Presented by Mark Bevir, University of California-Berkeley, at the Center for Historical Research, Department of History at The Ohio State University on Nov. 1, 2013.
When governance refers to changes in the state, it surely captures one of the major trends of recent times. Many social scientists, especially those who work on public administration and local government, argue that the leading forms of public organization and action have shifted from hierarchic bureaucracies to markets and networks. Debates rage about the extent of this shift: bureaucratic hierarchies clearly remain widespread and arguably the most common forms of government. It is clear, however, that successive governments have introduced wave after wave of public sector reform in their attempt to promote markets, contracting-out, networks, and joined-up government. This paper focuses initially on the intellectual sources of the transformation of the state and its relation to civil society, highlighting the role of modernist social science, with its reliance on formal explanations based on either economic models or sociological correlations. So, modernist social science informed the main narratives of the crisis of the administrative and welfare state in the 1970s and modernist social science also inspired the two waves of public sector reform that responded to this crisis. In Britain, the first wave of reform was most prominent under Thatcherism, at which time an economic modernism inspired marketization and the new public management. The second wave of reform was most prominent under New Labour, at which time a sociological modernism inspired joined-up governance and networks. The second half of the paper shifts the focus from the sources of the reforms to their impact on practices. It relies on a series of short ethnographic stories to illustrate some of the complex ways in which public servants now juggle the competing demands of bureaucracies, markets, and networks.
The Ohio State University Center for Historical Research in the Department of History provides a stimulating intellectual environment for studying important historical issues around the world. Each year the Center brings together scholars from various disciplines to examine issues of broad contemporary relevance in historical perspective.