Policy, power and appropriation: reflections on the ownership and governance of policy

Cris Shore (Goldsmiths)
Session slots:

Short abstract:

This panel brings anthropological analyses of power with debates over property to explore the relationship between policy and ideas of property. It asks, who 'owns' policy? How is policy implicated in the appropriation of knowledge? How do policy regimes produce subjects as objects of management?

Long abstract:

It has become a truism in Anthropology that 'power remains strong when it remains in the dark' and that the most effective forms of political control work by disguising the mechanisms of their own operation. When we translate these principles into a public policy context several contradictions are apparent. On the one hand, the power of policy - and the regimes of governance it sustains - lies in the relative invisibility of its operation. Effective hegemony, ('manufacturing consent') requires forms of power that cannot be easily identified or contested. On the other, policy is an exercise in legitimation requiring visibility, legitimacy and authority. Public policies are often claimed as exclusive property by particular groups or governments, yet often the ownership of a policy is denied or disguised, not least when it becomes expedient to distance oneself from policy outcomes. These contradictory uses and effects of policy raise interesting theoretical and empirical questions: 1. What exactly is 'policy' as a cultural category, and how do policies 'work'? 2. How is policy implicated in the ownership and appropriation of knowledge? 3. How do policy regimes produce subjects as objects of management? 4. Who 'owns' policy and how is that ownership manifest or contested? In exploring these questions the panel reflects on how ideas of property (understood in both metaphorical and practical senses) might help us understand policy and, conversely, how an anthropological focus on policy might provide new perspectives to disciplinary debates over property.