chapter  9
18 Pages

Austerity realism and the governance of Leicester JONATHAN S . DAvIeS AND e D THOMPSON

Introduction This chapter explores affinities between modernist social science and strategies for collaborative governance in Leicester in the context of austerity. During the New Labour years, the conceptual grammar of network governance resonated far beyond the academe with ministers and officials, was taught to public sector leaders, and enacted (often dysfunctionally) through collaborative institutions, mobilising a range of governmental and non-governmental actors (e.g. Benington and Hartley 2009; Bolden et al. 2009). The network-centric vocabularies of ‘complexity’, ‘whole systems thinking’, ‘adaptivity’, ‘diversity’, and ‘inclusivity’ were pervasive (Davies 2011: 113), with Marsh (2011) arguing that they constituted a new ‘orthodoxy’. Abundant criticism of the new orthodoxy quickly followed. Moran (2010) branded the widespread celebration of networks as ‘epochalism’ – the tendency to exaggerate change in the present by misrepresenting and denigrating the past (also Lynn 2001). Bevir’s post-foundationalist theory of governance (2013) pointed to powerful continuities in the traditions of governance. Whereas some thinkers represented networks as the signature of an emerging postmodern condition (Bogason 2000), Bevir indicted New Labour with reproducing the very modernist practices that network enthusiasts thought they were escaping. He argued that it had promoted network governance through modernist command and expertise. New Labour had believed that ‘efficiency and effectiveness derive from stable relationships characterised by trust, social participation, and voluntary associations’ (Bevir 2013: 140). Its error was to think it could design these relations from the top-down. At the close of the New Labour period, proponents of network governance theory began distancing themselves from it (Rhodes 2011; Stoker 2011). Enthusiasm for networks was dimmed by the disappointment of experience, the realpolitik of economic crisis, and the rollout of austerity (Davies and Pill 2012). The politics of austerity, therefore, pose important questions about the durability of network governance, as an idea, a tradition, and a practice. To what extent are local actors influenced by network theories, and with what impact on their collaborative strategies? To what extent is collaborative governance rooted in modernist social science, or alternatively in post-foundational theory (Bevir 2013)?