Terms and concepts

Here’s a quick guide to some of the ideas behind civic bureaucracy

Governmentality – a term coined by French philosopher Michel Foucault for the way in which the interaction and repetition of bureaucratic practice, guiding narratives and control over land and public order constrain the way in which we view the world and what is seen as possible and important.

Metric power – a term used by British sociologist David Beer for the way in which forms of numerical measurement used in public administration (such as economics, statistics, audit and modelling) have come to trump other forms of understanding and control outcomes.

Knowledge-power – another term coined by Michel Foucault to describe the way expertise is applied, particularly in governance and the sciences, to direct and order society.

Heterodox economics – a broad term for alternative economic theories which question dominant thinking used in public administration. This includes challenge to the application of such concepts as time preference, rational choice theory, competition theory, growth, urban agglomeration, competitiveness and productivity.

Civic republicanism – a concept embraced and popularized by the US Founding Fathers which says the primary purpose of the organization of government should be to sustain the republic itself from the risk of tyranny. In Irish philosopher Philip Pettit’s work, this means pursuing ‘freedom from domination‘ as opposed to ‘freedom from interference’. Civic republicanism has largely been eclipsed by ‘competitive democracy’ and an economic focus for governance.

Competitive democracy – the idea that democracy works best through intense, often partisan, competition, extending economic theory of competition to the political sphere. It is usually contrasted with ‘deliberative democracy’ which aims to build new shared understandings and is a feature of civic republicanism.

Sustainable development – the term popularized by the World Commission on Environment and Development’s 1987 report (commonly called the Brundtland Report) which advocated its adoption as a new guiding ethos for governance. The idea is often (over-)simplified to the phrase: ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’.

Co-production – a term employed by economist Elinor Ostrom in the ’70s to describe and value the process of government working with people outside the system to design and implement proposals. From a focus on public services and the individual, it has developed into a wider conception of the importance of engaging and empowering people in decisions.

Place and territory – place and territory are key elements in Foucault’s concept of the way governance controls people’s lives. Conventional land use, transport and economic planning does this by pursuing an economic purpose and economic efficiency in the use of land. By instead seeing the distinctiveness and natural interconnection of place as important, governance in place can become a means to empower communities, build civic bonds, reconnect with the environment and foster self-governance.

New Public Governance – new public governance emerged in academic writing on public administartion as a reaction to the managerialist New Public Management of the 1990s and 2000s. New Public Governance advocates achieving public value as the goal of bureaucracy and favors practice which resonates with ideas of governing for sustainable development, including policy integration and collaboration, and co-production and co-design with people and communities.