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Stagnating political participation, the growth of delegated agencies and the prevalence of rationalistic-technocratic discourse all represent interlinking aspects of what can been termed 'the depoliticised polity'. Existing research has overwhelmingly focused on institutional or governmental depoliticisation strategies and fails to acknowledge repoliticisation as a critical counter-trend. This article argues that these weaknesses can be addressed through 'a three faces' approach that embraces societal and discursive depoliticisation strategies as complementary statecraft dynamics that often underpin more tangible governmental strategies. By revealing the existence of multiple forms of depoliticisation this approach also offers new insights in terms of politicisation and sociopolitical change.
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Policy & Politics • vol 42 • no 2 • 151-70 • © Policy Press 2014 • #PPjnl @policy_politics
Print ISSN 0305 5736 • Online ISSN 1470 8442 • http://dx.doi.org/10.1332/030557312X655909
Rethinking depoliticisation:
beyond the governmental
Matt Wood, m.wood@sheffield.ac.uk
Matthew Flinders, m.flinders@sheffield.ac.uk
University of Sheffield, UK
Stagnating political participation, the growth of delegated agencies and the prevalence of
rationalistic-technocratic discourse all represent interlinking aspects of what can been termed ‘the
depoliticised polity’. Existing research has overwhelmingly focused on institutional or governmental
depoliticisation strategies and fails to acknowledge repoliticisation as a critical counter-trend.
This article argues that these weaknesses can be addressed through ‘a three faces’ approach that
embraces societal and discursive depoliticisation strategies as complementary statecraft dynamics
that often underpin more tangible governmental strategies. By revealing the existence of multiple
forms of depoliticisation this approach also offers new insights in terms of politicisation and
sociopolitical change.
key words depoliticisation • governance • politicisation • post-democracy
Introduction
If the twentieth century witnessed the triumph of democracy, then the first decades
of the twenty-first century appear to suggest that something has gone seriously
wrong. This is reflected in a raft of post-millennium analyses that focus on the rise
of ‘anti-politics’ and the challenges faced by contemporary democratic governance
(for example, Rancière, 2006; Rosanvallon, 2008; Keane, 2009). Alongside this tide of
rather bleak commentary exist a number of related debates concerning (inter alia) the
decline of political participation and the rise of ‘disaffected democrats’ (see Norris,
2011); a shift to technocratic governance and models of decision making (notably
in the wake of the global financial crisis) (Davis et al, 2012); and a more subtle set
of concerns regarding the essence of democratic politics and the willingness or
capacity of politicians to take inevitably unpopular decisions (see Flinders, 2012).
These concerns have become crystallised into a set of terms (or clichés) – ‘post-
democracy’, ‘the democratic winter’, ‘the end of politics’, ‘the democratic malaise’
– broadly capturing an interpretation of recent developments, but at the same time
tending to tell us little about the roots or drivers, the patterns or forms, of these
shifts in democratic culture. To an extent, recent literature on ‘depoliticisation’ in the
article
SPECIAL ISSUE • Depoliticisation, governance and the state
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field of governance research has begun to offer a more fine-grained analysis of these
tensions and pressures (Burnham, 2001; Flinders and Buller, 2005). It is, however,
the argument of this article that this literature offers too narrow a conceptual and
empirical perspective to fully capture and analyse the complex and nuanced contours
of this vast phenomenon that we might term the ‘depoliticised polity’, and that a
broader cross-disciplinary framework is required to achieve this goal. Hence, just
as Carl Schmitt (2007), whose work is examined in the introductory article to this
special issue, argued for a broader conception of ‘the political’ going beyond ‘the
state’, so we argue in a similar spirit (but in an admittedly very different way) for an
expansive approach to studying depoliticisation, going beyond the ‘governmental’
approach predominant in the governance literature.
Although Marsh (2011, 48) highlights ‘depoliticisation’ as one of the most
‘interesting’ emergent concepts for analysing contemporary patterns of governance,
scholars have tended to approach the topic through a fairly narrow conceptual lens
(for example, Burnham 2001; Flinders and Buller, 2005; 2006; Kettell, 2008; Newman,
2009; James, 2010). Depoliticisation, here, is seen as a ‘mode of statecraft’ instituted by
politicians to deflect blame and accountability from governments as decision making
is placed at ‘one remove’ from the centre. Yet, as will be shown in this article, there
is a range of cross-disciplinary literature that focuses attention on quite different,
yet equally important (and frequently interrelated) pressures operating in the wider
public and private spheres of society – what this article terms ‘societal’ and ‘discursive’
depoliticisation. These relate to, on the one hand, the role played by (for example)
the media, special interest groups and corporations in shifting issues off the agenda
of public deliberation – what we term, ‘societal depoliticisation’ – and (on the other
hand) the ‘speech acts’ of individuals in the private and public arena that make certain
issues appear to be ‘normal’ or ‘natural’ – here labelled, ‘discursive depoliticisation’.
The boundaries between these two ‘faces’ is, as we acknowledge, sometimes blurred
and contested, but at a broader level we argue that these two forms or modes of
depoliticisation are both distinctive, interrelated, and to some extent even parasitical.
Moreover, the core argument of this article – and to some extent the main argument
of this special issue – is that any analysis of depoliticisation that focuses solely on
institutions and a narrow conception of ‘the political’ will ultimately produce only
largely cosmetic or shallow analyses. Put slightly differently, the aim of this article
is to dig a little deeper and to begin to acknowledge and trace those deeper social
and discursive shifts that frequently buttress or underpin institutional reforms and
governmental decisions.
The most comprehensive analytical framework in this field is offered by Flinders
and Buller (2006) and their dissection of a range of ‘principles, tactics and tools’. This
identified three forms or ‘tactics’ vis-à-vis depoliticisation (institutional, rule-based,
preference-shaping) and this has subsequently been applied in a range of studies
in a range of policy areas (see, for example, Kettell, 2008; Rogers, 2009a; 2009b;
Beveridge, 2012; Krippner, 2011, 146; Maman and Rosenheck, 2011, 16–17; Mishra,
2011, 159–63). Our critique of Flinders and Buller’s influential work, however, is
that it set in train a form of intellectual path-dependency that over-emphasised
a governmental state-centric approach, but under-emphasised the less visible but
arguably more important discursive and societal dimensions of depoliticisation. As Laura
Jenkins notes (2011, 159):
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[d]espite offering some useful analytical pointers, this work is not without
weaknesses and omissions… they simply do not provide an explicit
conceptualisation of politics and the conception that they seem to rest upon
is narrow. The discussion appears state-centred, essentially referring to the
extension, concealment, alteration or reduction of state control… Buller
and Flinders’ general lack of clarity on their conception of the political is
particularly odd, given that the main emphasis in the piece is on definitional
clarity surrounding the concept of depoliticisation.
The aim of this article is therefore to provide a broader analysis of the interrelationships
between different conceptual and empirical perspectives on depoliticisation, as a first
step towards a more sophisticated account of the ‘depoliticised polity’. This leads to a
reappraisal, or at the very least, a reengagement with Colin Hay’s (and later Matthew
Flinders’) analysis of forms of both politicisation and depoliticisation as functions,
powers and responsibilities flowing between different political spheres across society
(Hay, 2007; Flinders, 2008). Such a reappraisal leads to the identification of a conceptual
and empirical horizon beyond a fairly narrow state-centric approach, but enables us
to grasp how different forms of depoliticisation become almost self-sustaining, even
parasitical. It is this broader ecosystem of depoliticising trends and tides which this
article seeks to bring to the fore.
The challenge, however, lies in corralling several large, empirically and conceptually
eclectic pools of literature. Put slightly differently, this is clearly a wide-ranging article
and, like painting on a large canvas, this has required the use of a fairly broad brush and
a sharp knife, in both analytical and empirical terms. Nevertheless, it is hoped that by
‘rethinking depoliticisation’ and placing this discussion within the contours of debates
concerning the future of the state, this article will hopefully stimulate more scholarly
interest in this topic, thereby filling in the detail and achieving a more fine-grained
understanding (not least within the other contributions in this special edition). With
this in mind this article is divided into three interrelated sections. The first section
draws upon Hay’s Why we hate politics (2007) in order to provide the basis for a new
‘organising perspective’ on depoliticisation. The second and most substantive section
then fleshes out this organising perspective by mapping the range of literature on
depoliticisation, in order to identify intersections and interrelationships between three
‘faces’ of depoliticisation. The final section then reflects on the broader significance
of this mapping exercise for the future study of depoliticisation, with a particular
emphasis on cross-disciplinary eclecticism, as well as its relevance to contemporary
debates concerning governance and the state.
Mapping depoliticisation
Any exercise in conceptual, geographical or scientific mapping is concerned as much
with creating usable ‘mental models’ as it is with reflecting reality. Harry Beck’s
iconic and well-known map of the London Underground provides an exceptional
example of this craft, with its simple lines and colours which quickly convey needed
and accurate information to the tired and rushed traveller. In essence, the argument
of this article is that ‘rethinking depoliticisation’ requires the use of a new map or
mental model in order to reveal interdependences between at least three primary
forms of (or approaches to the study of) depoliticisation. A map, that is, which is sensitive
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to how ‘depoliticisation’, in the broader literature in political science and beyond,
commonly refers to a rebalancing or a shift in the nature of governance relationships
that involves not only the displacement of decisions from politicians, but the exercise
of power by many non-state actors as well. In this regard Hay’s (2007) analysis of
political disengagement provides a canvas on which to map out the contours of
a new and more expansive conceptualisation of depoliticisation, due to his broad
approach to politics, defined as ‘the realm of contingency and deliberation’, which
he disaggregates into three distinct spheres (Figure 1, below).
The immediate benefit of this approach is that it identifies forms of both politicisation
and depoliticisation as mirror-image developments across a spectrum of public
governance. To become politicised in this sense is associated with an issue becoming
subject to public deliberation, decision making and contingency where previously
it was not. ‘Accordingly, the most basic form of politicisation (Type 1) is associated
with the extension of the capacity for human influence and deliberation’ Hay (2007,
81) notes, ‘which comes with disavowing the prior assignment of an issue – or issue
domain – to the realm of fate or necessity’. This may involve the questioning of
religious taboos or cultural assumptions that were previously held as sacrosanct, or
the spillover effects of recent scientific and technological developments that offer new
opportunities to control issues that were previously thought beyond human control
(that is, fate). Issues may then become further politicised when they develop into the
focus of a concerted pattern of public deliberation as if they have suddenly become
identified as issues of collective, rather than individual or private, wellbeing. This is
a politicisation of Type 2 and it too may take many forms (the consciousness-raising
activities of feminists, environmentalists, anti-globalisation protestors or any other
Realm of neccessity (‘non-
political’)
Depoliticization 1
Depoliticization 2
Depoliticization 3
Politicization 3
Politicization 2
Politicization 1
Governmental
sphere
Public sphere
Private sphere
Figure 1: Politicisation and depoliticisation
Source: Hay, 2007, 79.
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such group are essentially attempting to lift an issue into the public domain). This
‘lifting’ or politicisation of an issue may, in turn, propel it into the governmental sphere
(Type 3) as it becomes the focus of legislative debates, new laws, the responsibility of
government departments and similarly ‘governmental’ processes.
What this focus on politicisation reveals is the existence of sociopolitical gradations
and historical patterns, in which the boundaries of each sphere have ebbed and flowed
according to (inter alia) the government of the day, public attitudes and global trends.
The dominant trend in recent decades, if the literature on the ‘unbundling’ of the
state is to be believed (Pollitt and Talbot, 2004), has been on the depoliticisation of
various formerly governmental tasks through a combination of delegation (Type 1),
privatisation (Type 2) and denial (Type 3). Here, Type 1 depoliticisation focuses on
the hiving off of functions away from elected politicians towards a complex range
of extra-governmental organisations, para-statals and semi-independent bodies
(collectively known as the sphere of ‘delegated’ or ‘distributed public’ governance).
The conceptual emphasis here is not so much that the issue of concern has become
any less political, in the sense of its impact on individuals or society, but that it has
been transferred to a less obviously politicised arena. (Hence Flinders and Buller’s
(2006) emphasis on ‘arena-shifting’). The next stage of depoliticisation involves a
function or issue being displaced from the public (non-governmental) sphere to the
private sphere, in the sense that it becomes a matter of private/ consumer choice.
The representation of the issue of environmental degradation or unemployment in
such a way that responsibility is seen to lie, not with politicians, business or society at
large, but with the behaviour of individuals is, if successful, a form of depoliticisation
(Type 2) (see, for example, Weiss and Wodak, 2000; Sharone, 2007). Hay notes that
the evolution of societal values may also serve to depoliticise certain issues as, for
example, matters of race or sexuality may wane as matters of public interest per se.
The final form of depoliticisation (Type 3) revolves around placing issues back within
the realm of fate, and in so doing denying the existence of contingency and choice.
Such a development would chime with Giddens’ (1994) emphasis on ‘life politics’,
and a shift to individualised responses to collective problems instead of collective effort
and shared resolve. The imposition of the logic of a divine authority would represent
an example of this dynamic, as any fundamentalist position is arguably irreconcilable
with a compromise based democratic model of politics. The promotion of ‘the logic
of no alternative’ vis-à-vis globalisation and the liberalisation of economies might
also be interpreted as an attempt to depoliticise an issue through the politics of denial.
This notion of spheres or boundaries, between which issues and functions ebb
and flow depending on the social context, resonates with both the language and
arguments expressed within Jacques Rancière’s On the Shores of Politics (1995), and
most clearly his belief that politics is, at base, a competition between two fundamental
and opposed forms of politics: one depoliticising and the other repoliticising. It is
in exactly this context that this article is making three interrelated arguments across
three levels. At the macro and most basic level, even the most cursory analysis of the
existing literature on depoliticisation reveals the manner in which it remains not
simply an ‘essentially contested’ or ‘fuzzy’ concept, but also one that has generally been
the victim of conceptual stretching rather than travelling. Following on from this,
the second mid-range argument is that depoliticisation has generally been examined
through a fairly narrow state-centric lens which has blinkered scholars to the broader
societal and discursive elements of the phenomena. As such, the third and most
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specific argument of this article (and specifically of this section) is that Hay’s (2007)
framework (Figure 1, above) provides the intellectual canvas on which to map out
a far more rounded and sophisticated account of not only the existence of different
forms or modes of depoliticisation but also the interrelationships, contradictions and
pathologies between those forms and the pressures for (re)politicisation. More precisely,
existing studies have focused almost exclusively on the transition of functions from
the governmental to the public (non-governmental) spheres, but have paid far less
attention to the more outlying and less tangible forms of depoliticisation that arguably
add depth and texture and context to any analysis of ‘Type 1 depoliticisation’. It
is for exactly this reason that the next section seeks to ‘rethink depoliticisation’ by
exploring not one face but three.
Three faces of depoliticisation
This article is an exercise in conceptual political analysis. It seeks to impose a degree
of analytical order on a hitherto confused and complex intellectual terrain, and in
this regard the previous section outlined Hay’s (2007) framework of politicisation
and depoliticisation as a starting point for building a more sophisticated organising
perspective. That is, one that is aware of the dialectical and iterative relationships
between context, agency and structure; one that is sensitive to the existence of
gradations and parallel processes of both politicisation and depoliticisation; and one that
offers the capacity to more fully understand the relationship between depoliticisation,
governance and the state. The aim of this section is to construct that organising
perspective by mapping three ‘faces’ or forms of depoliticisation onto Hay’s work
or, more specifically, to delineate a link between the demotion of a topic from the
public sphere to the private sphere (that is, Type 2, discussed above) with what we
term societal depoliticisation, and demotion from the private sphere to the realm
of necessity (that is, Type 3) with discursive depoliticisation. While not a panacea
for the challenges of political analysis vis-à-vis modern governance, this ‘Hay-plus’
map is distinctive for at least three reasons. First, it suggests the need to broaden the
focus of analysis away from an overly state-centric emphasis, and in doing so reveals
the relevance of depoliticisation to a vast range of policy areas beyond economic
policy. Secondly, this perspective begins the task of pulling together an eclectic and
often disconnected range of debates and literatures, but in a manner that retains a
sense of normative tension and intellectual diversity. As a result (thirdly), this ‘three-
faces’ perspective provides a set of intellectual containers through which to prevent
‘conceptual stretching’ and facilitate ‘conceptual travelling’, while also remaining
true to Sartori’s (1970) advice that ‘three slices are sufficient for the purposes of
logical analysis’. With this in mind, Table 1 maps out the three-faces approach, and
the remainder of this section provides a brief review of each face.
Face 1: governmental depoliticisation
Analyses of governmental depoliticisation adopt a state-centric or institutionalist
approach that examines the withdrawal of politicians from the direct control of a vast
range of functions, and the rise of technocratic forms of governance. Given that this
is the dominant perspective, and that this article is concerned with emphasising two
associated but quite different and under-acknowledged ‘faces’ of depoliticisation, it
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is sufficient here to simply highlight three strands of literature and then three tools
or examples of this form. In relation to the intellectual history and pedigree of this
approach, its Weberian focus on bureaucracy and professionalisation flows into a
historical account of the debates concerning the politicisation and depoliticisation
of public and civil servants (see Grzymala-Busse, 2003; Meyer-Sahling, 2004; Peters
and Pierre, 2005). Couched generally in a distinction between (depoliticised) ‘public
appointments’ and (politicised) ‘patronage’, the literature on this topic explores
the introduction of institutional and rule-based systems to neutralise the capacity
of ministers (and the ways in which elected politicians frequently seek to resist or
undermine such limits on their powers). The second strand dovetails with this historical
literature, but in a more theoretically driven manner, focusing on ‘the logic of reason’,
non-majoritarian institutions, policy credibility and the merits of depoliticised forms
of regulatory governance (Thatcher and Stone Sweet, 2002; Coen and Thatcher, 2005;
Landwehr and Böhm, 2011). This is a rational choice inspired body of scholarship
that is particularly associated with the work of Majone (for example, 2001), and seeks
to counter the short-term incentives of the electoral cycle by limiting the capacity
of politicians to interfere with certain decision-making structures for short-term
partisan gain.
Both the historical literature on the evolution of the state (and the civil service, in
particular), and the scholarship on regulatory governance, are imbued with a deep
distrust of politicians and, as such, bring with them a centrifugal pressure for the
depoliticisation of responsibilities (hence the structural response to the ‘credibility
crisis’ (that is, hiving off) creates its own ‘democratic deficit’ as elected politicians
gradually become directly responsible for less and less). The third pool of literature,
however, brings with it a quite different centripetal dynamic, that almost attempts to
politicise the study of governance and the state by drawing attention to depoliticisation
Table 1: Three faces of depoliticisation
Face Hay-link Essence Conception
of ‘the
political’
Act Example Actors Key texts
Governmental
Type 1
Govt sphere
to public
(non-govt)
sphere
‘Weberian’
The state DELEGATION
of elected
politicians from
direct control
The hiving off
of functions to
arm’s-length
agencies,
boards and
commissions
Politicians Burnham,
2001;
Flinders and
Buller, 2006
Societal
Type 2
Public
(non-govt)
sphere to
private
sphere
‘Tocquevillian’
Public
deliberation
PRIVATISATION
of the issue or
function from
the (collective)
public sphere
to the
(individualised)
private sphere
An important
political issue
is displaced
from the media
news-cycle
Politicians
and citizens
Brändström
and Kuipers,
2003;
Blühdorn,
2007
Discursive
Type 3
Private
sphere to
realm of
necessity
‘Gramscian’
Political
agency
DENIAL of the
capacity for
control through
‘speech acts’
Need to cut
fiscal deficit
presented
as ‘common
sense’.
Anyone Gamble,
2000;
Jenkins,
2011
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as a form of statecraft within an increasingly globalised capitalist economy (see, for
example, Bonefeld and Burnham, 1998; Kettell, 2008; Newman, 2009; Krippner, 2011).
It is in exactly this vein that Hout and Robison (2009, 4) promote a conceptualisation
of depoliticisation as relating to ‘good governance’ or ‘autonomy for technocratic
authority from what are seen as distributional (political) coalitions’. This, in turn,
provides for a focus on independent central banks, the establishment of various
rules-based monetary systems, the ‘judicialisation of politics’, and a broader concern
with the rise of a technocratic ‘logic of appropriateness’ that many critical social and
political theorists are attempting to challenge in terms of emphasising the existence
of some element of macro-economic choice, and by doing so seeking to politicise
fiscal policy (for example, Randeria, 2007).
If a focus on the history of the state, regulatory governance, and political economy
provide the three clearest examples of the dominant governmental approach, then
they each in their own ways also demonstrate the existence of three forms of tools
of depoliticisation. The first is an institutional response in the form of what we might
– for the sake of simplicity – refer to as ‘the politics of ABC’ (that is, agencies, boards
and commissions), and the creation of quasi-autonomous bodies through which
the explicit ‘political character of decision making’, as Peter Burnham (2001) notes,
is placed ‘at one remove’. The second tool revolves around ‘binding the hands’ of
politicians through the introduction of new rules and regulations that are designed to
limit and constrain their discretion. This may involve monetary policy, the availability
of drugs and medicines, immigration rates or the introduction of recruitment systems
that are designed to prevent nepotism, cronyism and corruption in developing
countries (Dyson, 2005; Hasnas, 2008). To speak of creating arm’s-length bodies or
the strategy of ‘binding the hands’ of politicians, as a way of depoliticising tasks, is
hardly original or fresh – Toulmin Smith’s Government by commission: dangerous and
pernicious, was published in 1849. Yet, in exploring the creation of complex policy
and delivery networks as a strategy of depoliticisation, some scholars have begun to
move towards a more distinctive approach to this topic (Eberlein and Newman, 2008;
James, 2010). Here, it is suggested that politicians use ‘the problem of many hands’
(that is, the diffusion of responsibility across a range of interdependent actors, see
Thompson, 1980) as a way of blurring the accountability space and distancing their
own personal responsibility (Papadopoulos, 2007; Kunz, 2011). Such a perspective is
evident in studies of policy and network governance in food safety standards (Smith,
1991), policing (Needham, 2009) and care for the elderly (Bode and Firbank, 2009).
There is a clear connection here with the broader terrain of multilevel governance,
its complex vertical and horizontal components, and its emphasis on the notion
of fuzzy or opaque network governance. For now, though, we focus on alternative
conceptualisations of depoliticisation and how they relate to and inform the state-
centric approaches that have been briefly discussed in this section. It is for exactly this
reason that we now turn to our second face and a focus on societal depoliticisation.
Face 2: societal depoliticisation
‘Depoliticisation has been defined and discussed in a very narrow way as a “form
of statecraft” or a “strategy for governing”’ Blühdorn (2007, 314) argues: ‘[but]
depoliticisation and delegation are far more than just strategies of government…
instead they should be regarded as phenomena which are relevant at all levels of
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advanced modern society’. Here, Blühdorn is shifting the analytical lens from the political
to the social. This shift in focus can clearly be captured within Hay’s (2007) framework
(Figure 1, above) as it captures both state and civil society actors or, more specifically,
where state-centric approaches focus on elite decision making this approach focuses
on the existence (or not) of social deliberation across and between the various ‘spheres
of contingency’ (governmental, public and private) that acknowledge the existence of
choice. Here, Harder (1996) provides a definition of ‘societal’ depoliticisation as ‘the
process by which the social deliberation surrounding a political issue gradually erodes
to the extent that it effectively becomes depoliticised in the sense that the existence
of choices concerning that issue are no longer debated’. A ‘depoliticised polity’ would
therefore exhibit very little public debate about major social issues or political options
alongside a very barren political landscape in terms of public engagement and social
dynamism. It is therefore not surprising that the intellectual roots of this ‘face’ stem
from the focus on civic decline and political disengagement that emerged from the
early 1970s onwards. The Trilateral Commission’s report – The crisis of democracy
(1975) – therefore provides a notable reference point that led to a surge in research
into public attitudes, political behaviour, social capital, cultural decline and the rise
of ‘disaffected democrats’ (for a review see Norris, 2011).
As a result, the concept of depoliticisation emerged within a wide range of discplines
and sub-fields (development studies (Harriss, 2002), sociology (Boggs, 2000), European
studies (Hooghe and Marks, 2008), party politics (Pellikan et al, 2003), international
politics (Lyons et al, 1977; Sagarika Dutt, 1995), electoral politics (Power, 1991),
geography (Shin, 2001), and so on) as a descriptive term, sometimes bordering on little
more than a ‘buzzword’, to suggest the decreasing salience of ‘political’ issues among the
public, and the emergence of a disinterested democratic culture. Although the literature
on this ‘face’ is undoubtedly more diverse and unfocused than that surrounding state-
centric approaches, it is possible to identify a strand of internal consistency among
and between its component parts, in the form of a conception of politics as very
much a participatory and deliberative endeavour. Societal depoliticisation is therefore
infused with a ‘Tocquevillian’ lament, a focus on ‘engaged’ and ‘active’ citizenship, and
an interest in the drivers of political disengagement. This, in turn, focuses attention
not just upon the role of politicians and political institutions, but also on the role and
capacity of social actors and institutions – pressure groups, the media, social movements,
religious groups, business associations – to fuel political apathy or deny the existence of
choice in relation to certain issues. From the ‘shock jock’ but best-selling anti-political
protestations of P, J O’Rourke’s Don’t vote: It just encourages the bastards (2010) through
to John Lloyd’s questions regarding What the media do to our politics? (2004), a focus on
societal depoliticisation examines the changing nature of sociopolitical relationships,
and specifically on the role and power of intermediary institutions that sit between
the governors and the governed. It is for exactly this reason that Matthew Flinders
frames his Defending politics (2012) by not only emphasising what he terms the rise of
the politics of denial – a euphemism for societal depoliticisation - but also by revealing
the manner in which many social institutions promote a ‘bad faith model of politics’
as part of a strategy for the promotion of sectional rather than public interests.
If Edmund Burke’s (1985) emphasis on open, self-organised ‘little platoons’ forms
the theoretical and normative core of this ‘face’, then it is a thread that can be followed
through a range of pools of research that add texture and tone to this approach, and
in this regard two areas of writing deserve brief discussion. First, the literature on the
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evolution, role and capacity of political parties provides a fairly focused way of engaging
with a form of societal depoliticisation. The evidence of party decline, and the rise
of the highly professionalised cartel party, reveals a narrowing in the base, scope and
activity of political parties and the use of state funding to limit political competition
and ensure their own success (for example, Katz and Mair, 2009). This chimes with
Blühdorn’s (2007) argument that societal depoliticisation revolves around a focus on
core business, efficiency, and best practice which inevitably tends to depoliticise many
of the values and principles that originally informed the organisation (see also Gaynor,
2011). This flows into an upsurge of interest in ‘valence politics’ and evidence that
electoral decisions by the public are increasingly made, not on the basis of a recognition
of the existence of different political choices, but on an assessment of individual and
party competence vis-à-vis specific issues (notably the economy) (see Denver, 2005).
Berkhout et al (2012, 5) present a quadrant in which ‘valence politics’ appears in the
same half as ‘not politicised’ politics, in which there is ‘agreement/ cooperation’ over
an issue. This is opposed to ‘politicised politics’, which involves both high levels of
political salience and polarisation; the implication being that a depoliticised polity is
also a ‘choice-less democracy’, in which the only questions revolve around who to
select to manage a predestined political project (for a similar literature on choice-less
democracies in development studies see Ferguson, 1990; Harriss, 2002). It is for exactly
this reason that Sim (2006) and Langer (2010) discuss societal depoliticisation from
the position that substantive policy debates have generally been replaced by cosmetic
personality-based debates that have curiously ‘obliterated the political’ while at the
same time ‘politicising the private persona’.
The notion of a ‘choice-less democracy’ brings with it the inevitable echo of
Francis Fukayama’s (1992) thesis regarding the ‘end of history’ and the triumph of
liberal democracy, and therefore raises a set of broader questions concerning the
mutation of Burke’s (1985) ‘little platoons’ into ‘ignorant armies’ (Webb, 2006). If
the social space for political deliberation and debate has really been closed down,
and the existence of many choices denied, then political apathy and disengagement
might be interpreted as a rational response. Indeed, Carl Boggs’ The end of politics
(2000, 30) promotes such an interpretation of contemporary political behaviour:
‘one of the most visible and easily measurable signs of depoliticisation is sharply
fading voter participation’. The second more expansive pool of literature on societal
depoliticisation is therefore concerned with political parties, not because of their value
as vehicles of public deliberation and engagement, but in regard to their promotion
of choice on a broad political spectrum. Empirical studies from this position remain
scattered but distinctive. Gunther et al (1988) located declining electoral turnout in
Spain as an outcome of the depoliticisation of the party system, and Ruiz-Rodriguez
(2005) identifies similar patterns in Chile, while, the research of Pellikan et al (2003)
examines what they term ‘the road from a depoliticised to a centrifugal democracy’.
Just as the focus on arm’s-length bodies and rule-based systems offered little in terms
of originality to the state-centric approach (discussed above), the same could be said
of this section’s emphasis on political parties and political choice. A more distinctive
approach to the issue of societal depoliticisation is, however, to be found in Jasper’s
(1988) analysis of political lifecycles. This identifies the manner in which specific
technological issues tend to follow a broadly similar pattern, with issues going from
a ‘pre-political’ period of reliance on ‘experts’, politicisation onto the government and
public agenda with growing contestation, followed by depoliticisation as government
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takes action and the issue burns out, and finally a ‘post-political’ period of acceptance
and non-deliberation. This political lifecycle with its transitional stages between
technocratic governance, politicisation, depoliticisation, and then a shift to an almost
post-political stage has been extended to analyse policy failures and ‘blame games’.
Brändström and Kuipers (2003, 280) therefore argue that ‘actions and events in public
policy become politicised when influential actors in the political arena succeed in
framing them as blameworthy violations of crucial public values’. As policy failures
come and go, political interest waxes and wanes depending upon the success (or failure)
of political actors to ‘name failures and assign blame’, and hence ‘politicise incidents
as policy failures’ (2003, 280, 281). Correspondingly, the ‘depoliticisation’ of political
failures occurs when, in a similarly dynamic way, influential actors define those events
as a concern for the market, or the ‘private’ sphere (2003, 281). As such, this vein of
scholarship highlights two critical issues. First, depoliticisation is a dynamic and fluid
process in which forms of the various ‘faces’ are rarely independent or distinct, but
tend to exist in a Janus-faced manner whereby the transfer of a function away from
ministers (that is, governmental depoliticisation) is fuelled, or at the very least facilitated,
by a broader process of societal depoliticisation (delegation of decision making goes
hand in hand with the decline of issues as salient matters in societal debate). The
boundaries of Hay’s (2007) concentric circles are therefore blurred and to some extent
overlapping. Secondly, a potential weakness of Hay’s framework (and to some extent
Blühdorn’s (2007) approach to societal depoliticisation) is that a continued focus on
‘arenas’ may lead to a still narrow and relatively static conceptualisation of politicising
and depoliticising processes. As Greta Krippner (2011, 146) argues, ‘another dimension
of depoliticisation is concerned less with the social location of decisions than with
their content’. A more dynamic approach therefore shifts the focus of analysis from
arenas to discourse, and in so doing facilitates a more dynamic conceptualisation. It
is for this reason that the next section focuses on discursive depoliticisation.
Face 3: discursive depoliticisation
At first glance, our third face appears remarkably similar to societal depoliticisation, in
the sense that it can be initiated both from within and outside the state, it primarily
relates to debate and deliberation, and it focuses on the tools through which debates
concerning political choice and contingency are closed down. The point of departure,
however, lies in discursive depoliticisation’s focus, not on institutions, arenas or actors
but on ideas and language. It therefore offers a decentred approach that cuts across
conventional boundaries (that is, public/ private) and instead recognises the manner in
which any speech act which seeks to form ‘necessities, permanence, immobility, closure
and fatalism… concealing, negating or removing contingency’, is itself a powerful tool
of depoliticisation (Jenkins 2011, 160). As such, depoliticisation occurs when the debate
surrounding an issue becomes technocratic, managerial, or disciplined towards a single
goal, and hence changed in content. (A process of discursive politicisation would therefore
involve the promotion of a topic as a public issue where competing interpretations exist
as choices.) The promotion of an issue, but alongside a single interpretation and the
denial of choice would, therefore, create a form of depoliticisation from this discursive
perspective. Moral panics, for example, serve to politicise certain issues in an explosive
manner, while at the same time tending to depoliticise those issues by focusing
attention on specific ‘folk devils’, alongside a grossly simplified narrative that posits
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a simple solution (constrain, reject, kill the folk devil) to a complex problem. The
demonisation of social groups therefore adds a new twist to our understanding of
depoliticisation, in the sense that a dominant sociology of knowledge rapidly emerges
that tends to create an intense social reaction, while also succeeding in closing down
debate and deliberation (see Cohen, 2002).
At the centre of this third ‘face’ is therefore what might be termed a ‘Gramscian’
intellectual perspective, with an emphasis on radical thinking and the role of
language and culture in relation to political debates. Analyses of the discursive ‘face’
of depoliticisation developed from radical theoretical literature during the post-Cold
War period, which highlighted how the dominant ‘anti-political’ culture transcended
certain political divisions, thereby creating the illusion of ‘consensus’. Scholars, such
as Pierre Bourdieu (2003), Slavoj Žižek (2002), and more recently Chantal Mouffe
(2005), argued in favour of new forms of radical democratic action that exposed
the existence of antagonism and ‘difference’. Jacques Rancière (1995, 5) sums up
the attitude of this literature to the post-Cold War world, arguing that politics ends
‘as a secret voyage to the isles of utopia’ to become ‘the art of steering the ship and
embracing the waves, in a natural, peaceful movement of growth’. In other words, grand
ideological clashes give way to technocracy and acceptance of neoliberal discourse.
The value of identifying the existence of discursive depoliticisation is therefore
simply the manner in which it exposes the power and capacity of certain political
actors to promote ‘the politics of denial’ but, more importantly, the manner in which
it seeks to re-politicise certain issues. Put slightly differently, the scholars who work
within this approach tend to be critical social and political theorists who seek to
challenge hegemonic interpretations of the ‘end of history’ and seek to promote the
existence of antagonism, conflict, difference and choice (see for example Mouffe,
2005). ‘Politics’ from this perspective is therefore distinct from ‘the political’, as Žižek
(2002, 193) explains:
The difference [is] between ‘politics’ as a separate social complex, a positively
determined sub-system of social relations… and ‘the political’ [le politique]
as the moment of openness, of undecidability, when the very structuring of
society, the fundamental form of the social pact, is called into question – in
short, the moment of global crisis overcome by the act of founding a ‘new
harmony.
‘Politicisation’, in this sense, is a radical act of recognising ‘the political’; the possibility
that society can be constituted differently; it is the opposite of fatalism and denial.
Discursive perspectives on depoliticisation therefore resonate with Bauman’s In
search of politics (1999), in the sense that they are concerned with how language and
a careful approach to the ‘framing’ of issues can serve to close down certain options
by making any opposition appear almost ‘irrational’. This is an approach that has
some traction in the governance literature, informing Rogers’ (2009a, 2009b) analysis
of British economic policy making in the mid-1970s, Kerr et al’s (2011) study of
David Cameron’s approach to statecraft ,and Flinders and Buller’s (2006) emphasis
on discursive ‘preference shaping’ (the weakness of these studies being their exclusive
focus on the discourse of politicians). Discursive depoliticisation therefore brings with
it a powerful set of methods, theories and insights that reflect an intellectual history,
including Habermas’ (1996) analysis of ‘scientism’ and its capacity to depoliticise both
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language and decision making, not to mention Foucault’s (Burchell et al, 1991) analysis
of the depoliticising capacity of neoliberal ‘governmentality’ (see also Dean, 1999;
Lemke, 2001). These meta-theoretical positions have come to inform governance
studies in several ways. The ‘interpretive turn’ in political science has, for example,
emphasised the role of beliefs and traditions, as well as dilemmas and competing
narratives, and how these can politicise certain issues while depoliticising others
(for example, Bevir and Rhodes, 2010). Within International Relations, by contrast,
constructivist approaches have been deployed to expose the depoliticising power of
discourse and language around global governance and international institutions, as
illustrated in the work of Widmaier et al (2007) and Schmidt (2010).
Drilling down still deeper into this literature, it is possible to briefly highlight three
dominant pools of analysis. The first and possibly most obvious pool is that concerned
with the ideological content of political discourse, and with the use of technical
or managerialist language and terminology to obscure or deny the subjectivity
and contestability of political debates or decisions (Jenkins, 2011). In recent years,
qualitative analyses in this vein have burgeoned as the ideological underpinnings
of ‘common sense’ narratives have been studied, focusing on, for example, free
market economic values in the United States (Swanson, 2007), immigration policy
in Australia (Pickering, 2001), economic reform in New Zealand (Gregory, 2006),
debates concerning unemployment in the European Union (Wodak, 2011; Muntigl,
2002), national responses to globalisation (Watson and Hay, 2004), environmental
governance (Swyngedouw, 2011), and even the reform of air traffic management
(Oosterlynck and Swyngedouw, 2010). More broadly Wodak’s (2011) analysis of
the practice of ‘politics as usual’ in the everyday life of politicians in the European
Parliament provides some insight, not into institutions or procedures per se, but into
the ways in which the behaviour of politicians is conditioned by certain modes of
thought that serve to subconsciously depoliticise certain issues.
A second and related strand of research draws upon Habermas (1996) to focus more
specifically on the use of scientific discourse and the manner in which ‘expertise’ or
scientifically determined solutions have changed the nature of democratic governance.
Haines (1979), for example, has examined the rise of ‘medicalisation’ (that is, the
redefinition of social problems as the purview of doctors rather than politicians). For
Haines (1979), drunkenness is often ‘framed’ not as a social problem but as an illness
or ‘addiction’ which can be treated through the use of scientifically mandated medical
treatments. At once a social problem is demoted to an element of ‘life politics’, to
be treated on an individual rather than collective basis. As such, alternative collective
ways of dealing with drunkenness as a social problem (taxation, legislation, regulation,
and so on) are foreclosed. More recent studies have arrived at similar conclusions
in relation to the depoliticisation of dementia, depression, eating disorder, and post-
traumatic stress disorder, and reveal how cognitive (that is, scientific) claims, as opposed
to normative (that is, political) claims are especially conducive to the depoliticisation
and enclosure of social problems (see for example Adams, 1998; Edkins, 2002; Howell,
2007; Conrad, 2007). A second and related element of this strand of research focuses
not on ‘medicalisation’ in health policy but on the ‘scientisation’ of fiscal policy. In
this context Marcussen’s (2006) comparative analysis leads him to the conclusion that
central banking has become ‘apolitical’ or ‘scientised’, in the sense that ‘central banking
in many ways transcends formal politics’ and is viewed as little more than a scientific
exercise in complex econometric modelling. In this conclusion Marcussen can draw
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upon the complementary research findings of Timmermans and Scholten (2006)
in the Netherlands, Abolafia’s (2012) case study of the American Federal Reserve,
Roberts’ (2010, ch 2) cross-country comparative analysis, as well as Hoppe (2009),
Kinchy (2010), and Beveridge’s (2012) very different analyses of the depoliticising
capacity of scientific advice (for a discussion see Watson, 2002).
But – to continue a by now familiar pattern – if a focus on technical, managerial
and scientific discourses provides a relevant but not particularly original set of insights,
then a focus on security, risk and resilience arguably provides a more imaginative
and contemporary perspective. Put simply, securitisation theory has in recent years
identified a distinct pattern of depoliticisation that tends to involve the identification
of an existential threat that requires emergency executive powers, and, if the audience
accepts the securitising move, the issue is depoliticised and is considered a ‘security’
issue outside the rules of normal politics (Balzacq, 2005; Salter, 2008; 2011; Salter
and Piche, 2011). As such, security studies often regard the politicisation of an issue as
representing a form of ‘desecuritisation’ (Kinnvall and Nesbitt-Larking, 2010; Salter
and Piche, 2011). This discursive process may be called ‘securitisation’ in the sense that
it makes issues ‘more firmly constrained… decisions about them are taken in technical
terms’ (Edkins, 1999, 11). Such an interpretation goes against the influential view of
Buzan et al (1998, 120) that securitisation represents a form of hyper-politicisation,
due to the manner in which it creates heightened public attention around a social
issue (compare Salter, 2011, 120; Buofino, 2004). The theory of moral panics and the
concept of a ‘folk devil’, however, provide a way of reconciling these positions. In
essence, the creation of an intense political controversy (that is, hyper-politicisation)
is little more than a tool through which to then impose a definitive position that
closes down political debate (thereby depoliticising the issue). It is in exactly this vein
that scholars have examined the ‘war on terror’ (De Goede, 2008a; 2008b; Balzacq,
2008; Salter, 2011), illegal immigration (Huysmans, 2000; 2006), financial security (De
Goede, 2004), fear of crime (Parnaby, 2006), as well as climate change and resource
depletion (Carvalho and Burgess, 2005; Trombetta, 2008; Corry, 2012). Possibly the
most novel insights delivered by this perspective are the manner in which discursive
depoliticisation must engage with different types of audience that each require a specific
language type (generally identified as popular, elite, technocratic and scientific), and how
the process of securitisation through which an issue is depoliticised is rarely passive
or static, but is generally an iterative process between speaker and audience. This, in
turn, brings us back to wider issues concerning depoliticisation, governance and the
state which in themselves encourage us to engage with Mary Douglas’ (1999) work
on the depoliticisation of risk, Ulrich Beck’s (2001) analysis of ‘new’ risks, Frank
Furedi’s (2005) writing on the ‘politics of fear’, or even some comment on the link
between politicisation and depoliticisation in the context of Bauman’s (2001) ‘liquid
modernity’. But for now these temptations must be denied in favour of a more focused
account of why this paper’s attempt to ‘rethink depoliticisation’ actually matters.
Depoliticisation and (re)politicisation
The article has made three arguments at three levels. At the broadest level it has offered
a critique of the existing research literature on depoliticisation, on the basis that it
has been constrained by a focus on governmental actors and institutions and a failure
to acknowledge important social and discursive elements. As such, the mid-range
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contribution of this article has been to highlight the existence of different forms or
stages of depoliticisation (as illustrated in Figure 1, above). The great value of this
organising perspective – we do not claim to have offered anything as sophisticated as
formal ‘theory’ or ‘model’ – is the manner in which it reveals the existence of both
politicising and depoliticising processes. It is therefore possible – and as later contributions
in this special edition will reveal in some detail – that specific themes or decisions will
be the focus of competing pressures and narratives, as different social groups seek to
either politicise, depoliticise or repoliticise certain issues. Rethinking depoliticisation
(and our final argument) therefore requires scholars to acknowledge the interplay
between at least three forms of depoliticisation:
Governmental depoliticisation: focuses on the transfer of issues from the governmental
sphere to the public sphere through the ‘delegation’ of those issues by politicians
to arm’s-length bodies, judicial structures or technocratic rule-based systems that
limit discretion
Societal depoliticisation: involves the transition of issues from the public sphere to
the private sphere and focuses on the existence of choice, capacity deliberation
and the shift towards individualised responses to collective social challenges
Discursive depoliticisation: involves the transfer of issues from the private realm to
the ‘realm of necessity’ in which ‘things just happen’ and contingency is absent. It
therefore focuses on the role of language and ideas to depoliticise certain issues
and through this define them as little more as elements of fate
Three caveats are worth mentioning at this stage. First, we have avoided the positive
pronoun (‘the three faces’) because other students of policy and politics (professors
included) may well argue that we have omitted a fourth, fifth or sixth face. We offer a
starting point and by no means a definitive statement or final map. Secondly, the value
of this perspective is the manner in which it points to the existence, not of isolated
or self-standing strategies but to the layering and interdependency of governmental,
societal and discursive strategies in a range of policy areas. Therefore (and finally) these
three faces of depoliticisation are best characterised and understood as concentric
circles with areas of overlap and blurred boundaries. Indeed, it may well be that
the most insightful research focuses not on discrete forms of depoliticisation or the
conceptual landscape as a whole, but on the intersection and mutual dependency
between specific forms. We do, however, hope that by making these arguments,
and by surveying the intellectual terrain beyond the ‘governmental’ sphere, that we
have made a fuzzy concept slightly clearer, and through this might facilitate a more
sophisticated and eclectic account of ‘the depoliticised polity’.
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... It might be that processes of de-politicization at the domestic level coexist with, and are compensated by, processes of politicization at the international level. Along the same lines, Wood and Flinders (2014) discussed how practices of politicization can be of various kinds also at the level of the same society. They proposed to distinguish three different dimensions of politicization and de-politicization. ...
... Similarly, dynamics of de-politicization can take place at three different levels: (1) a Weberian-governmental de-politicization: the shift from government control to external agencies; (2) a Tocquevillian-social de-politicization: demotion of a topic from the public sphere to the private sphere; (3) a Gramsciandiscursive de-politicization: demotion of a topic from the sphere of contestation to the realm of necessity. Since the three layers are partially independent from each other, it is possible to imagine a situation in which institutional political actors are actively engaged in strategies of de-politicization at the societal and discursive level (Wood and Flinders 2014). These approaches outline the plurality of processes of politicization, but whether and how this variety can be crystallized into a single, general definition remains an open question. ...
... In what follows, we will focus on what Wood and Flinders (2014) call discursive politicization/de-politicization, i.e., how people talk about and define concepts when they perceive them as political. By focusing on the communicative and cognitive dimension of this process, we do not need to endorse one of the two competing understandings of the relation between political and politicization. ...
Article
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The notion of politicization has been often assimilated to that of partisanship, especially in political and social sciences. However, these accounts underestimate more fine-grained, and yet pivotal, aspects at stake in processes of politicization. In addition, they overlook cognitive mechanisms underlying politicizing practices. Here, we propose an integrated approach to politicization relying on recent insights from both social and political sciences, as well as cognitive science. We outline two key facets of politicization, that we call partial indetermination and contestability, and we show how these can be accounted for by appealing to recent literature in cognitive science concerned with abstract conceptual knowledge. We suggest that politicizing a concept often implies making its more abstract components more salient, hence legitimating its contestable character. Finally, we provide preliminary suggestions to test our proposal, using the concept of gender as case study.
... Second, regarding depoliticisation, our argument suggests that the historical consolidation of depoliticising discourses and decision-making institutions actually affects policymakers' choices. Even if depoliticisation is initiated as a political tactic of blame avoidance and arena shifting (Burnham 2001, Flinders and Buller 2006, Wood and Flinders 2014, but see Hay 2007, its long-term institutionalisation and discursive dominance impact how decisionmakers think about and justify their actions. ...
... Restrained interventions and depoliticised governance were meant to serve the same macroeconomic goals of price stability and fiscal consolidation (Blyth and Matthijs 2017). Depoliticised interventionism does not undermine those goals but reflects a divorce between depoliticisation and macroeconomic restraint that has not been anticipated by the depoliticisation literature (Burnham 2001, Wood andFlinders 2014). ...
... In the context of macroeconomic policy, this belief is formulated in Rational Expectations theory (Hay 2007, Stahl 2020, Helgadóttir and Ban 2021 and emphasises the need to reassure market actors that governments will keep their public finances sound and refrain from inflationary measures. We regard 'policy credibility' as a government-related idea since it is assumed that governments have to 'tie their hands' by institutionalising depoliticised governing structures to enhance their credibility (Burnham 2001, Wood andFlinders 2014). In the context of macroeconomic policy, this means the adoption of fiscal rules, central bank independence, and inflation targets (Clift and Tomlinson 2006, Widmaier 2016, Best 2019. ...
... Credit claiming is therefore an appealing way for governments to present themselves as effective representatives in the EU without articulating a clear pro or anti positions on European integration. Hood, 2002Hood, , 2016Wood and Flinders, 2014). It also draws on a conception of patriotism in which one's nation is put first, but distinguishes itself from nationalism by not being antagonistic towards other nations and supranational institutions (Bar-Tal, 1997;Kosterman andFeshbach, 1989, Li andBrewer 2004 More generally, the thesis contributes to debates on the legitimacy of European integration. ...
... Linguistic complexity is also assumed to help defuse issues and avoid blame. The literature on blame avoidance shows how complexities in institutional setups and presentational styles are useful mechanisms for governments to avoid blame for negative outcomes (Hood 2011(Hood , 2014Wood and Flinders 2014). Furthermore, scholars have shown how the complexity of national leaders' discourse increased during the years of EU crises, a technique the authors describe as 'defusing political debates by resorting to technocratic, scientific or managerial language' . ...
... The crucial point here is that parties decrease the share of their communication dedicated to the issue they want to avoid, either by talking less about the issue in question, or by talking more about other issues. Second, mainstream parties can avoid wedge issues by defusing them (Rauh et al 2019).This active form of depoliticisation emphasises the use of technocratic, scientific or managerial language so as to avoid signaling political choice and to shield functionally necessary decisions from the vagaries of political competition(Wood and Flinders 2014, Mair 2013). ...
Thesis
National governments are accused of being evasive and opportunistic in their presentation of European integration, thereby exacerbating the EU's crisis of legitimacy. Yet empirical evidence on how governments present Europe at home is limited to a small handful of qualitative studies. This thesis provides the first comparative, quantitative study of how governments - and the parties that form them - present Europe in their domestic public spheres, and what these presentational strategies mean for representation and legitimacy in the EU. Inspired by Fenno's 1978 classic, I call this their `home style'. Through innovative text as data methods combining machine translation, automated text analysis, and hand coding, I show that rather than adopting a nationalist home style marked by evasiveness and opportunism, governments have responded to EU politicization by adopting a home style I label technocratic-patriotic. Technocratic, in the sense that gov- ernments actually talk frequently about the EU, but avoid clear position taking on the issue by defusing it with complex language. Patriotic, in the sense that governments extensively claim credit for defending the national interest on the European stage, but in fact rarely blame or criticise the EU directly. I argue that despite not fitting the stereotypical image of evasive, opportunistic blame shifters, this technocratic-patriotic home style still poses deep problems for democratic accountability in Europe's multilevel system of governance. The thesis also contributes two resources to the academic community: EUCOSpeech, an original dataset of over 6,000 statements by national leaders in the aftermath of EU summits, and EUParlspeech, an original dataset of over 1 million references to European integration made in parliamentary speeches between 1989 and 2019.
... Depoliticisation may be understood as a political strategy for displacing and deferring conflict (Hay, 2007). Strategies of governmental depoliticisation, such as delegating responsibilities to quasi-state agencies, boards and commissions, sit alongside wider discursive strategies and the shifting of social matters outside of public concern (Wood and Flinders, 2014). Crucially, rather a lot of cultural-political work goes into maintaining the claims of being 'non-ideological' or 'outside of politics', such that Clarke (2008: 142) observes 'de-politicization carries with it the possibility, and indeed threat, of re-politicization'. ...
... When pushed by critical voicesoften those working in the health service who had witnessed repeated reorganisations over many yearsthere would be tentative acknowledegment of the relatively limited evidence justifying contracting accountable care models. Yet the 'neutral' role of intermediaries had already discursively depoliticised policy (Wood and Flinders, 2014), flattening the social and ideological trajectories through which accountable care travelled. As a policy expert joked at the April 2018 event: 'Just don't tell people New Zealand copied the USA twenty years ago'! ...
Article
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Policy mobilities scholarship has comprehensively challenged the methodological nationalism and rational orthodoxies of policy studies. Contributing to recent debates on policy mobilities and post-politics, this paper examines how struggles over the ‘national’ shape policy on the move. Focussing on attempts to embed accountable care models across the English National Health Service (NHS), I consider how ‘integration’ has been mobilised as a seemingly irresistible solution to the failures of market-orientated healthcare reforms in times of austerity. Yet, I foreground how campaigners slowed down the local contracting of accountable care through repoliticising circulating policy as the ‘Americanization’ of the NHS. The paper emphasises the ongoing, yet shifting and politically contested, role of the state and national spatial imaginaries in the making and translating of globally mobile policy. Rethinking the times and spaces of politics and policy in the current conjuncture, I conclude by warning of the limits of nostalgia for the post-war national welfare state when pushing for universal healthcare as a right for all.
... Scholars from both approaches have identified a variety of means by which depoliticisation can be achieved (for overviews, see Flinders and Buller, 2006;Hay, 2007;Wood and Flinders, 2014). One common method is the use of formal institutional mechanisms. ...
... In a partial break from some of the more traditional accounts, recent work in this area has begun to move beyond the recognition of depoliticisation as a simple governmental 'act' (Fawcett and Wood, 2017). Instead, a growing number of authors now emphasise the role of discourse in helping to shape public perceptions and expectations around policy issues, thereby providing the context for politicising or depoliticising strategies (Hay, 2007;Jenkins, 2011;Watson and Hay, 2003;Wood and Flinders, 2014). The key point of this literature is to highlight the way in which political actors use a range of linguistic and rhetorical tools to shape perceptions and beliefs about the scope and content of the political. ...
Article
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This article sets out to examine the politicising and depoliticising effects of the various stories that were deployed by the UK government in its response to the coronavirus crisis during its daily press briefings over a 2-month period between 16 March and 16 May 2020. In doing so, we identify four key narratives: (1) unprecedented government activism; (2) working to plan; (3) national security, wartime unity and sacrifice; and (4) scientific guidance. Through a quantitative and qualitative study of the deployment of these narratives, we attempt to further recent theoretical insights on depoliticisation by noting that the COVID-19 crisis produced a particular type of crisis moment in which the government was forced to respond in ‘real time’ to a set of circumstances which were rapidly changing. As such, this made it much more difficult to control the various stories they wanted to tell and therefore find a coherent ‘anchor’ for their politicising and depoliticising strategies. This led to some deft discursive footwork as the government sought to pass the ball of responsibility between various groups of actors in order to rapidly and continually shift the balance between avoiding blame and taking credit.
... Already in the 1990s, reform governments set out to modernise democratic politics, seeking to increase its efficiency and effectiveness in societies which are becoming ever more complex, internationalised and innovation-oriented. The devolution of responsibilities which the state had once adopted, the depoliticisation of public policy by means of delegation to expert committees, and the streamlining of participation, consultation and decision-making processes were supposed to restore the responsiveness and quality of democratic policy making (Wood and Flinders 2014). Improved output-legitimacy was supposed to compensate for the reduction of traditional-style democratic input-legitimacy (Scharpf 1999). ...
Chapter
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This chapter explores the ongoing reconfiguration of the relationship between democracy and sustainability. Its dual starting point is, firstly, that the notions of sustainability and sustainable development are just one particular framing of 'the ecological problem' or 'the ecological issue' that competes with other such framings, e.g. the thinking of radical ecology or of degrowth. Secondly, I proceed from the insight that both, sustainability as well as democracy are what Gallie (1956) once called 'essentially contested concepts': The meaning of these concepts is not fixed but constantly being renegotiated – whereby the understandings of autonomy, subjectivity, identity and a good life prevailing in a particular community at a particular point in time are the crucial point of reference. Thus, these changing ideals of subjectivity, the ongoing reinterpretation of democracy and democratization, and the continuous reframing of ecological concerns and objectives are three constitutive dimensions of this exploration of the democracy/sustainability nexus. To begin with, the focus is on the democratic dimension. Under the heading of the 'dialectic of democracy' (Blühdorn 2020), I explore how changes in prevailing understandings of freedom, self-determination and a good life have nurtured increasingly ambivalent attitudes towards democracy, and are an important parameter in explaining the much-debated crisis of democracy and the autocratic-authoritarian turn. Section three addresses the ecological dimension. It investigates how changing notions of autonomy, subjectivity and identity impact on the ways in which eco-political issues are being framed and addressed. Section four then explores how in capitalist consumer societies of the global North, the change in prevailing notions of freedom, self-realisation and a good life give rise to forms of democracy which are conducive to the politics of unsustainability. The conclusion considers the normative dilemmas which analysis in terms of post-democracy and post-sustainability implies for critical environmental sociology.
Article
W artykule skoncentrowano się na analizie funkcjonowania idei neoliberalnych w kontekście rozmaitych kryzysów dotykających aktualnie Zachód. Jego hipotezą jest stwierdzenie, że neoliberalizm – będąc doktryną tam uformowaną – przyczynia się do stopniowej transformacji struktur świata zachodniego, których znaczenie polityczno-gospodarcze – w wyniku zachodzących zmian – sukcesywnie się obniża. Ze względu na rosnące nierówności społeczne architektura społeczno-gospodarcza Zachodu upodabnia się coraz bardziej do gremiów, które do tej pory występowały na obszarach peryferyjnych. Dostrzeganą tam reakcją na powyższy fenomen jest m.in. wzrost znaczenia radykalizmów, które kontestują zastane paradygmaty w dziedzinie polityki i ekonomii. Mimo licznych kryzysów dotykających zachodnie struktury władzy i gospodarki nadal zauważyć można tam dominację analizowanej ideologii. Coraz częściej do głosu dochodzi jednak przekonanie o końcu neoliberalnej ery w stosunkach międzynarodowych, prowadzącym potencjalnie do dekompozycji multilateralnych instytucji polityki światowej, które dotychczas stanowiły pas transmisyjny m.in. dla idei neoliberalnych.
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In England, when land is granted planning permission its value increases dramatically. Historically, the question of who is entitled to this ‘betterment value’ uplift has been one of the central debates in national politics. However, from the 1980s to 2008, betterment value capture policy became depoliticized. This article seeks to understand how that came about. Focusing on the parliamentary sphere, it proposes that depoliticization took place across three ‘faces’. First, economic interests: rising home-ownership and the broader rentierization of the economy strengthened support for house price inflation and private property rights, thus shrinking the space for political debate around these issues. Second, institutions: under Section 106 and the viability regime, the governance of betterment value capture became fragmented, incorporating an array of unelected ‘experts’, models and rules which worked to reduce the discretion of elected local planning authorities. Third, discourse: from the 1980s onwards, the Labour Party's discourse around betterment value capture converged with that of the Conservative Party. This convergence was partly driven by ideational changes in the Labour Party and in the discipline of economics. Taken together, these three faces help explain why betterment value capture policy moved away from the realm of contestation and contingency and towards that of fate and necessity.
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Reciprocity is a powerful determinant of human behaviour in social exchange situations where mutual reinforcement exists between two parties. Consequently, it is supposed to be one of the fundamental resources of cooperatives. Mandatory Cooperatives is a special category of cooperatives that is characterized by a higher degree of reciprocal behaviour among members than traditional cooperatives. This paper examines the differences in financial level of these two categories (mandatory cooperatives versus traditional agricultural cooperatives) with the help of a financial approach, which is based on panel data analysis techniques. Several notions and concepts forming the financial engineering methodological framework are adopted for the design of this approach. The results reveal that reciprocity is a very important element that leads cooperatives to higher performance levels.
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Many models have been developed to explain public attitudes toward nuclear energy. Data from France, Sweden, and the United States are used to evaluate these models, and most are either falsified or shown to apply only to limited periods. Public support for the technology is traced across the life cycle of the nuclear controversies, and different dynamics are found to influence opinion in different periods. Political context is the master variable explaining these differences: confidence in experts dominates prepolitical periods; media attention leads to politicization; basic values are key to attitudes in fully politicized periods; issue attention cycles explain depoliticization. Once conflict is over and a clear policy path has been taken, public opinion tends to support that path rather than simply returning to its prepolitical patterns. Sustained, visible controversy over technologies may reflect serious debate over political and social goals rather than irrational fears stirred by the mass media.
Book
An interdisciplinary study providing first-hand evidence of the everyday lives of politicians; what politicians actually do on ‘the backstage’ in political organizations. The book offers answers to the widely discussed phenomena of disenchantment with politics and depoliticization.
Book
The delegation of functions and responsibilities to quasi-autonomous bodies operating with a significant degree of autonomy arguably empowers governments to address a wide range of social issues simultaneously without having to be involved with the minutiae of day-to-day socio-political interactions. Delegation therefore provides a structural and esoteric capacity beyond the cognitive and physical limits of politicians. There is nothing wrong with delegation as such. The problem relates to the failure to manage delegation in Britain. And yet we actually know very little about how the state beyond the core actually operates, how many bodies exist, what they do, how they are recruited, or why they were created. These gaps in our knowledge are all the more problematic in light of recent pronouncements by politicians at the national and European levels that 'depoliticization' is a central strand of their approach to governing. This book seeks to fill these gaps in our knowledge while at the same time cultivating a more balanced or sophisticated approach to the study of delegation. Delegated public bodies as they have been used as a tool of governance in the past should not be confused with how they might be used in the future. This book draws upon research conducted within the very core of the British political system during a Whitehall Fellowship within the Cabinet Office. It argues that the British state is 'walking without order' due to a general acceptance of the logic of delegation without any detailed or principled consideration of the administrative of democratic consequences of this process.
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Many fear that democracies are suffering from a legitimacy crisis. This book focuses on ‘democratic deficits’, reflecting how far the perceived democratic performance of any state diverges from public expectations. Pippa Norris examines the symptoms by comparing system support in more than fifty societies worldwide, challenging the pervasive claim that most established democracies have experienced a steadily rising tide of political disaffection during the third-wave era. The book diagnoses the reasons behind the democratic deficit, including demand (rising public aspirations for democracy), information (negative news about government) and supply (the performance and structure of democratic regimes). Finally, Norris examines the consequences for active citizenship, for governance and, ultimately, for democratization. This book provides fresh insights into major issues at the heart of comparative politics, public opinion, political culture, political behavior, democratic governance, political psychology, political communications, public policymaking, comparative sociology, cross-national survey analysis and the dynamics of the democratization process.
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Brazil began the 1990s the same way it began the 1980s: in crisis. A decade ago, popular dissatisfaction with the performance of the political system was at an all-time high. As the legitimacy of the military regime installed in 1964 gradually dissipated, political and military elites turned their attention to the question of what kind of regime would be able to replace the one which was disintegrating. In one important aspect their vision coincided with the aspirations of the general population: the new political regime would have to be based on increased competition. Military elites would yield executive power, and the civilian politicians replacing them would agree to submit themselves to the popular verdict.
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That many different officials contribute in many different ways to decisions and policies in the modern state makes it difficult to ascribe moral responsibility to any official. The usual responses to this problem--based on concepts of hierarchical and collective responsibility--distort the notion of responsibility. The idea of personal responsibility--based on causal and volitional criteria--constitutes a better approach to the problem of ascribing responsibility to public officials. Corresponding to each of these criteria are types of excuses that officials use in defending the decisions they make. An analysis of the conditions under which the excuses eliminate or mitigate responsibility provides a foundation for accountability in a democracy.
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This symposium addresses the role of wars and crises as mechanisms of international change. Over the past two decades, the international system has undergone a number of remarkable transformations, from the end of the Cold War to the emergence of an ongoing "War on Terror," and from the collapse of statist development models to the emergence of a contested-if evolving-neoliberal "Washington Consensus." This volatility exceeds any underlying shifts in economic structures or the distribution of capabilities, and raises important questions regarding the roles of agency, uncertainty, and ideas in advancing change. In this introduction we examine the role of wars and economic crises as socially constructed openings for change. We attempt three things: to critique materialist approaches in the security and political economy issue areas, to outline the distinctive contribution that an agent-centered constructivist understanding of such events offers, and to offer a framework for the study of such events, one which highlights an expanded range of elite-mass interactions.
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There can be no doubting the increasing importance of central banks to processes of international economic management.1 Whilst the names of prominent central bankers may be less well known than those of politicians, and whilst the functions their banks perform receive scant public recognition, the decisions taken by central bankers have a significant bearing on the conduct of everyday life.