Governance

governance.jpgGovernance as governamentality is about the “management of flows”, as Foucault puts it (see my paper on this), and “flows” are social practices and their feedback mechanisms, all types of these practices. This means that governance is about the management of values, that is of the meanings, often contrasting, given to those practices (as anthropologists remind us, value is the meaning given to action, see this article by David Graeber) . . .with governance the issue is not so much the definition of goals (more the classic realm of politics) but about the management of practices. For example, we look at the wastelands of east end of London in the late 1990s, and it is difficult to disagree with the fact that it needs a sort of “regeneration”, (good housing, green space, community spaces, etc.) and that livelihoods needs to be reproduced in this city . . . how are we “regenerating”? this question implies the coupling of the pursuits of values defined by a multitude of desiring subjects (on environment, housing, etc.) with the pursuit of money for money sake, accumulation, that is the pursuit of money through “competitiveness”. If you look at the UK government sponsored ”sustainable communities” plan for this area, you will encounter a continuous tension to couple the pursuit of contrasting values, that of a multitude of subjectivities with needs and desires, and that of capital, the need for accumulation and “competitiveness”.

The question of governance, in all its variants, is important to us because it is about the management of contrasting values, where management here means ultimately the problematic of coupling, of keeping together the contrasting values pursuits, in such a way that multitude of values are subordinated to the pursuit of capital. . . .the problematic of governance posed so insistently by the ruling elites (see for example the recent debates at the World Economic Forum in Davos on the “governance impasse”) is a form taken by the frontline of value struggles

This frontline cuts across the simple and the complex. It is discernible in what Marx called that “simple determination” that is the commodity, and it pervades different scales of social action up to the systemic- like properties of global capitalism and “empire”. The single commodity is a social form in which the problematic of governance, of coupling contrasting values, is resolved: the classic dichotomy between use value and exchange value expressed by the commodity, implies that contrasting values are fused together, they are, in so far as the commodity is concerned, unmistakably and irreversibly coupled. The exchange of commodities, presents governance as coupling in already a bit more complicated terms, as buyers pursuing one type of values and sellers pursuing different types of values may often not be able to couple, to meet, to exchange. Crisis as values-decoupling is therefore an always present spectre.

Commodity exchange is just a moment of social reproduction and the problematic of its governance from the perspective of capital. Production is another moment. Production of commodities presents the problematic of coupling in new ways. Here the question of coupling conflicting values, while solved in the moment of exchange, reproduces anew in a transformed form. My employer values my labour power in a different way that I value it. The meaning she gives to my powers, and the actions it generates, is quite different from the meaning I give to it. Somehow, we often find ourselves face to face to have an argument about it. The form of this argument of course ranges from open conflict to subtle rumours in corridors. Governance, is here the search for a way to couple these values, to not let them loose and stir them into the direction of higher productivity, cost minimisation and competitive advantage. The problematic of contrasting valuing attached to my capacity of doing, my doing, does not only exist in waged production. Also into unwaged reproduction: the value that government gives to reproduction work is different than the value given to it by the producers themselves, hence the urge for the state to cut down funding to it, the open and subtle techniques to tie it to accumulation, to make it contribute to a region’s “competitiveness.” The same goes for environmental management, a city administration, migration management, and so on.

If in general terms the problematic of governance is that of coupling contrasting values, the scale at which this coupling is seek, is also important. As said, the individual commodity present the coupling in the most ideal way for capital, values fused together, unbreakable bond in so far as this social form is concerned. But give this commodity capacity to struggle — as in labour power — that is to step outside this coupling through attrition or open refusal, and governance takes the form of micromanagement of conflict, in the shape for example of a management communicative technique that hide values and evaluative discourses. I hope to be able soon to write about this in this blog, but the interested reader may want to look at the management consultancy agencies offering advice and that teach that sorts of microskills to deal with various forms of this conflict. At a more general level, the management literature recognises the problem of value management for organisations. In relation to the issue of corporate governance of the value struggles as they result by the “externalities” produced by profit seeking corporations into the lifeworlds of people (so called “environmental” and “social” issues), UNCTAD has enacted a voluntary code corporation can subscribe to in order to promote, in collaboration with “civil society”, the coupling of contrasting values withtin the horizon of the market (again, see my paper. In the public sector the problematic of governance of a university is associated with the need to couple the value of knowledge production given by its researchers, teachers and students, with that of business and neoliberal governments. This certainly involves to introduction of measuring processes to channel staff energy into the competitive battle (see my paper written with David Harvie on this). But many forms of conflict against what from a pedagogical and production of knowledge point of view is a crazy and useless measuring activity are dealt with through forms of governance. For example, the coupling of values may be seek through “garbage cans”, i.e. committee such as a University senate or an academic boards, in which academic staff can scream and shout and vent their hurt professional pride, but then let the senior managers take the ultimate decisions that organise the university as a competitive corporation.

At a larger scale, the problematic of governance of a region may become the oxymoronic coupling between “sustainability” and “competitiveness”. The governance of macro flows such as those in migration is based on the attempt to couple what is of value for the “economy” and “competitiveness” on one side, and what is of value for living bodies. Of course, this coupling often results in a disaster for the latter. In global finance governance is governance of crises. Although within limits, the latter are part and parcel of disciplinary processes that keep us running a planetary race against one other, beyond these limits, they threaten the overall homeostatic coupling of values (the one found in the commodity). Hence in financial governance we have the problematic of the stability of a disciplinary regime. Discipline shares this with “governance”, the fact that both processes are a mode of coupling different values, to keep them together (let us not forget, that discipline is not only punishment. It is reward and punishment, hence a concession, within limits, to “value” pursuits other than that of capital)

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