are primarily diagnostic. I identify trends and problems in current democracy. Governance undermines old expressions of representative democracy including the Westminster model. Policy actors typically remain trapped by the image of representative democracy buttressed now by a faith in policy expertise. Their policies restrict democracy. Representative governments struggle to direct the policy process. An illusory expertise crowds out citizen participation.

While this book is mainly diagnostic, it contains prescriptive arguments. Just as the diagnosis points to modernist theories as a source of current problems of democracy, so the prescription involves turning away from these theories. Modernist social science has restricted democracy. Interpretive social science may be a cure.

Interpretive social science certainly shifts our perspective on the relationship of knowledge to the state. Modernist social scientists generally see only how their theories analyze the state. An interpretive approach enables us also to see how social science partly constitutes the state. It may be controversial to argue that social science makes the world as well as analyzing it. But the argument is obvious: if policy actors form policies using formal or folk theories from social science, then social science partly constitutes those policies.

Approaches to social science do not have logically necessary relationships to democratic theories and practices. However, my diagnosis suggests that historically modernist social science has undermined faith in representative democracy and led policy actors to turn increasingly to an expertise based on modernist social science itself. My prescriptive hope is that an interpretive social science may reveal the limitations of this expertise and encourage more pluralist and participatory forms of democracy.

These diagnostic and prescriptive arguments reflect a historical narrative about the changing nature of social science and democratic practice. The new theories and worlds of governance are part of a long process of rethinking and remaking the modern state. My diagnosis narrates the shift from developmental historicism to modernism. My prescription advocates another shift to interpretive social science, dialogue, and participation.

Much of the nineteenth century was dominated by a developmental historicism in which the state appeared as a consummation of the history of a nation that was held together by ties of race, language, character, and culture. This developmental historicism promoted the following three ideas. First, the state was or at least could be the expression of the common good (or public interest) of a nation (or people) that was bound together by prepolitical ties. Second, social science grasped the character of any particular state as a historical product of a prepolitical nation. Third, representative institutions enabled citizens to elect and hold accountable politicians who expressed, acted on, and safeguarded the common good of the nation.

The modern literature on governance rose as developmental historicism gave way to modernist social science. Modernist social science undermined older views of the state and nation. Instead the literature on governance exhibits the following three ideas. First, the state is fragmented, consisting of self-interested actors or complex networks. Second, social science explains policy outcomes by appealing to formal ahistorical models, correlations, mechanisms, or processes. Third, representative institutions are at most a small part of a larger policy process in which a range of actors, many of whom are unelected and unaccountable, negotiate, formulate, and implement policies in accord with their particular interests and norms.

If the new governance is part of a process of profound historical importance, it still remains up to us to make the future out of current circumstances. How should we do so? This book promotes an interpretive theory of governance that promotes the following three ideas. First, the state is fragmented, consisting of complex networks of actors inspired by different beliefs formed against the background of competing traditions. Second, social science can offer us only stories about how people have acted and guesses about how they might act. Third, representative institutions should be supplemented less by appeals to an allegedly formal and ahistorical expertise and more by alternative forms of democracy.

My adherence to an interpretive theory of governance thus leads me to question the wisdom of recent attempts to remake the state. Modernist theories of governance typically suggest that the cracks in representative institutions can be papered over by policy expertise. Rational choice theory and institutionalism often appeal to expert knowledge that promotes nonmajoritarian institutions or networks. In contrast, I adhere to an interpretive theory that undermines the modernist notion of expertise and suggests we should be thinking instead about how to renew democracy.

Clearly my prescription reflects my diagnosis. The appeal to interpretive social science and participatory democracy rests on the account of the way modernist social science influences democratic governance. Equally, however, the diagnosis reflects the interpretive social science I prescribe. Aspects of the prescription are important to a proper understanding of the diagnosis. Thus, this book has a somewhat circular structure. The rest of this chapter introduces the interpretive approach to social science that informs the ensuing diagnosis of problems of democratic governance. The final chapter returns to this interpretive approach and participatory democracy as possible solutions to these problems. Readers who get impatient with philosophy may want to skip directly to the next chapter, avoiding my justification of my approach and going straight to the start of my narrative.

Interpretive Social Science

There are various ways of defining interpretive social science. Sometimes interpretation appears primarily as a matter of method. Interpretive methods contrast with quantitative ones or with both quantitative and qualitative ones. Advocates defend them as superior to these other methods or at least as necessary supplements to these other methods. The argument is often that only methods such as observation, interviewing, and discourse analysis can reveal the rich texture of human life. Interpretive methods are, in this view, the route to a level of factual detail that other methods miss. Advocates defend interpretive studies either as a means of checking and fleshing out broad generalizations or as the only way of discovering the facts. Their methodological concept of interpretive social science leads them to spend much time worrying about the objectivity of their data, the rigor of their analyses, and the criteria for evaluating their work.

In my view, however, interpretation is primarily about philosophy. Interpretive social science derives from a historicist philosophy-but a more radical historicism than the developmental one I mentioned earlier. Historicism refers generally to a belief that we can discuss human cultures and practices adequately only as historical objects. Historicist modes of reasoning became commonplace in the nineteenth century. Social scientists conceived of human life as being inherently purposeful and intentional. Yet nineteenth-century historicism remained developmental, conceiving of purposes and intentions as guided by fixed principles. While different social scientists relied on slightly different principles, the most commonly accepted ones included liberty, reason, nation, and state. These principles guided social scientists in selecting the facts to include in their historical narratives. They defined nineteenth-century histories. They inspired a belief in the unity and progressive nature of history.

Radical historicism does away with appeals to principles that lend necessity and unity to history. The result is an emphasis on nominalism and contingency. Nominalism refers here to the idea that universals are just names for clusters of particulars. In social science, aggregate concepts do not refer to natural kinds with essences, but only to a series of particular people and actions. Radical historicists reject uses of concepts that refer to types of state, society, economy, or nation as if they had an essence that defines their boundaries and explains other aspects of their nature or development. They reject reifications. All social life is meaningful activity. Moreover, a rejection of reifications highlights the contingency of social life. Activity is not governed by either formal reified concepts or teleological principles. Social life consists of a series of contingent, even accidental, actions that appropriate, modify, and transform the past to create the present. Radical historicists reject determinism, whether it reduces activity to economic factors or to reified structures and institutions.

An emphasis on nominalism and contingency leads radical historicists to an antinaturalist analysis of social explanation. Radical historicists may accept a naturalist ontology according to which humans are part of nature and no more than part of nature. But radical historicists typically argue that the social sciences require a different form of explanation from the natural sciences. As Clifford Geertz famously claimed, social science needs to be "not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning."

Positivists once defended naturalism by arguing that causal explanations are valid only if they fit observations, and meanings are irrelevant because they are not observable. Today, however, most modernist social scientists accept that actions have meanings for those who perform them, and even that agents act for reasons of their own. The naturalism of these modernist social scientists differs from the antinaturalism of interpretive social science in the role given to meanings in social explanation. Naturalists want meanings to drop out of explanations. They might argue that to give the reasons for an action is merely to redescribe it; to explain an action, we have to show how it-and so perhaps the reason for which the agent performed it-conforms to a general law couched in terms of social facts.

In contrast, radical historicists, emphasizing nominalism, dismiss social facts as reifications. They argue that actions are meaningful and meanings are holistic. They then take holism to entail a distinctive contextualizing approach to social explanation. Social scientists can explain people's beliefs and actions by locating them in a wider context of meanings. Meanings cannot be reduced to allegedly objective facts because their content depends on their relationship to other meanings. Social science requires a contextualizing form of explanation that distinguishes it from the natural sciences. We elucidate and explain meanings by reference to wider systems of meanings, not by reference to reified categories such as social class or institutional position, and not by construing meanings as independent variables in the framework of naturalist forms of explanation.

When modernist social scientists let meanings drop out of their explanations, they are usually hoping at least to point to classifications, correlations, or other regularities that hold across various cases. Even when they renounce the ideal of a universal theory, they still regard historical contingency and contextual specificity as obstacles that need to be overcome in the search for cross-temporal and cross-cultural regularities. Naturalists characteristically search for causal connections that bestride time and space like colossi. They attempt to control for all kinds of variables and thereby arrive at parsimonious explanations.

In contrast, radical historicists, emphasizing contingency, argue that the role of meanings in social life precludes regularities acting as explanations. Radical historicists do not deny that we can make general statements covering diverse cases. They reject two specific features of a naturalist view of generalization. Radical historicists deny, first, that general statements are a uniquely powerful form of social knowledge. They believe that statements about the unique and contingent aspects of particular social phenomena are at least as apposite and valuable as general statements. Generalizations often deprive our understanding of social phenomena of what is most distinctly and significantly human about them. Radical historicists deny, second, that general statements actually explain features of particular cases. Just as we can say that several objects are red without explaining anything else about them, so we can say that several states are democracies without their being democracies explaining any other feature they have in common.

Radical historicists conceive of human action as inherently particular and contingent. They oppose social explanations that appear to appeal to ahistorical causal mechanisms. Much current philosophy supports their antinaturalist commitment to contextualizing explanations. Today the naturalism of the positivists has been almost entirely replaced by philosophical analyses such as those of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Donald Davidson. Wittgenstein argued that the meaning of a word cannot be elucidated in abstraction from the context in which it is used. Davidson then argued that social science presupposes ideas of choice and contingency that are incompatible with the forms of explanation found in natural science. Actions are explained by reasons in a way that implies actors could have reasoned and acted differently. Actions are products of contingent decisions, not the determined outcomes of lawlike processes.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Democratic Governance by Mark Bevir Copyright © 2010 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

List of Tables ix

Preface xi

Acknowledgments xiii

Abbreviations xv

Chapter 1 Interpreting Governance 1

Part I The New Governance 15

Chapter 2 The Modern State 17

Chapter 3 New Theories 39

Chapter 4 New Worlds 65

Part II Constitutionalism 93

Chapter 5 Democratic Governance 95

Chapter 6 Constitutional Reform 122

Chapter 7 Judicial Reform 147

Part III Public Administration 175

Chapter 8 Public Policy 177

Chapter 9 Joined-up Governance 199

Chapter 10 Police Reform 227

Conclusion: After Modernism 251

Bibliography 275

Index 293

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