Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Progress of Power: Local Franchises

3 recent BBC stories neatly sum up the "progress" of power in the 21st century: that is, the franchise path, or what David Chandler [pdf] outlines neatly as "More participation, less democracy":
Central government, in fact, looks set to acquire greater regulatory control over local authorities, through the process of ‘empowering communities’.diversity and freedom in local government service delivery can only be reduced by the DETR focus on national auditability. ...

This is portrayed as a transfer of decision-making power away from the centre, yet, under the statutory duty of consultation and new policy frameworks, this will further undermine local authority autonomy through creating a
whole host of new centrally regulated monitoring regimes.
(p. 9)
So what have we seen already this year? The three that caught my eye were:Of these stories, two (the first and last) follow through on the trend for local implementation of national policy. The middle can be seen as a "prior" (yet also "post") stage, in which power is seized from a more decentralised base, extended into the realm of studied categorisation and problem-agenda-setting. (i.e. Categorise a field, rank the categories, create a problem.)

The first, ironically, can be said to be much of an embodied - almost tangible - symbol of Foucault's Discipline and Punish; the introduction of the test as a mechanism to "objectify" the individual or, in other words, make each individual the centre of their very own world which they are never fully in control of (quite the reverse, in fact). This can be seen most clearly in the BBC article here:
a more "transparent" form of testing
The question is: is it the testing that's being made more transparent, or is it the child?

Finally, the story on "decentralising" ASBOs follows Chandler's line exactly. That 'respect' is something that emerges from society and culture, rather than is scientifically defined by it, is now no longer part of the debate. it is clear from this agenda that the government would far prefer us to use their specified "tools" to solve a problem than to face the problem in and of itself. This is the franchising of power, the handing out of "toy" power which we have fooled ourselves into accepting.

Decentralisation that is "handed down" is not decentralisation - it is nothing but cheap labour for a government that no longer wants to see the local level. These "tools" we develop should be seen for what they are - bureaucratic cages that pander not to what solution is actually best, nor what causes should really be addressed, but to the needs of a government that sees a population purely as a workforce, as economic stimuli. Control must be maintained for, above all else, "competitive" purposes.


Richard Veryard said...

Likewise, in the business world, the word "empowerment" is often used to denote a form of pseudo-empowerment, in which employees are "empowered" to do more work and/or to solve problems for their employers. See Wikipedia.

Scribe said...

Certainly blurs the line betwen "public" and "private", or between "hierarchy" and "democracy". The difference, I think, is in terms of what structure "participants" believe should be in existence: in the corporate world, hierarchies are considered a necessity, even by those at the bottom. In democracy, accountability is supposedly the benchmark.

Thus, the emergence/re-emergence of "grass roots" power represents either a "push" (from a hierarchical perspective), or a "re-capture" (from a democratic perspective). I suspect some interesting effects come out of this distinction...