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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!
The Bucegi mountains - the range I see from the front balcony of my mountain house - are almost 120 kms from Bucharest and cannot normally be seen from the capital but some extraordinary weather conditions allowed this pic to be taken from the top of the Intercontinental Hotel in late Feb 2020

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

"Governance" as New Kids on the Block

New words do not always indicate a new condition. One of my favourite cartoons is the Jules Feiffer one of a small kid rehearsing the various words which have been used to describe the condition of those like him -
“I used to think I was poor. Then they told me I wasn't poor, I was needy. Then they told me it was self-defeating to think of myself as needy, I was deprived...then underprivileged. Then they told me underprivileged was overused. I was disadvantaged. I still don't have a dime. But I have a great vocabulary”.
Although I hated the word "governance" when it started to appear in the 1990s, I did understand why some academics felt a new word was needed. A whole new architecture of institutions - Agencies, regulators of privatised public utilities, legally superior (EU/NATO/WTO) and inferior (devolved) bodies; not to mention public procurement and consultation procedures - means that a Government is no longer Master of it's Domain. There are other kids on the block with whom it has to share power

I am aware, however, that there are other, more ideological, reasons for using the term. Recent posts have referred to the role of bodies such as the World Bank and American Think Tanks in weakening the role and power of the State - and the use of the word "governance" has undoubtedly been one the weapons they have used. Take, for example, the famous injunction of the 1991 "Reinventing Government" book to "row - rather than steer"
But I concede that the new institutional complexity does justify the new word. Somewhat reluctantly, therefore, I have accepted that the word is a legitimate one - even if I still shiver when people use it wrongly, when they should have said "government"

But why - as I indicated in the last post - did academics stop using the term some 5-6 years ago? Are they no longer interested? Have other topics become sexier?
Have they exhausted all that can be said on the topic? If so, it would be useful if someone could do a post-mortem article to tell us that was usefully learned from this 25-year episode of scribbling...
Or perhaps this Chinese article - Governance and Good Governance (2018) was that article?
- although I have to say I prefer this 2014 article Making sense of governance

Masochists who really need an answer to such questions are directed to the two definitive Handbooks which were published just as the fashion for the subject was spluttering to an inglorious end. The excerpts give an excellent sense of the field
The Sage Handbook of Governance ; ed M Bevir (2011) 600 pp
The Oxford Handbook of Governance ; ed  David Levi-Faur (2014) 800 pp

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