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Policy Worlds

Policy Worlds: Anthropology and the Analysis of Contemporary Power

Cris Shore
Susan Wright
Davide Però
Series: EASA Series
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 348
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  • Book Info
    Policy Worlds
    Book Description:

    There are few areas of society today that remain outside the ambit of policy processes, and likewise policy making has progressively reached into the structure and fabric of everyday life. An instrument of modern government, policy and its processes provide an analytical window into systems of governance themselves, opening up ways to study power and the construction of regimes of truth. This volume argues that policies are not simply coercive, constraining or confined to static texts; rather, they are productive, continually contested and able to create new social and semantic spaces and new sets of relations. Anthropologists do not stand outside or above systems of governance but are themselves subject to the rhetoric and rationalities of policy. The analyses of policy worlds presented by the contributors to this volume open up new possibilities for understanding systems of knowledge and power and the positioning of academics within them.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-117-0
    Subjects: Anthropology, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction

    • Chapter 1 Conceptualising Policy: Technologies of Governance and the Politics of Visibility
      (pp. 1-26)
      Cris Shore and Susan Wright

      This book is about how and why anthropology opens up new perspectives on the study of policy. As our authors demonstrate, the point of an anthropology of policy is not just to focus a new lens on particular fields of policy but, in doing so, to reveal larger processes of governance, power and social change that are shaping the world today. As the title suggests, policies belong to – and are embedded within – particular social and cultural worlds or ‘domains of meaning’. But they create as well as reflect those worlds. From our perspective, policies are not simply external,...


    • Introduction
      (pp. 27-31)
      Susan Wright

      One problem faced by modern anthropology is to develop research strategies for investigating how the small details of social change that are observable in particular locations connect to wider processes of social, economic and political transformation. Some, following Gluckman and the Manchester School (Evens and Handelman 2006), say that this has always been a focal research issue; others trace it to the postcolonial crisis of community studies (Newby and Bell 1972). While it is still essential to engage in the ethnographic particularities and contingencies of ‘what is going on’ in specific places, that is not the end of the story....

    • Chapter 2 Illuminating the Apparatus: Steps toward a Nonlocal Ethnography of Global Governance
      (pp. 32-49)
      Gregory Feldman

      This chapter offers a methodological strategy for studying amorphous and decentralised policy regimes that function to regulate large populations. It approaches this task through Foucault’s concept of the apparatus (dispositif), which Rabinow (2003: 50–51) explains as a device of population control and economic management composed of disparate elements that coalesce in particular historical conjunctures, usually moments identified as ‘crises’. Its various technologies work by ‘first specifying (and to that extent creating) those targets [i.e. populations] and then controlling (distributing and regulating) them’ (2003: 50–51). Crucially, its elements are ‘resolutely heterogeneous’, incorporating ‘discourses, institutions, architectural arrangements, policy decisions, laws,...

    • Chapter 3 Politics and Ethics: Ethnographies of Expert Knowledge and Professional Identities
      (pp. 50-67)
      David Mosse

      As an ethnographer of policy, in 2004 I faced an unexpected problem. I had just completed an anthropological account of aid policy and practice based on over ten years’ involvement in a British-funded (Department for International Development [DFID]) rural development project concerned with improving the livelihoods of a marginalised ‘tribal’ population in a poor region of western India (see Mosse 2005). When I returned my draft account of the project – my record of its achievements and its contradictions, its formal policy and informal processes, its expertise and its unscripted roles all now framed within a broader theoretical argument –...

    • Chapter 4 Peopling Policy: On Conflicting Subjectivities of Fee-Paying Students
      (pp. 68-85)
      Gritt B. Nielsen

      In spring 2005, an Amendment was passed by the Danish Parliament to internationalise Danish universities by encouraging Danish students to study abroad and foreign students to come to Denmark. The Amendment required Danish universities to charge tuition fees from certain non-European students who previously had studied for free. Half a year after the passing of the Amendment, a group of Chinese students taking a master’s degree at a Danish university wrote a complaint directly to the Minister of Science about the ‘low quality’ of their programme. The students had been charged fees and their complaint, amongst other things, was that...

    • Chapter 5 ‘Studying Through’: A Strategy for Studying Political Transformation. Or Sex, Lies and British Politics
      (pp. 86-104)
      Susan Wright and Sue Reinhold

      The ‘anthropology of policy’ emerged, partly, out of work in the 1980s and 1990s which sought to analyse the major political transformations occurring in Britain under Margaret Thatcher’s governments and beyond. Reinhold’s study (1994a) of an ideological struggle over ‘positive images’ of gay people was an important contribution to this project. The story started with a dispute in Haringey Council, London, over attempts to counter negative stereotypes of gay people in schools. This conflict fed into national debates, which resulted in legislation, transformed the political definition of ‘the family’ and contributed to the emergence of a new discourse of governance....

    • Chapter 6 What was Neoliberalism and What Comes Next? The Transformation of Citizenship in the Law-and-Order State
      (pp. 105-124)
      Susan Brin Hyatt

      In 1996, Katherine Verdery published her well-known bookWhat Was Socialism, and What Comes Next?, in which she ruminated on the nature of the changes that swept the Soviet bloc countries following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. In that work, Verdery questioned the way in which ‘the transition’ away from socialism was reified by scholars into a unitary ‘thing’, a clearly focused and delineated object of study, as though ‘socialism’ was (and is) any more stable and unitary a category than is (or was) ‘capitalism’ or ‘democracy’. As she wrote in her introduction (1996: 15):

      I have...


    • Introduction
      (pp. 125-129)
      Cris Shore

      A key problem faced by anthropologists, particularly those interested in policy, is to understand how the pattern of events and social relations that we observe within a particular field relate to wider processes of globalization and change occurring in economies and societies. An anthropology of policy aims to track the way macro-level forces or events impact upon (and interact with) the local. However, it is also interested in what micro-level studies can reveal about the nature and trajectory of those broader historical and political processes themselves. While it is important to provide ethnographic accounts that explore how actors engage with...

    • Chapter 7 Intimate Knowledge and the Politics of Policy Convergence: The World Bank and Social Security Reform in Mexico
      (pp. 130-150)
      Tara Schwegler

      Between 1993 and 2001, nine Latin American countries undertook significant structural reforms of their old-age insurance systems.¹ The scope, form and political context of these reforms varied widely; however, they all included an expanded role for the private sector in the provision of retirement pensions, prompting many scholars to declare that Latin American countries had privatised their public pension systems (Quiesser 1998; Orenstein 2008).² Latin America experienced multiple waves of market-oriented reform in the 1980s and 1990s, and for many observers, the pension reforms were the most recent manifestation of neoliberal policy convergence – the ‘tendency of policies to grow...

    • Chapter 8 Shadow Governing: What the Neocon Core Reveals about Power and Influence in America
      (pp. 151-168)
      Janine R. Wedel

      Since 2002, much debate in America has focused on the war in Iraq and the subsequent occupation. The ‘neoconservatives’ – working to pursue their goal of remaking the world in their image of America – have won mainstream media recognition as never before. Names like Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith – the chief architects of the war – have easily rolled off the tongues of television commentators. And although there is awareness that these architects played a role, how and why they prevailed in helping to shape the Bush administration’s policies to take the U.S. to war has...

    • Chapter 9 Espionage, Policy and the Art of Government: The British Secret Services and the War on Iraq
      (pp. 169-186)
      Cris Shore

      The conceptual theme I explore in this chapter is the idea of policy as a legal-rational tool of governance that simultaneously provides an instrument for the operation of state power and a lens for analysing the operation of state power and what is sometimes called the ‘art of government’. My concern is with how policy makers and politicians use policy to construct the public sphere, classify populations and define problems so that particular solutions appear natural and unavoidable, i.e., how policies are discursively managed in an attempt to control public debate and forge specific outcomes.

      The case study I use...

    • Chapter 10 The (Un)Making of Policy in the Shadow of the World Bank: Infrastructure Development, Urban Resettlement and the Cunning State in India
      (pp. 187-204)
      Shalini Randeria and Ciara Grunder

      The juridification of ever more domains of our lives today increasingly blurs the distinction between law in the strict sense of the term (i.e., rules enacted by a body with legitimate authority) and policy. Juridification denotes the creation and interpretation of rules, regulations and new soft law instruments by a range of actors – public and private, national and international. Policies and procedures of international financial institutions, development agencies and humanitarian organisations belong to an ill-defined domain at the intersection of international private law, public international law, technical norms and soft law. These policies lack legislative basis but nonetheless acquire...

    • Chapter 11 Sweden’s National Pension System as a Political Technology
      (pp. 205-222)
      Anette Nyqvist

      This chapter examines Sweden’s national pension system, focusing on how the design of the new pension scheme functioned as a political technology to simultaneously depoliticise and ‘responsibilise’ the subjects of the reform. My analysis sheds light on how tools of new governance may be embedded in the construction of a public policy. The design of Sweden’s new pension system recasts what was previously a political issue into a neutral, purely technical one to be dealt with by experts, not by elected politicians. I also explore how the construction of the policy effectively relocated responsibility for future pension levels from the...


    • Introduction
      (pp. 223-226)
      Davide Però

      This volume has so far addressed two key aspects of the anthropology of policy: first, the ways in which policy processes connect different sites and scales (local, national, supranational) in order to reveal the way power operates and the broader political systems in which polices are embedded; and, secondly, the ways in which the study of local manifestations of policy can serve as a vantage point for examining deeper historical changes in the structures of governance that shape people’s lives. This part of the book addresses a third set of questions, namely those concerning the role played by the governed...

    • Chapter 12 The Case of Scanzano: Raison d’État and the Reasons for a Rebellion
      (pp. 227-243)
      Dorothy Louise Zinn

      For two weeks in November 2003, a massive protest of unprecedented proportions shook the Basilicata region (Lucania) in southern Italy. The action took place as a response to Legislative Decree 314, which paved the way for a nuclear waste storage facility in the coastal town of Scanzano Jonico. The Lucanians’ practices of resistance operated through the institutional actions of local politicians and non-governmental bodies, as well as through a vast mobilisation on a popular level. During the protest, which garnered widespread solidarity and participation from the inhabitants of neighbouring regions, thousands and thousands of people participated in roadblocks, demonstrations and...

    • Chapter 13 Migrants’ Practices of Citizenship and Policy Change
      (pp. 244-263)
      Davide Però

      In the seminal introduction to their book Anthropology of Policy (1997), Cris Shore and Sue Wright argued for the inclusion of policy in the domain of anthropological inquiry. Since then, the anthropology of policy, with its approach to policy as ‘practice of power’ (Levison and Sutton 2001), has been growing steadily in terms of contributions and gained progressive recognition. However, this growth has taken place more in terms of studying the powerful actors at the top of the policy chain and less in terms of the powerless, especially with regard to the policy change they produce.

      But what is policy...

    • Chapter 14 Integration Policy and Ethnic Minority Associations
      (pp. 264-281)
      Clarissa Kugelberg

      This is what a young woman, Frances, told me when I asked her about an ethnic minority association she and some friends had formed. The association brought together women from many African countries.

      In Sweden, non-profit associations are indeed considered a significant part of social life and have received financial assistance from the state and local communities for decades. In this chapter, I will illustrate how national policies were converted into principles for allocating financial support to ethnic minority associations and how these principles were turned into decisions through a local interplay between members of ethnic minority associations and local...

    • Chapter 15 The Elephant in the Room: Multistakeholder Dialogue on Agricultural Biotechnology in the Food and Agriculture Organization
      (pp. 282-299)
      Birgit Müller

      The planting and patenting of transgenic plants has sparked unprecedented and multifaceted controversies all over the world. The introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) raises at least three contentious issues. First, proponents of genetic modification see GMOs as a means to reduce chemical use and to overcome environmental constraints on agricultural production. Opponents warn of the unforeseen potential implications that a release of genetically modified plants into the environment would pose, as they could cross-pollinate, contaminate and outcompete indigenous plants. Secondly, it raises issues of health and food safety with proponents advertising the technology as indispensable for fighting hunger and...

  7. Afterword

    • Chapter 16 A Policy Ethnographer’s Reading of Policy Anthropology
      (pp. 300-314)
      Dvora Yanow

      Much as anthropologists talk about coming to understand their own cultures better for having lived in other countries, sometimes travelling to a foreign discipline helps one see one’s own more clearly. Reading in cognate fields can generate oblique visions that enable eureka moments for present-day thinkers, much as displacing bathtub water did for ancient Greeks. So it might be for those reading this book from the tub of political science, policy studies, public administration/organisational studies and international relations – the ‘we’ of this chapter. For I come to these chapters as someone with a primary disciplinary home in ‘politics’ and...

  8. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 315-318)
  9. Index
    (pp. 319-344)