chapter  1
22 Pages

The ‘3Rs’ in rethinking governance: ruling, rationalities, and resistance MARK BevIR AND R . A . W . RHODeS

Since the 1980s, the word ‘governance’ has become widespread. Some sceptics think governance is mere jargon – a vague euphemism for government. We demur. The word ‘governance’ has spread rapidly, both because changing social theories have led people to see the world differently and because the world itself has changed. New theories and practices have drawn attention away from the central institutions of the state. The focus has shifted to the activity of governing, and much of the activity of governing now involves private and voluntary organisations as well as public ones. Much of the literature on governance also points to an empirical change in practices of government. Governance refers here to a clear shift in public action and public organisation. It suggests that, since the 1980s, states and state actors have become more reliant on varied private and voluntary sector actors to devise, manage, and deliver policies and services. The state enters contracts with other organisations: for example, to manage prisons and to provide training to the unemployed. The state forms partnerships with other organisations: for example, to build roads and railway lines and to deliver humanitarian aid. Government had consisted of bureaucratic hierarchies. The new governance gives greater scope to markets and networks. Although there are debates about the extent of this new governance, and the role of the state in it, there is general agreement that the processes of governing now involve more diverse organisational forms and more diverse actors. This book draws on decentred theory to offer a more varied account of the changing nature of public action and public organisation (Bevir and Rhodes 2003; Bevir 2013). In this chapter, we introduce decentred theory and provide an outline of the way in which it leads us to rethink governance. We start by reviewing the leading accounts of contemporary governance: network governance and metagovernance. We suggest that, despite their differences, they share a lot in common, notably modernist social science’s aspiration to craft a comprehensive theory. Next, we develop a decentred theory of governance in contrast to this modernist ambition. We argue that changes in public action and organisation should be understood as contingent and historical. Instead of appealing to alleged social logics governing such changes, we should explore the different and competing traditions that inform contestable practices. From this perspective,

governance appears as diverse; the product of contests over reform agendas that have sought to spread markets and networks. Governance consists, we suggest, of diverse practices of ruling, inspired by competing rationalities, and confronting plural forms of resistance: the ‘3Rs’.2