What’s to be done about capitalism? Everyday making and changing the world

Jonathan S. Davies
Jonathan S. Davies

Jonathan S. Davies discusses his article, Just do it differently? Everyday making, Marxism and the struggle against neoliberalism, part of the 40th anniversary special issue of Policy & Politics. The issue is available free online until the 30 November.

Decades of political domination by free marketeers have been very damaging for the left. With partial exceptions in some Latin American and northern European countries, varieties of ‘free market’ fundamentalism are now so ingrained as to be unquestioned, even unquestionable, by political elites. Mainstream social democratic parties have largely accepted the terms of this neoliberal hegemony: all prosperity depends on a healthy market economy, argued Tony Blair. With mass strikes being defeated and membership falling for decades, the trade unions too seem impotent in the face of this market hegemony. Worse still, far from provoking a successful challenge to neoliberal domination, the economic crisis of 2008 and after seems only to have entrenched it. At the sharpest end of the crisis in Greece, heroic struggles on the streets and in the workplaces, have failed to halt the relentless austerity drive. On the contrary, the Greek Labour Party (PASOK) chose to sacrifice its own political base and electoral credibility to drive through an unprecedentedly brutal cuts agenda, in order to save Greece’s membership of the Euro and make the country ‘competitive’.

With the organised left on the sidelines, many thinkers and activists have started looking for other ways of challenging the dominance of markets, corporations and authoritarian ‘austerian’ states. The basic idea of ‘everyday making’ is that despite everything, we have the capacity to do things differently if we choose. If only we stop devoting all our attention on criticising ‘the system’ and focus on our immediate experiences and capabilities, then another world is possible in the here and now. Everyday makers typically focus on practical action at the small-scale: from those in the craft movement trying to recover creative skills lost in mass production, to those wanting to build new economic practices through cooperatives and other forms of mutual endeavour. Everyday making is to build painstakingly in small spaces ignored or vacated by the profit economy.

My article explores the rich variety of approaches to everyday making, arguing that it is a mistake to give-up on challenging capitalism. I draw on the ideas of Karl Marx to argue that capitalism is no illusion, but very real and by its nature profoundly unstable and aggressively expansionary. This is not because capitalists necessarily want to behave like that, but they have to do so to continue making profits in ageing market economies. The governance of European austerity illustrates all too well how, driven by authoritarian states, the market encroaches further and further into public welfare and public space. Nothing is sacrosanct, including the economic alternatives celebrated by everyday makers. Since the crisis, for example, cooperatives have been firing employees and cutting wages just like ordinary businesses. They cannot do otherwise if they want to continue trading in the market economy. This is not to deny the importance of grassroots community campaigning – London Citizens has made a real difference through its fight for a living wage. It is rather to say that sustaining and building on success requires a challenge to market domination. In other words, everyday making itself poses questions about how economy and society as a whole are organised.

At the same time, it is clear that there is a strong, constructive relationship between everyday making and large-scale protest. In Turkey recently, we saw how a small-scale ‘everyday’ protest against the development of Taksim Gezi Park could quickly mushroom and generalise to encompass far more radical political demands. I argue that despite many defeats over the past 30 years, it is these mass demonstrations and strikes that have come closest to defeating austerity – and still have the greatest potential to do so. If so, the question is not whether to give up on system change in favour of everyday making, but rather how to further radicalise the explosive struggles that emerge from everyday life; how, that is, to take that final step from heroic resistance to victory. There are no easy answers to that question and the ideas of everyday makers have much to contribute to our visions of how another world may be possible. But they are not enough on their own.

Jonathan S. Davies

Just do it differently? Everyday making, Marxism and the struggle against neoliberalism is part of the 40th anniversary special issue of Policy & Politics. The issue is available free online until the 30 November.

Civil service reform: do we need more of the same?

Rod Rhodes
Rod Rhodes

Rod Rhodes discusses his article, Political anthropology and civil service reform: prospects and limits, part of the 40th anniversary special issue of Policy & Politics. The issue is available free online until the 30 November.

We think we know how to reform the public sector yet our aims are rarely realised. Undeterred, we return to the same kind of solutions. We want more rational decision making. We strive for better management that, as in the private sector, delivers economic and effective performance. Latterly, we have added the call for service delivery based on the choices of citizens acting as if consumers. This repetitive compulsive behaviour has been labelled the ‘civil service reform syndrome’ in which ‘initiatives come and go, overlap and ignore each other, leaving behind residues of varying size and style (Hood and Lodge 2007: 59). We do not need more of the same.

Ethnography offers a different approach. Life at the top is characterised by coping with rude surprises. Willed ordinariness is the goal, and being here tomorrow a marker of success. There is no one agreed view of the world. The older generalist tradition coexists with the newer managerial tradition. Top civil servants are not managers but political administrators. They must have political antennae. They need to warn the minister that there is hole ahead. After the minister has fallen in, they help him or her out of the hole. Then, they pretend the minister never fell in. They protect the minister against the goldfish bowl existence that is the present-day media (Rhodes 2011). Whether they know it or not, ministers need the civil service to provide a protective cocoon. This world is ill suited to such innovations as strategic planning and evidence based policy making. Instead, we need to preserve the best features of the historic civil service.

A key reform is to find ways of preserving institutional memory – the inherited beliefs and practices of departments – often called the ‘departmental philosophy’. Top public servants and ministers learn through the stories they hear and tell one another and such stories are a key source of institutional memory, the repositories of the traditions through which practitioners filter current events. The departmental tradition is a form of folk psychology. It provides the everyday theory and shared languages for storytelling. It is the collective memory of the department; a retelling of yesterday to make sense of today. For many observers institutional memory is under threat. The recipe for departmental Alzheimer’s is: rotate staff rapidly, change the information technology frequently, restructure every two years, reward management over other skills, and adopt each new management fad (Pollitt 2009). Record keeping, the craft of writing, the ability to spot snags, and an awareness of a department’s history are not exciting history-making activities but they are the bedrock of a permanent career civil service. It would be wise for the would-be reformers to preserve the world they are eroding before it is lost.

Hood, Christopher and Lodge, Martin 2007. ‘Endpiece: Civil Service Reform Syndrome – Are We Heading for a Cure?’ Transformation, Spring, 58-59.
Pollitt, C. (2009), ‘Bureaucracies Remember, Post-Bureaucratic Organizations Forget?’ Public Administration 87 (2), 198-218.
Rhodes, R. A. W. 2011. Everyday Life in British government. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

This blog is based on the following article: Rhodes, RAW, 2013, Political anthropology and public policy: Prospects and limits, Policy & Politics, 41, 4, 481–96, available free until 30 November 2013.

Performing new worlds? Policy, politics and creative labour in hard times

Janet Newman
Janet Newman

Janet Newman discusses her article, Performing new worlds? Policy, politics and creative labour in hard times, part of the 40th anniversary special issue of Policy & Politics. The issue is available free online until the 30 November.

40 years after the launch of Policy & Politics it is fitting to ask some troubling questions about the relationship between these terms. Has the politics of policymaking been fundamentally changed as think tanks and media savvy advisers have become more prominent? As the boundaries of the state are being redrawn, with policy functions distributed to contractors on the one hand and to the amorphous civil society of ‘local communities’ on the other, how can we understand where – and how – policy actually happens? And what’s the relationship between new political forces and movements and the mundane, everyday work of shaping policy on the ground?

In Performing new worlds? Policy, politics and creative labour in hard times I examine some current trends in the policy process (strategies of divestment, the turn to design and the ongoing project of decentralisation), all of which shift where and how policy is performed. I ask how far those shifts enable new forms of creative solutions to emerge – or whether the stripping away of resources, people and capacities closes down opportunities for renewal and change.

Such questions are particularly significant in this period of austerity in which many of those who had been involved in delivering or shaping policy have lost their jobs, at the same time that there is an urgent need to address the severe problems resulting from cuts to welfare benefits and services. That is, they raise difficult questions about how the politics of austerity is being lived and experienced by those working the borders between politics, policy and institutional change.

Janet Newman
Faculty of Social Science, The Open University

Performing new worlds? Policy, politics and creative labour in hard times is part of the 40th anniversary special issue of Policy & Politicsavailable free online until the 30 November.

Policy & Politics 2013 Conference

P and P team
Members of the board and speakers at the conference: (left to right) Julia Mortimer, Alex Marsh, David Sweeting, John Keane, Sarah Ayres, Matthew Flinders and Eva Sorensen

Policy & Politics held its 2013 Conference in Bristol on the 17-18 September at the Marriott Hotel, Bristol. The theme of this year’s conference was ‘Transforming Policy and Politics: the Future of the State in the 21st Century’. Details can be found on the conference webpage.

160 scholars from eighteen countries discussed different aspects of public and social policy in relation to recent and future changes to the state, politics and public services. Discussions were focussed at a global and local level in a range of sectors, including health, housing, welfare and economic development.

The conference hosted four fantastic plenary speakers: Professors Liesbet Hooghe (University of North Carolina), Bob Jessop (Lancaster University), John Keane (University of Sydney) and Eva Sorensen (Roskilde University). The plenary speakers drew on examples from around the globe to illustrate recent transformations to the state and their implications for policy and politics. Panel sessions included world leading scholars in their fields with many discussions leading to plans for future work, including joint or group publications.

The conference was also well attended by postgraduate students who made valuable contributions to the plenary discussions and panel sessions. Indeed, one of the highlights of the conference was a paper presented by an early career academic, Zachary Morris (University of California-Berkeley, USA) who presented work from his Master’s thesis titled ‘Disability policy reform in the United States and Great Britain’. Conference delegates described Zach as a ‘rising star’.

The theme of next year’s conference is ‘The challenges of leadership and collaboration in the 21st Century’. It will be held on the 16-17th September at the Marriott Hotel, Bristol. Our plenary speakers are: Professors Chris Ansell (University of California, Berkeley), Erik-hans Klijn (Erasmus University), Helen Sullivan (University of Melbourne) and Jacob Torfing (Roskilde University). We will also be announcing the winners of two new Policy & Politics prizes for ‘Best Paper’ and ‘Best Paper from an Early Career Academic’ published in the Journal. We hope that colleagues will once again join us for a superb academic event.

Sarah Ayres and Matthew Flinders
Co-Editors Policy & Politics

40 Years of Policy & Politics: critical reflections and strategies for the future

Editorial by Sarah Ayres, co-editor Policy & Politics, as published in Policy & Politics volume 41, number 4, available free until the end of November 2013

Sarah Ayres
Sarah Ayres at the Policy & Politics conference 2013

This special issue is based on a selection of papers presented at the 40th anniversary Policy & Politics conference, held in Bristol in 2012. Policy & Politics published its first issue in 1972 and since then has been one of the leading international journals in the field of public and social policy. In that time the nature of policy and politics has undoubtedly witnessed significant transformations. Recent changes have included the increasing importance of global governance, a reframing of the state in delivering public services, the global economic downturn and associated austerity measures.This has been combined with rising public expectations about choice and quality of public services and the transition from government to governance, epitomised by the inclusion of non-state actors in the policy process. The 40th anniversary year provided an opportunity to reflect on these developments and the impact they have had on the field of policy studies and the world of practice. It has also been an opportunity for the journal to consider its position within and contribution to the field.

A host of leading international scholars were invited to present papers on the conference theme: 40 Years of Policy & Politics: Critical Reflections and Strategies for the Future. Delegates examined contemporary policy issues while looking back at the experiences of the last 40 years and reflected on how much is enduring, what has changed and how we might use past lessons to inform future policy? The conference included themes where Policy & Politics has enjoyed a strong track record in publishing world class scholarship, including democracy and social justice, partnership working and governance, politics and discourse, theories of policy making and reflections on health, housing, welfare and education policy. This special issue presents a selection of articles drawn from the conference. It brings together work by world leading scholars to address theoretical and practical developments pertinent to Policy & Politics over its 40-year history.

It begins with an article by Christopher Pollitt, who argues that ‘despite the UK’s leading role in public management reform, and decades of continuous change, little has been learned of the final outcomes’ (p 465). Pollitt ascribes this to the methodological limitations in evaluating major management reforms – that is, the difficulty in using orthodox, ex ante performance indicators in complex and constantly changing policy environments – and an apparent disinterest within government for finding out the results. Pollitt also notes the apparent ease with which large-scale reform takes place in the UK. This is the consequence, he argues, of a ‘light touch’ legal system and a style of politics which enable leaders to instigate public reform unchallenged. While the UK may have a leading role as a major exporter of public management ideas, Pollitt asserts that ‘its prominence has been built upon shaky foundations’ (p 466).

Rod Rhodes joins Pollitt in raising questions about the production and quality of social science evidence to inform policy and practice. He considers the limitations of the dominant tradition of modernist empiricism in political science with its roots in the natural science model, and asks what lessons about public sector reform can be learnt from using political anthropology: more specifically, whether the various reform proposals introduced in the UK blend with the everyday beliefs and practices of Whitehall civil servants and their ministers. Rhodes uses the concept of ‘storytelling’ to examine the structures and procedures that guide working practices in Whitehall. He argues that would-be reformers would benefit from drawing on observational evidence so that they know ‘what they are seeking to reform’ (page 492). These insights, he argues, would be more effective than the rational, managerial approaches to reform that have predominated since the 1970s and produced modest success.

Jonathan Davies also refers to the importance of everyday behaviours and working practices in his critique of the continued dominance of the neoliberal narrative and quest for possible alternatives. He refers to the concept of ‘everyday making’ to explore the possibilities for resistance and change within the capitalist system. Everyday makers reject system-orientated theories and campaigns and instead look to invoke opposition by deciding ‘in the first place, to act differently’ (page 497). However, Davies rejects the idea that we need to choose between everyday and systemic approaches, and instead argues that they are complementary. He argues that a future challenge will be to grasp the ‘dynamics of scale: the systemic implications of everyday struggles and vice versa’ (page 497).

Janet Newman echoes Davies’ call for the exploration of creative and progressive responses to the politics of austerity. She considers ‘how actors with “progressive” social or political commitments are able to enact new worlds within the confines of the [neoliberal] present’ (page 515). Newman argues that critical reflections alone are insufficient, and goes on to explore the potential for new methods, actors and framing of the policy process to generate innovatory solutions in a period of cuts and austerity. Both Newman and Davies recognise the importance of the individual (or agency) in exploring new pathways to post-austerity politics, as do Vivien Lowndes and Kerry McCaughie (533-49) in their analysis of local government in the UK. They identify the emergence of creative responses to service redesign, based upon pragmatic politics and ‘institutional bricolage’ – the recombination and reshuffling of preexisting components to serve new purposes. Lowndes and McCaughie agree with Davies and Newman in their observation of an apparent absence of radical new ideas in austerity politics. Instead, they observe new solutions emanating ‘bottom-up’ as practitioners take the role of innovators and entrepreneurs in their daily practices.

Martijn van der Steen, Mark van Twist, Menno Fenger and Sara Le Cointre (551-67) also examine the role of contextual factors, local circumstances and practitioners in shaping policy outcomes. More specifically, they examine the unintended effects of policy interventions in ‘weak schools’ in the Netherlands. Their article poses two central questions: What causes the differences in outcomes of similar policies in similar contexts? Can patterns of causation be found in what seem to be unpredictable, unstable and chaotic systems? They look at the role of causality, feedback mechanisms and cyclical loops in the production of policy outcomes. They view cumulative effects as inevitable and hence predictable. Like other articles in this issue, they recognise the central role of local practitioners in predicting and identifying the local circumstances and causations that might impact on policy outcomes in unique ways.

Other articles have explored the complex relationship between different modes of governance – markets, hierarchies, networks – in the policy process. Guy Peters examines the challenges of policy coordination in different contexts. Peters claims that hierarchical coordination is the ‘default option for coordination’ (page 580), but that it can be analysed in different ways. One is to understand coordination as a collective action problem based on an analysis of self-interest and resource dependency. Another is to view coordination as a form of cooperation and collaboration, whereby coordination is not based so much on rational calculation but on perceived needs to work together and shared beliefs. He goes on to explore the conditions and factors where these alternatives are most likely to be successful. Likewise, Steve Martin and Valeria Guarneros-Meza consider the dynamics of hierarchy and coordination in their study of local partnership working. They explore the kinds of ‘self-steering’ required in order to address complex public policy problems and whether external (hierarchical) steering by government can help or hinder the process. They conclude that ‘soft steering’ – defined as the provision of government funding, information and expertise’ – can have ‘an important role in helping to establish and mobilise the local partnerships’ (page 586) but that self-steering capacity is also vital. These examples illustrate the continued presence of hierarchy within the so-called transition to networked governance and, interestingly, the potential complementarity of governance modes in the right context.

Peter John’s work on the ‘tools of government’ looks at the scientific developments that have taken place in the field over the past 40 years. John argues that the traditional tools of government, such as legislation, finance and regulation, are being redesigned or supplemented by low cost behavioural interventions, such as ‘nudge’. Nudge involves using information in a particular way that encourages citizens to behave in their own or society’s interest. John notes that the tools of government have always had an informational component, but that they ‘are more informational now because of a growing awareness among policy makers about the power of signals and norms’ (page 606). John’s work provides a powerful demonstration of the impact of new methodological and scientific techniques on the policy process.

A number of articles in this issue have raised questions about the type of knowledge and evidence produced by social scientists, and its variable impact on policy (Flinders, 2013; Pollitt, 2013; Rhodes, 2013). In particular, Matthew Flinders reflects on how the academy should engage with policy and practice. He calls for ‘engaged scholarship’, and for academics to realise their ‘political imagination’ to ensure that academic knowledge has a clear role in ‘promoting public debate, cultivating engaged citizenship and having some form of impact beyond academe’ (page 626). He challenges the academy to reconnect with policy and politics and to embark on a different type of scholarship that is more accessible. Aside from meeting a public duty, he argues that this will be essential to the reputation and survival of political studies as a discipline.

There are obvious connections in the themes covered in this collection of articles. The content represents key contours of the terrain covered by Policy & Politics over the last 40 years. In the final article, Sarah Ayres and Alex Marsh reflect on the theoretical and practical developments pertinent to Policy & Politics during this period, and suggest some steps to advance the debate. We draw out key themes from the papers comprising this 40th anniversary special issue and discuss them under four headings: (1) theorising policy, (2) evidence and the policy process, (3) transforming structures and processes, and (4) implementation and practice. We argue for ‘greater tolerance of diversity in theoretical and empirical enquiry and for continued reflection on the foundational assumptions of the field of policy studies’ (page 643).

Finally, I would like to offer some reflections on the future of Policy & Politics as it embarks on the next 40 years. Matthew Flinders and I took over as co-editors of Policy & Politics in its 40th anniversary year. It has been, for us, a period of critical reflection and thinking about strategies for the future. We have revised our editorial strategy to reflect the unique intellectual landscape of the journal. The vision and strategy of Policy & Politics is to publish articles that demonstrate rigour, originality and significance, and that have relevance both within and beyond academe. This focus has forged its position as a truly interdisciplinary and international journal over the past 40 years. However, like all journals, Policy & Politics must evolve to retain its capacity for examining new trends, debates and challenges. The current journal strategy embraces two dimensions of scholarship – continuity and change, on the one hand, and breadth and depth, on the other.

In terms of continuity, Policy & Politics continues to foster its intellectual reputation as an outlet for world-class scholarship in relation to public administration, public and social policy, partnership and community governance, and public sector reform. In terms of change, the journal is increasingly publishing influential articles in relation to citizenship and the state, public participation and the relationships between evolving structures of multi-level governance, and mechanisms of democratic accountability. We welcome the submission of manuscripts that build upon the journal’s traditional strengths, as well as those that push the journal into new intellectual debates and terrains. Within a broad disciplinary landscape, the underlying factors that will determine publication are whether the manuscript meets the journal’s standards in terms of rigour, originality and significance.

In terms of breadth and depth – the journal welcomes manuscripts that are empirical, conceptual or theoretical, as long as the broader international and comparative relevance of the argument is explicit. One of the hallmarks of the journal is the manner in which its articles generally shift from the micro to the macro (or vice versa), by addressing the link between ‘policy’ and ‘politics’. For example, while singlecase studies might form the basis of an article, the broader significance and relevance of that study will be made explicit. Where articles deal with broad macro-political or economic issues they may also drill down to some discussion of the micro-level implications of that analysis. Successful articles will therefore demonstrate both analytical breadth and depth in the coverage of their subject matter. Articles also need to be written in a manner accessible to academic scholars, policy makers and practitioners across different academic disciplines around the world. This focus will shape the direction of the journal at least for our term of editorship.

As my colleague, Matthew Flinders notes:

The next 40 years will reward those journals who lead from the front and are willing to take risks; those journals that bridge boundaries, challenge common assumptions, and think anew; those journals that are willing to cultivate curiosity and shape debates. (page 639)

Policy & Politics welcomes this challenge and has a commitment to remaining reflexive, open minded and responsive to trends while being proactive in setting research agendas.

 Policy & Politics volume 41, number 4 is available free until the end of November 2013