Tag Archives: depoliticisation

Depoliticising austerity – how Portugal challenged the discourse of ‘there is no alternative’

Adam Standring.jpgAdam Standring (Faculty of Social and Human Sciences in the New University of Lisbon, Portugal, FCSH-UNL) 

It’s March 2011 and Portugal makes one of its infrequent visits to the pages of the international media.  Rising borrowing rates and pressure from the international financial markets, combined with an increasingly unpopular ruling party, make it increasingly likely that Portugal will become the next of the ‘profligate PIIGS’ to succumb to the contagion of the Eurozone Sovereign debt crisis.  Within four months the Troika will be called in and the country will embark on a harsh ‘Economic Adjustment Programme’ – economics-speak for the raft of austerity measures and structural reforms on which bailout packages are conditioned. Continue reading Depoliticising austerity – how Portugal challenged the discourse of ‘there is no alternative’

Free access to Policy & Politics’ most popular articles in 2016

sarah-brown-from-ecprMessage from Sarah Brown, Journal Manager

To celebrate our most popular articles in 2016, you can access them free of charge throughout December and January from the links below.

Our most highly cited and recent articles this year have ranged from research articles such as rethinking depoliticisation: beyond the governmental  which reflects on a reappraisal of depoliticisation, offering a conceptual horizon beyond a fairly narrow state-centric approach; to an in-depth analysis of behavioural change mechanisms such as nudge set against the political context of neoliberalism in the politics of behaviour change: nudge, neoliberalism and the state; to two different case studies examining different aspects of their respective policies and politics: one on the water sector offering a critical evaluation of policy translation across countries entitled rethinking the travel of ideas, and one offering a new framework that both measures and explains policy change within the context of institutional change entitled measuring and explaining policy paradigm change.

Take some time out to catch up on our most read articles of 2016: Continue reading Free access to Policy & Politics’ most popular articles in 2016

Profound policy change as messy, complex and multi-directional: UK Energy Policy in Transition

Caroline Kuzemko
Caroline Kuzemko

Caroline Kuzemko, from the University of Exeter, discusses her article Measuring and explaining policy paradigm change: the case of UK energy policy written with Florian Kern and Catherine Mitchell, which is published in the latest edition of Policy & Politics.

Across the social sciences a great many scholars are engaged in trying to understand policy and institutional change – not least within political science. One reason for mounting interest in change has been the growing awareness of anthropogenic climate change, of continued growth in global emissions and of what kinds of (varied) implications this might have for societies around the world.  Energy has received a great deal of attention, not least because current (fossil fuel) systems are responsible for high percentages of emissions Continue reading Profound policy change as messy, complex and multi-directional: UK Energy Policy in Transition

Depoliticisation and the Father’s Clause parliamentary debates

Stephen Bates, Laura Jenkins and Fran Amery
Stephen Bates, Laura Jenkins and Fran Amery

Stephen Bates, Laura Jenkins and Fran Amery, from the University of Birmingham, use work on in vitro fertilisation to think through depoliticisation. The full article  on the subject – (De)politicisation and the Father’s Clause parliamentary debates – along with the rest of the special issue of Policy & Politics on depoliticisation, is available free throughout May.

Depoliticisation, in simple terms, involves disavowing political responsibility, or persuading the public that one is no longer responsible for particular decisions, with the result that deliberation and choice are restricted. Crucially, as the literature has identified, choices are still being made – e.g. politicians may retain mechanisms for indirect control – but they are concealed. Continue reading Depoliticisation and the Father’s Clause parliamentary debates

Rethinking Depoliticisation

Matt Wood
Matt Wood

Matt Wood, University of Sheffield, discusses the article that he has written with Matt Flinders, also from the University of Sheffield, called ‘Depoliticisation, governance and the state’. This article is part of the April issue of Policy & Politics, a special issue on depoliticisation, available free until 31 May.

In our main contribution to this special issue of Policy & Politics we aim to set out an agenda for expanding and diversifying the study of depoliticisation in governance and public policy by engaging a broad range of conceptual approaches and definitions. Depoliticisation in general means a narrowing of the boundaries of democratic politics, such that choice and agency over issues of public concern come to be constrained. There are many different ways in which this can occur, and there is a sprawling cross-disciplinary literature that uses the concept of depoliticisation to refer to a range of practices that might contribute to an understanding of the phenomenon. Our aim in this article is to map this literature and identify links between different forms of depoliticisation, such that we can offer a rounded and systematic account.

Our central argument is that the study of depoliticisation needs to be broadened. The most significant studies to date (Burnham (2001) and, subsequently, Flinders and Buller (2006) have emphasised the importance of ‘governmental’, or state-based actors (mainly ministers) as agents of depoliticisation. They arguably ignore, however, the importance of non-state actors (such as the media, interest groups, or even ordinary people in ‘everyday’ situations) in determining whether depoliticisation occurs, or whether it is resisted. We contend that by identifying and mapping a broader range of cross-disciplinary literature that uses this concept to refer to strategies employed by this wider range of actors, we can develop a more sophisticated analysis of the interrelated processes that accumulate into a general shift towards depoliticisation.

Taking Colin Hay’s conceptual work (2006) as a starting point, we map three forms of depoliticisation. These we term, as follows:

  1. Governmental depoliticisation
  2. Societal depoliticisation
  3. Discursive depoliticisation

Firstly, ‘governmental depoliticisation’ (a shift from the ‘governmental’ to ‘societal’ sphere) refers to the delegation of political decisions away from the central state by ministers, such that they are controlled by ‘technocrats’ or instituted in ‘quangos’. Here, depoliticisation is enacted by ministers placing the ‘political character of decision making’ at one remove away from the central state. This is the ‘form’ that gets most attention in the public policy literature and we summarise it relatively briefly through an overview of the literature on delegated governance and patronage.

Secondly, ‘societal depoliticisation’ (movement from the ‘public’ to ‘private’ sphere) refers to the ‘privatisation’ of issues, not formally, but in terms of their salience as topics in public debate. Here, depoliticisation is enacted by a range of actors in the public sphere, from the media and interest groups to politicians, celebrities and other prominent actors in society. By simply not discussing political issues to the extent that they were discussed previously, these actors effectively depoliticise those issues by preventing their full and open public deliberation.

Lastly, ‘discursive depoliticisation’ (shift from the ‘private’ sphere to ‘realm of necessity’) refers to the ‘normalisation’ of political issues, in the sense that they are presented in political discourse or rhetoric as being matters of ‘fate’ over which humans can have no control. This last perspective can be found in moral panics, for example. Immigration might be a highly salient topic of debate, but if only a single policy option is discussed, namely limiting immigration as far as possible, then it is depoliticised in this sense. There might also be a lot of public discussion over, say, climate change, but if that discussion does not suggest that humans can do anything about climate change, then it is effectively depoliticised. Discursive depoliticisation can also happen at any ‘level’ and need not be ‘public’ but can happen in ‘everyday’ situations when political discussions are presented as being (for example in discussions of austerity as a ‘natural’ or ‘inevitable’ course of government policy).

Distinguishing between these three general forms of depoliticisation within the literature enables us to advocate a future empirical agenda that examines the interrelationships between them. Such interrelationships can be quite paradoxical. For instance, a policy issue could be dealt with in a very hand’s off or arm’s length way – depoliticised – but also be a highly salient public issue and one where there is a lot discussion over what society should do – politicised. Policies with a strong ethical or moral dimension are often of this ilk, for example IVF treatment or prostitution. We argue in the article that more empirical research may tease apart some of the intricacies and capture some of the complexities in processes of depoliticisation and politicisation, and even investigate whether, again paradoxically, they can be mutually reinforcing or self-sustaining.

Matt Wood is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield. He is also Deputy Director of the Sir Bernard Crick Centre for the Public Understanding of Politics. His current research looks at ‘everyday politics’ and the challenges for overcoming political disaffection and disengagement.

April 2014 Special Issue: Perspectives on depoliticisation and repoliticisation

Policy and Politics coverThe April issue of Policy & Politics is a special issue: Perspectives on depoliticisation and repoliticisation. It is available free online until the 31 May 2014.

This Special Issue of the journal centres on the issue of depoliticisation – ‘the narrowing of the boundaries of democratic politics’, according to Matthew Flinders and Matt Wood in the opening article. In that, and the second paper in the issue, they clear the ground upon which the others build, and argue for a broader, multifaceted approach to depoliticisation than has hitherto been the case. The other authors in the issue take up the challenge and offer a revealing set of empirical and theoretical contributions.

Paul Fawcett and David Marsh draw on literatures related to meta-governance and political participation, and conclude in their analysis that there is evidence for both depoliticisation and repoliticisation. Peter Burnham explores depoliticisation with reference to capitalist development and crisis management. He argues that the liberal-capitalist state is threatened by the politicisation of social relations. Using the North Atlantic and European debt crises, Bob Jessop explores the contours of politicisation, depoliticisation, and repoliticisation, arguing that matters such as the imposition of technocratic government can be understood with reference to these processes. Emma Ann Foster, Peter Kerr, and Christopher Byrne  link depoliticisation to Foucauldian notions of governmentality. They argue that depoliticisation can be interpreted as a means to further extend the neo-liberalisation of state apparatus. Stephen Bates, Laura Jenkins, and Fran Amery explore depoliticisation and repoliticisation within the context of assisted reproductive technologies. Their contribution raises issues around state-society relations. In relation to energy policy, Caroline Kuzemko tracks the depoliticisation and repoliticisation of energy policy since the 1980s. She links up the policy issue of energy and the potent language of security to offer a critique of the framing of the debate. Ross Beveridge and Matthias Naumann use a case study of the remunicipalisation of the Berlin water company to think through strategies of repoliticisation. Based in urban politics, this article implies continuing space for political agency.

David Sweeting, Associate Editor of Policy & Politics