EASA, 2006: EASA06: Europe and the world

Bristol, UK, 18/09/2006 – 21/09/2006


Policy worlds

Location Wills 5.68
Date and Start Time 20 Sep, 2006 at 11:30


Susan Wright (Århus University) email
Davide Pero (Nottingham University) email
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Short Abstract

This panel explores how anthropological analyses of policies might shed light on larger processes of governance, power and social change in Europe and the world today.

Long Abstract

Policy provides a framework for re-conceptualising the field of anthropological research: not as a bounded geographical entity but as a space of flows articulated by relations of power. Policies connect disparate actors and institutions across time and space. These actors may not know one another or be aware of their effects on each other, yet they constitute describable configurations or networks of relations. These are the worlds that policies construct. They are arbitrary, fluid, ephemeral and multi-sited and are in a state of continual negotiation. One of the aims of an anthropology of policy is to understand the organising principles and forms of power that govern these worlds.

The concept of an anthropology of policy was first developed at the 1996 EASA conference in Oslo. Since then many anthropologists have contributed to its advance. This workshop aims to draw together new case studies and assess these theoretical and methodological developments. The panel seeks papers that explore the history of specific policies and the way they work. Participants are encouraged to address some of the following questions: How should we theorise the concept of policy worlds or the different kinds of actors (people, documents, institutions, legislation, systems and mechanisms for policy implementation) involved? What visions of moral order are embodied in policies, and how are these articulated and contested? What is the nature of the relationship between policy-makers and the institutions and individuals they seek to change? How do actors shape and react to the policy processes within which they are positioned? When and why do the regimes of truth that policy discourses create become disrupted? Can we identity the causes of or critical moments that lead to a break or rupture in a dominant policy narrative? How might the analysis of small policies shed light on larger processes of change in Europe and the world today?

Discussant: Cris Shore, University of Auckland


Studying through

Author: Susan Wright (Århus University)  email
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Long Abstract

Co-author: Susan Reinhold

Increasingly, work in the anthropology of policy draws on the analytical concept of 'studying through'. In contrast to anthropology's tradition of studying down and Nader's studying up, 'studying through' involves following the flow of events that move between various local and national arenas and interconnect different debates and conflicts in the formation of a new policy.

This paper draws on the original source of this analytical concept, Reinhold's historical anthropology of the passage of 'Section 28', legislation from the Thatcher period in Britain which made it unlawful for local authorities to use public resources to support lesbians and gay people. The study follows events, from the early attempts of teachers in Haringey, London, to promote a positive image of gay families, through the debates and conflicts that went back and forth between different groups of local people, the local authority, the local and national media and Parliament. Through following this flow of events it is possible to track how key words gradually changed meaning. One important keyword is 'promotion'. If the conflicts started over promoting positive images of gay families, the legislation ends up outlawing the promotion of homosexual 'pretend families'. In the process of shifting the meanings of such key words, the Thatcher government asserted, and made authoritative, a narrow definition of 'the family' as heterosexual and nuclear. This study shows the formation of one crucial element of the then-emerging, and later hegemonic, Thatcherite discourse, on which major reforms of governance in 1980s and 1990s Britain were based.

The secret lives of policy networks: narratives of political authority and the New Law of Social Security in Mexico

Author: Tara Schwegler (University of Chicago)  email
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Long Abstract

Network analysis has proven a valuable tool in mounting an anthropology of policy responsive to the diverse connections that policies establish between distinct sets of actors and institutions. Tracing the networks through which policies move, however, is but one component of tracing the life of policy. This paper draws on ethnographic research on the genesis and development of the 1995 New Law of Social Security in Mexico to show that struggles among rival groups in the policymaking process give rise to competing narratives of the life of the policy. These narratives, in turn, extend the lives of networks and policies past the point of implementation. For anthropologists of policy, who must often rely on these "after the fact" narratives as a source of data, they pose twin dilemmas. First, methodologically speaking, what do we make of these multiple, often fundamentally irreconcilable, narratives of how a specific policy came into being? Second, theoretically speaking, what insights do such narratives provide about the nature of power relations in the political field? What happens to our understanding of policy as an object of ethnographic analysis when we regard the political field not simply as the backdrop against which policy takes shape, but rather, as emerging through the policymaking process?

This paper surveys four narrative accounts of the origin of the 1995 New Law of Social Security in Mexico, each offered by a distinct faction in the policymaking process. These narratives do not differ on the minutiae of the policy; rather, they present fundamentally incompatible interpretations of how the process began, upon what set of ideas the reform was based, and which group prevailed in the struggle to impose a hegemonic understanding of the policy. The purpose of the survey is not to try to ascertain the "real account" by evaluating the veracity of competing truth claims. Rather, the paper attempts to theorize the conditions of possibility of these multiple competing narratives and their implications for the anthropology of policy. Why so much contention over what on the surface may seem to be relatively innocuous issue? What might it tell us about the nature of the political field and how best to ethnographically capture its dynamics?

An agora of policy worlds? Reconceptualising university reform

Author: Gritt B. Nielsen (Århus University)  email
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Long Abstract

In its etymological meaning the word university refers to a 'whole' - a whole of students and staff belonging to some kind of academic community. Today, in the name of growth and development, universities all over the western world are being reformed so as to be more competitive on the global market of knowledge. Such changes introduce new international 'policy worlds' that both affect the 'whole' of universities and demand new ways of conceptualising the anthropological field.

Taking as its point of departure the current Danish university reforms and the changing conditions for students, this paper suggests a methodological framework for working with university reform and higher education policies as objects of anthropological enquiry. Management reforms and changed societal demands on universities, staff and students are characterising the present Danish university scene. The Danish University Act (2003) reduced students' democratic voice, while their power as consumers seems to increase with the growing market in Higher Education. New technologies are being introduced (e.g. tuition fees, new types of course evaluations and course structures), which aim to construe students in new ways. To grasp such changes and its effects on institutional 'wholes' I am advocating a notion of the field as an Agora: an amorphous and changeable space; a network of negotiation and exchange which, however, is not restricted to social relations between individual human actors, but also consists, for example, of law texts, keywords and technologies. In other words, the concept of Agora enables anthropologists to engage critically with the changing policy worlds of universities.

The materialization of fiscal theory: practice and effects in the National Health Service in Wales

Author: Andrew Scott Catey (National Council on Crime and Delinquency)  email
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Long Abstract

In this paper, I examine the health care system of Wales in order to interrogate the materiality, or materialization, of fiscal theory. I am interested in the ways by which thought regarding fiscal issues, especially in terms of a neoliberalist approach, enables the construction and enactment of specific institutions and practices which result in particular patterns of effects in the health system of a particular 'postcolonial' national and territorial setting. The emphasis on theory, practice, and effects hints at the materiality of fiscal theory, and enables an analysis that transcends conventional approaches which emphasize the relationship of theory to reality. This allows for an understanding of the objectification and recursivity of theory as it materializes through institutional and political practices and the effects that result. Theory is therefore sustained despite particular realities, and this capacity confers power on both the theory and on those who deploy it in policy settings. Drawing on recent devolution legislation and subsequent policy divergence in Wales, I will address the ways in which neoliberal fiscal theory materializes in institutional practice and patterns of effects in the Welsh health care system.

Evidence-based policy? State-commissioned migration research and the relations of academic migration knowledge production in the UK

Author: Joshua Hatton (Oxford University)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper synthesizes ethnographic and archival data to explore the role that academic knowledge production by students and staff in British universities plays in the migration policy-making process in the U.K. In Great Britain, one of the ways in which the state and universities are articulated in the area of migration policy is through the commissioning of research by state agencies. In this paper, I focus on the migration research that is commissioned by the Home Office. I identify the individuals and universities that are contracted to produce migration knowledge for the Home Office, describe the nature (i.e. content) of the knowledge produced and interpret what the production means to the producers. I conclude by discussing the power relations that exist between academic knowledge producers and their governmental managers and the implications that these relations have for the role that the academic production of migration knowledge plays in the broader migration policy-making and implementation process in the U.K.

Beyond accountability: the role of flexing groups in derailing democracy

Author: Janine Wedel (George Mason University)  email
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Long Abstract

The evolution of a new kind of grouping—a social-networking phenomenon I call "flexing groups"—signals significant changes taking place in governing and policymaking. Flexing groups draw for membership on a limited circle of players who interact with each other in multiple roles, both inside and outside government. They resurface in different incarnations and configurations to achieve their goals over time, be they ideological, political, or financial. Flexing groups are at the top of the food chain in influence wielding. Their members specialize in relaxing the government's rules of accountability and businesses' codes of competition, thereby undermining both democracy and capitalism. These chameleon-like players are hard to hold accountable because they are adept at shifting between state and private roles and conflating the interests of both.

One might expect flexing groups to arise at the hub of activity in unraveling centrally planned states, particularly where national resources are being divested en masse. In transitional eastern Europe, informal long-standing groups that were schooled in circumventing the communist state morphed into flexing groups. Working in and around crumbling systems, they acquired companies and other resources at fire-sale prices. The most skilled players bridged state and private, legal and illegal territory, using ambiguity to their advantage.

The appearance of flexing groups in the United States was less predictable. Although the impact of such cliques in former communist states is much more intense than it is in stable societies such as the United States, still, outsourcing and the restructuring of governing has opened up the field to these groups. The most prominent identifiable sovereign clique—a longstanding core of a dozen or so "neoconservatives," whose strategizing and lobbying helped thrust the United States into war in Iraq—highlights the potential influence of such groups. Increased contracting out of state functions has provided increased opportunities for small, interconnected, and strategically placed groups of public-private actors to take over public policy agendas in pursuit of their own interests.

The rules of the influence game are in rewrite. As the architecture of governing changes in states as varied as the United States and former Soviet countries, flexing groups are making inroads into uncharted terrain. They both break rules and help make new rules to their advantage. The new rules, which take us beyond "influence peddling," the "revolving door," "conflict of interest," and other garden-variety forms of corruption, are reshaping governing and democracy. And, because public discussion and scholarship are still dominated by old ways of thinking on which the old rules rest, flexing groups and their modus operandi are far from being identified, let alone curbed.

Migrants practices of citizenship and policy change in Europe

Author: Davide Pero (Nottingham University)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper will address issues of policy and change by focusing on migrants' collective responses to the policy regimes they encounter in European societies. Migrants are a distinct sector of the population not only in terms of 'culture' but also in terms of the gamut of policy-produced restrictions to which they are often subjected (including the absence of voting entitlements and sometimes even residence). Breaking with prevailing state-centric trends in academic and policy-making circles that consider migrants as 'objects of policy', this paper places migrants and their practices of citizenship at the centre of the analysis. Drawing on participant and participatory research carried out in Britain, Italy and Spain, the paper will explore a number of migrants' collective responses to policy regimes that adversely affect their lives (e.g. in the fields of housing, residence, and participation). The paper will also address when, why and how such responses occur and what their consequences are. The insights gained on the policy response of migrants will provide material for more nuanced theorisations on the role of the governed in processes of governance and on the possibilities of policy change.

'Many nice people': policy, community and subjectivity in Estonia

Author: Gregory Feldman (Simon Fraser University)  email
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Long Abstract

Governance in mass society is mediated through public policy, which defines, classifies, and categorizes an otherwise heterogeneous population. Given the importance of policy in setting the terms in which 'local' people engage with the state, anthropologists have much reason to ethnographically study policymaking as a situated practice that constitutes 'local' people as particular kinds of citizens that would internalize state and market norms. This paper argues that the role of policy in governmentality is not limited to the production of atomized, individualized subjects through vertical relations with public institutions. They also involve the production of horizontal communities that are apparently egalitarian, organic, and transcendent of cultural differences. Similarly, this project, which serves the interests of the nation-state, involves not only the production of individual pleasure but also of happiness obtained through community-building.

The case study focuses on how an international team of policymakers constructs ideal communities in a public media campaign called 'Many Nice People' that promoted the Estonian government's policy to integrate Soviet-era Russian-speakers. This policy team includes officials from the European Commission, the Nordic Foreign Ministries, the Organization for Security and Cooperation, the United Nations Development Programme, and the Estonian government. The team constructs citizens as ordinary people who find fulfillment by organically forming community, regardless of the state, nation, and cultural difference. This ideal community illuminates how Estonian integration and citizenship policy fits into these policy officials' vision of a secure nation-state system that supports a global market economy. Thus, 'Many Nice People' reflects new policy strategies for the production of minorities and immigrants as future citizens of European Union member states.

Civis economicus? Transformers of social policy in the nexus of statecraft and marketmaking. The Swedish welfare state revisited

Author: Anette Nyqvist (Stockholm University)  email
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Long Abstract

This Ph.D-thesis examines what notions of a general human economic rationality might be embedded in the transformation of the Swedish pension system, and how such notions are produced and spread in society.

The starting point is that economic principals of market logic during the past couple of decades have spread, not only to other geographical spheres, but also to encompass more spheres and levels of society. Such logics, thus, has come to influence larger parts of more individuals daily lives. In an attempt to understand how such a diffusion process comes to be, this research focuses on Sweden's new pension system. This policy is seen here as one example of a transformational process in society, with extended agency to market forces and in which two paramount ideas - general welfare and economic rationality - meet in combat.

The ethnographic fieldwork of this study is completed and was divided into three subfields, where each one represents key sites in the process of societal transformation, namely the production of policy, the distribution of policy and the reception of policy.

During the year plus long fieldwork semi-structured interviews with members, elected politicians and their chosen experts, of the parliamentary committee that invented the pension system were conducted - the producers. Participant observation and interviews were the choice methods at the headquarters of the two government authorities in charge of administrating the pension system - the distributors. And a collection of reactions and thoughts on the pension system were collected from "ordinary Swedes" during a road trip across the country - the receivers.

This Ph.D dissertation is planned to be ready to be defended by December of 2007.

The case of Scanzano, Italy: when policy provokes resistance

Author: Dorothy Louise Zinn (Free University of Bozen-Bolzano)  email
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Long Abstract

In November 2003, a revolt which shook a wide segment of Southern Italy took place in response to a government decree providing for the creation of a consolidated national nuclear waste dump in the township of Scanzano Jonico. The revolt - ultimately successful in its stated goal of getting the name of Scanzano removed from the decree - was hailed for its striking civility and for cutting through all lines of difference in drawing together the population against the national government, so much so that it has subsequently been invoked as a "model" for many other protests (especially, but not only, regarding environmental issues), including the ongoing movement against the creation of a high-speed railway through the Val di Susa in Piedmont.

This paper examines the contrast between the government's policy and the local resistance, which was not only able to defeat the government discourse on its own terms, but also counter it on other discursive levels. The Council of Ministers argued in favour of the decree in terms of the "common good", "progress" and "national security"; it marshalled a series of "expert" scientific documents to this end, depicting the locals as particularistic "NIMBYs" (not-in-my-backyarders), irrational and uninformed in their "emotional" reaction to the decree. The local reaction in turn offered its own "expert" documents and rational-instrumental calculations to refute the government's claims. Crucially - as Vike (1997) has pointed out in his discussion of the "moral economy" of resistance - locals were able to stand on higher moral ground by recasting the definition of "common good" and critiquing the government in terms of democratic procedure, which the government had violated on several counts in promulgating the decree. Resistance was most poignantly expressed through roadblocks and demonstrations and bolstered through on-line and paper petitions and postcards to the Prime Minister, all aimed at pushing the government to remove the name of Scanzano from the decree. Additionally, a series of counter-policy moves were effected on the local, regional and interregional levels, such as the adoption of impromptu laws "de-nuclearizing" the territory and the promotion of an alternative plan for utilizing the land of the planned nuclear waste dump site.

Based on the Author's participation (more than participant-observation) in the revolt, as well as various media sources, this paper will attempt to reflect upon what lessons Scanzano might offer with regard to movements which similarly resist policy.

Integration policy and ethnic associations

Author: Clarissa Kugelberg (Uppsala University)  email
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Long Abstract

Integration policy and ethnic associations

In Sweden, a particular domain of policy making has been generated by the existence of popular movements (folkrörelser). These movements have had an important role in the development of the welfare state and are surrounded by an ideology that praises their role as a democratic force in Swedish society. The ideology embraces normative ideals, and associations are seen as schools for democracy where people can learn governance and develop democratic sensibilities. They are believed to give politically under-represented people opportunities for political participation. Not least in Swedish policy for ethnic integration, there is a strong faith in the benefits of active ethnic associations. Therefore national and local authorities give subsidies to ethnic organisations not only in order to support their social work but also as means to fulfilling political goals for ethnic integration.

In this paper I focus on the interaction between political institutions and ethnic associations in a local community in Sweden in examining the production and implementation of an ethnic integration policy. I explore how national and local policies for integration are transformed into concrete guidelines and how power and resources are negotiated in mundane meetings and different activities. I address the following questions among others; How are the guidelines set in practice, materialised and imposed on associations? What takes place in meetings between bureaucrats and members of associations? How do both sides translate the political discourse and what self-regulating processes are taking place, shaping or restricting the agency of members as well as of bureaucrats. What happens when political governance intervenes in associations that have been built on life worlds, desires and needs of their members?

The discussion is based on fieldwork in one local community where I have conducted participant observation in organisations, observations at meetings, interviews with members of ethnic organisations, politicians and bureaucrats, and collected national and local policy documents.