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The ‘Politics’ of the Big Society and Localism Keith Jacobs School of Social Sciences University of Tasmania.

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Presentation on theme: "The ‘Politics’ of the Big Society and Localism Keith Jacobs School of Social Sciences University of Tasmania."— Presentation transcript:

1 The ‘Politics’ of the Big Society and Localism Keith Jacobs School of Social Sciences University of Tasmania

2 Key questions What theoretical lens can be used to make sense of the deployment of narratives/interventions (such as Big Society) in policy-making? What is the wider significance of these discursive interventions and what purpose do they serve? Is the role out of the Big Society agenda emblematic of wider processes taking place? What is particular about contemporary politics that encourages parties to announce programmes such as the Big Society? What does the binary split implicit in the Big Society agenda (i.e. good society/ bad government) tell us about the contemporary political culture? What is the allure of reform programmes for policy makers and politicians? Is there a link between new media technologies, the way we understand news content and the recent ‘ideas’ driven policy agenda?

3 Outline i.Contemporary politics (historical amnesia?) ii.Conceptualising the Big Society iii.Redescribing politics and the role of fantasy iv.The depiction of the contemporary ‘crisis’ v.The allure of policy narratives and political performance vi.The reception and sense of disappointment that now accompany these narratives vii.Reflections on the Big Society, localism and the conduct of neoliberal practices.

4 ‘The long march of the neoliberal revolution’ (Stuart Hall) Coalition policy ‘arguably the best prepared, the most wide ranging, radical and ambitious of the three regimes, that, since the 1970s have been maturing the neoliberal project (Hall 2011).

5 Contemporary Politics The blurring of image and reality (Hoggett 2010). Political commentary now focussed on media presentation and public relations & less on delivery of services. A new media landscape (Couldry 2012). Politics framed in a language that appeals to our subjective narratives. Politicians now expected to demonstrate affinities with the general public. Example: Cameron and Clegg capitalise on being the parents of young children.

6 Historical amnesia? ‘The past appears as the location of our troubles, mistakes and misfortunes. In contrast, the future holds out the promise of overcoming such conditions. The present tends to be less discussed – merely a staging point on the necessary, inevitable and desired trajectory towards the future’ (Clarke 2012).

7 Redescribing politics and the role of fantasy Concepts that help us ‘redescribe’ politics (Rose, 1996; Frosh 2010; Glynos 2011). Glynos (2011) - fantasy ‘denotes a framing device that subject use to ‘protect themselves from the anxiety associated with the idea that there is no ultimate guarantee or law underlying and guiding our social existence’. Rose (1996) our engagement with politics is, to some extent, reliant on the societal fantasies we hold in relation to politicians and government. One of the most enduring and powerful societal fantasies we cling to is that leaders have the capability to meet our aspirations. For Rose (1996), the power of the state relies on this attribution and our expectation that governments deliver is a manifestation of this underlying fantasy. Zizek (2009) - an engagement with politics is always informed by our feelings; in particular, our desires and expectations. In political discourse, the narratives that appeal are those that offer some form of psychic comfort to ameliorate anxiety. There is an implicit split in the Big Society agenda. Drawing on a Kleinian conceptual vocabulary, ‘Big Society’ constitutes the ‘Good Object’ that we are drawn to; whilst ‘Broken Britain’ is the ‘Bad object’ that we find ourselves in.

8 Review of the literature A continuation of the new Labour policies on welfare (Hodkinson and Robbin 2013) Thatcherism (Cobbett and Walker 2013) 19 th century voluntarism (Hilton and McKay 2011) Lowndes and Pratchett (2012) Short-term expedience and long-term ideological objectives Macmillan (2013) - BS ‘not a single programme but a loose and encompassing alliance of ideas and signals with a range of purposes’.

9 Framing Big Society ‘Under the vision of a big society we are not to be less governed, but more efficiently and effectively so, by governing our own conduct and that of those around us in our families, neighbourhoods and workplaces’ (Bulley and Sokhi-Bulley 2012). Notion of responsibility furnaces a powerful imaginary in relation to modern identity (Glynos 2011). Politics now constituted through projects, plans and practices (Rose 2000).

10 ‘Constructing publics’ (Janet Newman) Publics ‘have to be convened: they are discursively summoned up, addressed, hailed as such’ (Newman 2011). Big Society can be viewed as an attempt to create such a ‘public’ to lend legitimacy to new forms of neoliberal policy making which draw attention to the ‘unsustainability of state welfare and the dependency inducing components of the public sector’ (Newman 2011).

11 The depiction of contemporary society a key component of the narrative Under the guise of participation BS seeks to disavow representative forms of democracy. Provides opportunities for commercial interests to secure profits. The age of anxiety – ‘we have entered an age of insecurity – economic insecurity, physical insecurity, political insecurity.. Insecurity breeds fear. And fear – fear of change, fear of decline and fear of strangers and an unfamiliar world – is corroding the trust and interdependence on which civil societies rest’ (Judt 2010). The Big Society is best understood in this context of generalised anxiety about the future. Politicians feel compelled to address our broad sense of despondency and there is a societal expectation for them to do so.

12 ‘Broken Britain’ So this must be a wake-up call for our country. Social problems that have been festering for decades have exploded in our face. Now, just as people last week wanted criminals robustly confronted on our street, so they want to see these social problems taken on and defeated. Our security fightback must be matched by a social fightback. We must fight back against the attitudes and assumptions that have brought parts of our society to this shocking state (Cameron 2011).

13 Broken Britain as the ‘Other’ The strategic device used is the imaginary of Broken Britain which is viewed as ‘the other’ (Lacan, Zizek) to denote disorder and disfunctionality both within the State and civil society. The narrative of a Broken Britain is the pivot by which the Big Society agenda can be presented to the electorate. The notion of Broken Britain serves a valuable framing device as it conveys an image of disorder that invites diagnosis and remedy. Broken Britain’s appeal rests on a depiction that is understandable for media circulation.

14 Big Society as a political performance? Provides some form of symbolic assurance by first mythologizing the past by presenting an idealisation that individuals were more community-minded and then using this idealisation to offer a navigable route to assuage our present day anxieties. “So is this government about more than cuts? Yes. Is the Big Society some optional extra? No. It holds the key to transforming our economy, our society, our country’s future and that’s why I will keep on championing it and keep on building it, every day that I have the privilege to lead our country” (Cameron 2010).

15 Cognitive Polyphasia: straddling contradictions Cognitive polyphasia - how we often desire outcomes that are often contradictory. Big Society appears to straddle contradictions. It claims to be anti-bureaucratic but at the same time holds out the promise of a political solution to assuage our concerns. Hence the government’s claim that “only when people and communities are given more power and take more responsibility can we achieve fairness and opportunity for all” (Cabinet Office 2010).

16 Conclusions - 1 A belief in the Big Society requires a denial or redescription of the past. In an era of intense media scrutiny - what Yates (2009) has termed ‘the mediatisation of politics’ - politicians feel an obligation to appear in control, to be pursuing a renewal agenda. Our anxieties about the future fuel this mode of political engagement.

17 Conclusions - 2 Big Society as a form of reparation We yearn for politicians to put right societal concerns we identify as having gone wrong. In a different context, Melanie Klein (1984) used the concept of reparation as way to convey how individuals seek to find ways to fix a damaged world. Disaffected content - the allure of depoliticisation (Hall 2011) – the role performed by media? The appropriation of ‘ideals’ to subvert the ‘good’.

18 Conclusions - 3 The power of Big Society is that it posits the idea that government has failed and that solutions are to be found in the civic sphere. Big Society is an attempt to create a new ‘public’ that is amenable to neo-liberal reform (Peck 2010). Paradoxically, the Big Society has set in train a widespread discussion on the conduct of politics and the role of the state, much of which has been critical. Research required to understand better, the psychosocial components of policy-making.

19 References Bulley, D. and Sokhi-Bulley, B. (2012) ‘Big Society as Big Government: Cameron’s Governmentality Agenda’, British Journal of Politics and International Relations (online 1-19). Cabinet Office, 2010 Building the Big Society, Cabinet Office, London. Cameron, D. (2011) ‘Fightback after the riots’ Speech delivered in Oxfordshire 15 th August. Cameron, D. (2009) ‘The Big Society’ Hugo Young Memorial Lecture, 10 November 2009. Clarke, J. (2012) ‘Historical amnesia: linking past, present and future in politics and policy’ Research, Policy and Planning (2012) 29 (3) 153-160. Corbett, S. and Walker, A. (2013) The big society: rediscovery of the ‘the social’ or rhetorical fig-leaf for neo- liberalism?’ Critical Social Policy ( online 1-22) Couldry, N. (2012) Media, Society, World: Social Theory and Digital Media Practice, Cambridge: Polity Press. Frosh, S. (2010) Psychoanalysis Outside the Clinic: Interventions in Psychosocial Studies, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan Glynos, J. (2011) ‘Fantasy and identity in critical political theory’ Filozofski Vestnik 32(2) 65-88. Klein, M. (1984) The Writings of Melanie Klein, 4 vols. Vol. 1, Love, Guilt, and Reparation and Other Works, 1921-45; vol. 2, The Psycho-Analysis of Children; vol. 3, Envy and Gratitude and Other Works, 1946-1963; vol. 4, Narrative of a Child Analysis) London: Hogarth Press Hall, S. (2011) ‘The Neo-liberal revolution’ Cultural Studies (25) 6, 705-728. Hilton, M. and McKay, J. (2011) (eds) The Ages of Voluntarism: How we got to the Big Society Oxford, Oxford University Press. Hoggett, P. (2010) Government and the perverse social defence’ British Journal of Psychotherapy 26(2) 202-212. Lowndes, V., & Pratchett, L. (2012) ‘Local Governance under the Coalition Government: Austerity, Localism and the ‘Big Society”. Local Government Studies, 38(1) 21–40. Macmillan, R. (2013) ‘Making sense of the big society: perspectives from the third sector’, Third sector Research Centre Working Paper 90, University of Birmingham. Newman, J. (2011) Public leadership as public-making’ Journal of Public Money and Management 31(5) 315-322. Peck, J. (2010) Constructions of Neo-Liberal Reason, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Rose, J. (1996) State of Fantasy, Oxford: Clarendon Press. Rose, N. (2000) ‘Community, citizenship and the third way’, American Behavioural Scientist 43(9) 1395-14311. Yates, C. (2009) ‘Masculinity, flirtation and political communication in the UK’ in Day Sclater, S., Jones, D., Price, H. and Yates, C. (Eds) Emotion, New Psychosocial Perspectives, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan pp.85-97. Zizek, S. (2009) First as Tragedy, Then as Farce, London: Verso.

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