Harmony through network governance?
Introduction Today, governance networks proliferate to an astonishing extent within different countries, policy areas and levels of governance. Although traditional forms of top-down government are still in place, policy making and public governance increasingly take place in and through pluricentric negotiations between public and private actors who are interacting on the basis of interdependency, trust and jointly developed rules, norms and discourses. The surge of governance networks has been prompted by the persistent critique of the traditional forms of governance in terms of hierarchy and market for being too inflexible and reactive, respectively. Hence, important organizations such as the World Bank, the European Union, multinational corporations, private think tanks and national governments tend to recommend the formation and use of partnerships, strategic alliances and interorganizational networks, which are seen as the keys to a more flexible and proactive governance. The euphoric celebration of the merits of governance networks often neglects the problems and limits of network governance. Nevertheless, governance networks clearly deserve scholarly attention, as they tend to transform the form and functioning of government and create new spaces of governance by breaking down the traditional dichotomies of state and society, public and private and local and global. As such, governance networks blur the boundary between state and society by facilitating horizontal coordination and co-governance. They bring together political actors from the state, market and civil society in processes of joint decision making, and they cut across the global, national and local levels of governance in the creation of tangled, multilevel networks. The burgeoning literature on governance networks defines governance networks as a distinctive mode of governance which in several important respects differs from traditional modes of governance in terms of hierarchy and market (Jessop 1998, 2002; Rhodes 1997a, 1997b). First, in terms of the relationship among the actors, governance networks can be described as a pluricentric governance system based on interdependency, as opposed to the unicentric system of imperative state regulation, which is based on subordination and dependency, and the multicentric system of competitive market regulation, which is based on
an infinite number of totally independent actors (Kersbergen and Waarden 2004: 148). Second, in terms of the decision-making mode, governance networks are based on a reflexive rationality, as opposed to the substantial rationality that governs imperative state regulation and the procedural rationality that governs competitive market regulation (Jessop 1999: 6-7; Mayntz 1991: 13-15). Whereas hierarchical governance aims to translate the substantial political values of the government into detailed laws and regulations that are implemented and enforced by civil servants, market regulation relies on the invisible hand of the market forces that leads to a Pareto-optimal allocation of goods and services if the rules and procedures ensuring free competition are carefully observed. By contrast, governance networks involve complex decision-making processes wherein values, procedures and outcomes are subject to ongoing negotiations among a plurality of actors who aim to produce collective solutions in spite of the persistence of diverging interests (Mayntz 1991: 14; Scharpf 1994). Finally, compliance with collectively negotiated solutions is ensured neither by means of the state’s legal sanctions nor out of the fear of economic loss on the market. Rather, it is ensured through the generation of mutual trust and political obligation, which are sustained by self-constituted and self-enforced rules and norms (Nielsen and Pedersen 1988). Now, the increasing reliance on governance networks does not mean that the use of traditional forms of governance in terms of hierarchy and market is diminishing. On the contrary, hierarchical governance by elected politicians and their executive civil servants is reinvigorated by the adoption of new steering and control techniques in terms of management by objectives, performance measurement and benchmarking. Likewise, privatization, contracting out and the introduction of quasi-markets within the remaining public sector continues to be at the top of the political agenda in most Western countries. As such, the proliferation of governance networks seems to run parallel to the reinforcement of hierarchy and market. In fact, governance networks often help to sustain the new forms of hierarchical governance by providing valuable inputs to the formulation of the overall policy objectives and by coordinating the public agencies’ attempt to reach their targets. Governance networks also help to complement the competitive logic of the market, which tends to prevent exchange of valuable information, by facilitating trust building and mutual learning. This does not reduce governance networks to an appendix to hierarchy and market. Governance networks are often the preferred mode of governance in relation to ‘wicked problems’, where the policy problems, objectives and solutions are unclear and ambiguous, where there is a need for specialized knowledge and where there are many stakeholders with potentially conflicting interests (Klijn and Koppenjan 2004). The spread of governance networks is founded on specific Western experiences and values, including the numerous reports on state and market failure; the need to overcome organizational fragmentation within the public sector caused by ‘New Public Management’; the growing emphasis on citizen participation and the empowerment of civil society actors; and the call for subsidiarity and
devolution (Cheung 2000: 12). However, the hegemony of the Western modernization discourse in the Third World, which recommends the formation of networks and partnerships as a part of the notion of ‘good governance’ (World Bank 1992), has also spurred the establishment of network-type governance arrangements in developing countries. An interesting question is whether there is also a future for governance networks in the newly industrialized countries in South-East Asia that tend to be governed by strong governments and dirigiste economic regimes based on authoritarian state corporatism (Cheung 2000: 5). On the one hand, the strong, authoritarian governments in South-East Asia might not want to share power with relatively autonomous civil society actors in terms of interest organizations, new social movements and citizens’ groups. In particular, they might not welcome the democratizing effects that arise from increased participation, the empowerment of civil society actors and the construction of new spaces of public deliberation and contestation. On the other hand, the new discourse on governance networks and partnerships might have a certain affinity with what has recently been articulated as ‘Asian values’. In a manner that resembles the formation of Orientalism (Said 1985), academic scholars, central decision makers and political commentators in South-East Asia have begun to look at social, economic and political life through a particular cultural lens that invokes different forms of neo-or postConfucianism that recently have been highlighted by cultural classification schemes developed by Western scholars such as Fukuyama (1992) and Hofstede (1980). The increasing prominence of Asian values constitutes an important filter for the introduction of new forms of governance, but it might favour the formation and use of governance networks in important policy fields such as urban regeneration, regional development, social policy, transport and environmental protection. Hence, while governance through networks and partnerships among relevant and affected actors might conflict with the authoritarian and paternalistic aspects of the Asian values, network governance seems to link up nicely with the strong emphasis on the importance of culture, compromise formation, obligation and trust, personal interrelations and community ties. In so far as the notion of ‘harmony’ constitutes a nodal point in the emerging discourse on Asian values, the ultimate test of the compatibility between ‘network governance’ and ‘Asian values’ requires a thorough analysis of the affinity between the notion of governance networks and the concept of harmony. The result of this test depends, first and foremost, on how governance networks are defined and interpreted. If, in line with the managerial and post-political discourse of the European third way project, governance networks are depicted as a tool for a pragmatic, non-adversarial problem solving based on horizontal interaction among interdependent actors, reasoned debate and consensus building, there seems to be a strong affinity between governance networks and the cherished value of harmony. This is true at least if harmony is defined as a societal goal favouring cooperation, peaceful cohabitation and tolerance rooted in justice, common sense and balance among different but mutually complementary actors,
views and values (see the contributions of Chenyang Li and Kam Por Yu in this volume), and the term is not used merely as a political slogan enabling autocratic governments to legitimize the suppression of conflict and plurality. However, this chapter aims to take issue with the post-political interpretation of governance networks by presenting a more complex and adequate understanding of governance networks that places power and conflict at the heart of networked policy interactions (see Howarth and Griggs 2006). On the basis of this alternative interpretation of governance networks, it is claimed that compatibility between governance networks and harmony can only be achieved through a reinterpretation of harmony in terms of an agonistic ethos that sees the vibrant clash of interests and opinions as the sine qua non of an effective and democratic governing of society but, at the same time, insists that we should not view our opponents as enemies that should be annihilated, but as adversaries whose legitimate right to voice their views and opinions is matched by our right to engage with and contest the content of those views. In order to explore the conditions for making governance networks compatible with harmony, the chapter proceeds in the following way: The second section defines the basic features of governance networks and describes their variable forms, labels and underlying rationalities. The third section aims to explain the recent surge of governance networks in the Western world. The fourth section discusses the contribution of governance networks to an effective and democratic governing of society and briefly introduces the notion of metagovernance. The fifth section shows that the notion of governance networks lends itself to conflicting interpretations and argues that the compatibility between the third way project’s concept of governance networks and the South-East Asian notion of harmony is premised on a managerial and post-political interpretation of governance networks. Finally, the last section contends that the implicit dangers of the post-political interpretation of governance and governance networks urge us to conceive of governance networks as arenas of power and conflicts and to reformulate the South-East Asian notion of harmony as an agonistic ethos that transcends the liberal notion of tolerance by insisting on the right to challenge and combat the views of our legitimate adversaries.