chapter  2
9 Pages

Governance and modernist social science: a genealogy MARK BevIR

Introduction It is clear that successive British governments introduced wave after wave of public sector reform in their attempt to promote markets, contracting-out, networks, and joined-up government in place of hierarchy or bureaucracy. This chapter focuses on the intellectual sources of these efforts to transform the state and its relation to civil society. It highlights the role played in this transformation by modernist social science, with its reliance on formal explanations based on economic models or sociological correlations. Modernist social science informed the main narratives of the crisis of the administrative and welfare state in the 1970s. 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, when an economic modernism inspired marketisation and ‘new public management’. The second wave of reform was most prominent under New Labour, when a sociological modernism inspired joined-up governance and networks (Bevir 2005). In the late nineteenth century, social science was dominated by a developmental historicism that inspired grand narratives centred on the nation, the state, and freedom. Developmental historicism appealed to narratives that situated events and institutions in a larger order of evolving continuity. Examples include Whig history, idealist philosophy, and evolutionary theorising. The most significant feature of twentieth-century social science was, in sharp contrast, the emergence of modernist modes of knowledge that atomise the flux of reality. Table 2.1 provides an overview.