- * An extended version of this paper was published in RCCS 72 (October 2005).
1From the beginning of recorded time until 1975, the British Library catalogue registered 47 titles with the word “governance.” Since then this term has exploded in all the disciplines of the social sciences. This sudden and overwhelming presence has only one parallel, in the same period, in the term “globalization.” This convergent trajectory is no coincidence. As I will try to show, since the mid 1990s, governance has become the political matrix of neoliberal globalization. I call it a matrix because it is both an embedding or grounding structure and a generative environment for an interconnected network of pragmatic ideas and cooperative patterns of behavior, shared by a group of selected actors and their interests, a network self-activated to deal with chaos in a context in which both outside‑generated top-down normative order and autonomous bottom-up non-pre-selected participatory ordering are unavailable or, if available, undesirable. Crucial to this matrix is the idea that it sees itself as cooperatively self‑generated and, therefore, as inclusive as it can possibly be. As any other matrix, it is, in fact, based on a principle of selection, and, thus, on the binary inclusion/exclusion, but, in this case, the excluded, rather than being present as excluded, are utterly absent and out of the picture. Governance is therefore a matrix that combines horizontality and verticality in a new way: both are self-generated, the former as all-existing, the latter as non-existing.
- 1 For a good overview of the vast literature on governance, see Rodríguez-Garavito (2005).
2Bob Jessop calls this ideological and political phenomenon the “governance paradigm” (1998). Paradigm is probably too strong a concept to characterize this phenomenon, particularly if we take the concept in Kuhn’s original formulation, as “universally recognized scientific achievements that for a time provide model problems and solutions to a community of practitioners” (1970: viii). Because different concepts of governance abound,1 located differently in the political spectrum, I prefer to use a weaker and narrower term – the term matrix. Discernible is, therefore, both a governance matrix and a governance crowd. An elusive ideology and by and large an untested practice function as a vague call that manages to mobilize social scientists and policymakers coming from different intellectual backgrounds and political loyalties. I distinguish the governance matrix from the governance crowd because, however vague, the matrix is less heterogeneous than the groups that claim it. We are at a stage in the development of the concept of governance very similar to that of globalization in the mid-1990s, when social practices did not allow us fully to discern the cleavages and contradictions being engendered by the processes of globalization themselves. In the following I will try to answer three questions: (1) How and why did governance come about? (2) What is its political meaning? (3) Are there other stories of governance?
3In order to understand the emergence of the governance matrix we have to go back to the early 1970s, the student movement and the crisis of legitimacy it gave rise to. As Claus Offe (1985) and Habermas (1982) have shown, the crisis derived from the radical questioning of both the social and the democratic content of the social contract that had underlied social democratic states since the end of the Second World War. For the student movement, soon to be joined by the feminist and the ecological movements, the social contract, very inclusive in appearance, was indeed exclusionary. It completely excluded large social groups (minorities, immigrants) and important social issues (such as cultural diversity and the environment) and included other groups by subordinating them to disempowering forms of inclusion, as was the case, most notably, of women. On the other hand, all this had been possible because democracy had failed to fulfill its promise of building free and equal societies. The ideas of popular sovereignty and popular participation had been hijacked by elitist forms of democratic rule with the complicity of the two social actors historically charged with the task of deepening democracy and bringing about social emancipation: the working-class parties and the labor unions. It was a crisis of legitimacy because it was a crisis of government by consent. It dominated political protest in the North in the first half of the 1970s (Monedero, 2003).
4The turning point occured in 1975, when the Trilateral Commission published its report on the crisis of democracy authored by Crozier, Huntington and Watanu. According to them, there is indeed a crisis of democracy but not because there is too little democracy, as the crisis of legitimacy claims, but because there is too much democracy. Democracies are in crisis because they are overloaded with rights and claims, because the social contract rather than being exclusionary is too inclusive, precisely due to the pressures brought upon it by the historical social actors decried by the students, the working-class parties and the labor unions. The crisis of government by consent is thereby transformed into a crisis of government tout court, the crisis of legitimacy becomes a crisis of governability. The nature of the political contestation is thereby profoundly changed. From the incapacity of the state to do justice to the new social movements and their demands, as diagnosed by the crisis of legitimacy, we move to the ungovernability of society and to the need of containing and controlling society’s claims on the state. Soon the diagnosis of the crisis as a crisis of governability became dominant, and so did the political therapy proposed by the Trilateral Commission: from the central state to devolution/decentralization; from the political to the technical; from popular participation to the expert system; from the public to the private; from the state to the market. The following decade saw the construction of a new social and political regime based on these ideas, a regime soon to be imposed globally under the name of Washington Consensus. It was a decade of profound political and ideological transformations that paved the way for the rise of the all-encompassing solution to the crisis of governability: the market rule.
5While the crisis of legitimacy saw the solution in state transformation and enhanced popular participation through autonomous new social movements, the crisis of governability saw the solution in the shrinking of the state, by forcing its withdrawal from the social and economic sectors, and in the taming of popular participation, by constraining it within the boundaries of an individualistic conception of civil society dominated by business organizations. The latter, whose belonging to civil society had been made problematic by the increasing autonomy of republican civil society vis-à-vis the market, are smuggled into civil society by a process of double identification, as both market agents and social actors.
6By 1986, it was evident that all the other recommendations of the Trilateral Commission were to be accepted as “natural,” once three ground-rules were put in place: privatization, marketization, and liberalization. These three ground rules became the three pillars of neoliberalism and neoliberal globalization. The following decade (1986-1996) was the high time of neoliberalism: withdrawal of the state from the social and economic sectors; market rule as both economic and social regulation; proliferation of civil society organizations, aggregated under the general designation of “third sector” (for being both non-state and non-market organizations), whose goal is to fulfill the human needs that the market cannot fulfill and the state is no longer in condition to fulfill (Santos, 2002: 439-95; Santos e Jenson, 2000). It is also the period in which the failures of the market, as the major principle of social regulation, become evident and dysfunctional. The dramatic increase in income and wealth polarization, and its devastating effect on the reproduction of the livelihoods of large groups of people, the generalized rise of corruption, the perverse effects of the mix of market rule and non-redistributive democracy, leading to the implosion of some states and inter-ethnic civil wars, all these facts became too pervasive to be discarded as anomalous deviations. It was at this juncture that governance emerged as a new political and social matrix.
7The last thirty years can thus be summarized in this sequence of concepts: from legitimacy to governability; from governability to governance. To put it in Hegelian terms, we can think of governance as being the synthesis that supersedes both the thesis (legitimacy) and the antithesis (governability). Governance seeks, indeed, to combine the demand for participation and inclusion called for by the legitimacy reading of the social crisis with the demand for autonomy and self-regulation called for by the governability reading. However, it is a false synthesis, since it operates entirely within the governability framework. Rather than resuscitating the legitimacy quest of the 1970s, it seeks to reconstruct governability in such a way as to turn it into an alternative conception of legitimacy. To this I turn now.
8In order to identify the political meaning of neoliberal governance we must pay attention not only to what it says but also to what it silences. The most important silences in the governance matrix are: social transformation, popular participation, social contract, social justice, power relations, and social conflict. These were the concepts with which the legitimacy crisis was formulated in the 1970s. They were also the concepts that grounded modern critical theory. By silencing them and offering no positive alternative to them, governance signals the defeat of critical theory in both social and political affairs. Indeed, the alternatives offered by governance to the silenced concepts are all of them negative in the sense that they define themselves by opposition to the legitimacy concepts: rather than social transformation, problem solving; rather than popular participation, selected stakeholders’ participation; rather than social contract, self-regulation; rather than social justice, compensatory policies; rather than power relations, coordination and partnership; rather than social conflict, social cohesion and stability of flows.
9These alternative concepts are not unequivocally negative. Indeed, a number of them echo some of the aspirational features of deep democracy. They are negative in so far as they are used in opposition to the other silenced concepts, rather than as complementary parts of the same political constellation. Thereby, rather than being at the service of a project of social inclusion and social redistribution, they are at the service of social exclusion and economic polarization.
10At the core of the legitimacy crisis was the idea of popular sovereignty and popular participation which grounded the basic equation of enabling social transformation: there is no benefit without participation; there is no participation without benefit. This equation was based on the following premises: the right to determine benefit is vested on those who participate; the condition for such self-determination is the self-determination of participation. The governance matrix deals with this equation in a complex way. It accepts the equation on the condition of replacing self-determined participation by selective participation, participation selected according to a principle of selection in the terms of which some actors, interests or voices are selected in while others are selected out. Participation may be autonomous but not the criteria by which participants are chosen. Those who are selected in may benefit, but always at the cost of those who are selected out. The equation is thereby deradicalized and instrumentalized, and in such a way that, under conditions of governance stress, the abandonment of the equation may be part of the solution rather than of the problem. If the principle of selection is questioned and the selected out enter into the picture, they may be conceded some benefits, but on the condition of not participating. If the nature or range of the benefits is questioned by the selected-in participants, these may be granted the possibility of continuing participating but on the condition of not insisting on the self-determination of their benefits. In extreme cases, the benefit will be said to reside in participation per se.
11Pursuing the exercise of a sociology of absences applied to governance (Santos and Rodríguez-Garavito, 2005), two nonexisting actors can be detected: the state and the excluded. They are made nonexistent in different ways. As to the state, it is not the state per se that is absent but rather the principle of sovereignty and the power of coercion that goes with it. The state is therefore a legitimate partner of governance, provided that it participates in a non-state capacity, ideally on an equal footing with other partners. But this is only part of the story. The non-existence of the state as state is the external necessary condition of governance. The movement from legitimacy to governability was brought about by the incapacitation of the state as a social regulator. But the state was incapacitated of social regulation, not of meta-social regulation, that is, of the regulation of the regulators. The withdrawal of the state from social regulation was sanctioned on the condition that it would open the space for legitimate non-state self-regulators. The state was deprived of most of its sovereign commands over social regulation, but not of its power of influencing it within the horizon of possibilities of regulation established by the governance partners. Needless to say, this is a very different type of state intervention when compared with the one that presided over the social contract. In the latter case, the state selected two very well defined and contrasting social actors – capital and labor – and brought them to a negotiation table controlled by the state and with the objective of reaching verifiable and enforceable agreements, if necessary by state force. The political formation being thereby generated was one of institutionalized conflicts rather than of stable flows; of peaceful coexistence rather than of common goals.
12The excluded are made nonexistent in a very different way. They cannot be simply kept outside as they were in the social contract and the welfare state because, contrary to the latter, the governance matrix does not accept the binary inside/outside. Whatever is outside is socially inert, that is, is not conceived as source of an enabling power that can turn exclusion into inclusion. Inclusion and exclusion are thereby depoliticized. They are technical dimensions of coordination. In the absence of a sovereign command, exclusion only exists as the dilemma of exclusion: how to get power to fight for inclusion in the governance circle if all the power there is derives from belonging to the governance circle?
13Critical theorists of law, myself included, have written that the modern juridification of social life – that is, the conception of social transformation as struggle for rights regulated by liberal democracy and the rule of law – has meant the receding of politics as the protection of more and more social interests became a function of technical-minded legal experts rather than of political mobilization and political leverage (Santos 1995, 2000, 2002). In a retrospective comparison, the juridical paradigm appears as much more political than the governance matrix. The critical theorists have argued that the depolitization brought about by law was a highly political option. Of course, the same is true of governance.
14The conception of governance as neoliberal governance may be disputed since, after all, the ideological and technical conceptual apparatus of governance is at odds with the one that underlies market rule. Instead of competition, coordination and partnership; instead of creative destruction, social problems; instead of profitability, social cohesion; instead of unintended consequences, consequences to be dealt with as if they were intended; instead of the market, civil society. In sum, the governance matrix has emerged to correct market failures impelled by a social rather than an economic logic. The high period of neoliberalism saw indeed the exponential growth of civil society organizations (CSOs), many of them with the purpose of offering some relief to populations caught by the phasing out of the safety nets once provided by the welfare state and unable to buy welfare in the market.
15The resurgence of the civil society in the 1980s and 1990s is a complex phenomenon not susceptible of monocausal explanation. I distinguish three different processes. The first process is comprised by the civil society organizations (CSO) that emerged in Central and Eastern Europe to reclaim an autonomous non-state public sphere from where to fight against the authoritarian state socialist regimes. They were very influential in the period of democratic transition that followed the demise of the socialist regimes. A similar type of civil society emerged in many Latin American countries during the period of democratic transition that followed the demise of the military dictatorships that had ruled from the mid‑1960s or mid-1970s to the mid-1990s. While in Central and Eastern Europe CSOs questioned both the political and the economic regime, in Latin America the CSOs questioned the authoritarian political regime but, in general, not the economic model being put in place concomitantly with democracy: neoliberal capitalism. When the democratic transitions were completed, most of these CSOs were phased out or dismantled, converted themselves into political parties or consultancy or lobbing firms, or reconstructed themselves to fit the third type of CSOs mentioned below.
16The second process is the most closely related to the governability crisis and consists of CSOs that questioned neither the political regime (liberal democracy) nor the economic model (neoliberal capitalism), but rather saw themselves as solidarity organizations fulfilling the human needs of the victims of economic restructuring, dispossession, discrimination, environmental degradation, inter-ethnic and other kinds of warfare, massive violations of human rights, and so on and so forth. They are the bulk of the third sector. Their focus is on the private, not on the public, on the social, not on the political, on the micro, not on the macro (liberal democracy, neoliberal capitalism). In this group one should distinguish between the CSOs that were generated within the suffering communities and those that were organized from the outside and in solidarity with them, notwithstanding the fact that many of the former were created with the support of the latter.
17Finally, there is a third process underlying the resurgence of civil society. It comprises those CSOs, many of them originating in new social movements, both in the South and in the North, that fight against neoliberal globalization. Although many of them provide services similar to those of the CSOs of the second type, they frame their actions according to a broader concept of political activism. They question the hegemonic model of democracy and advocate participatory grassroots democracy. They refuse the idea that there is no alternative to neoliberal globalization, consider themselves anticapitalistic and advocate alternative economies, alternative models of development or alternatives to development. Although most of them are locally based, they network with similar organizations in other places and with global organizations. These local/global linkages and networking constitute what I call counter-hegemonic globalization.
18The landscape of CSOs is thus very rich and diverse. The different processes that accounted for the resurgence of CSOs in the 1980s and 1990s led to two main types of civil society: the liberal civil society, constituted by the CSOs that focus on the private rather than on the public, on the social rather than on the political, on the micro level rather than on the macro level. The second type of civil society is the subaltern, counter-hegemonic civil society, consisting of the social movements and CSOs that keep an unstable balance between the macro and the micro, the public and the private, the social and the political, by focusing on the deeper causes of the human suffering they seek to minimize. They are involved in the creation of non-state public spheres at the local, national and global scale.
19This cleavage between two major types of civil society explains the centrality of the principle of selection in the governance matrix. The selected in civil society is the liberal civil society because its organizations alone share the values that underlie self-regulated coordination and partnership. Problem solving and social cohesion are best achieved when politics and ideology do not interfere with the construction of common goals and common interests. Only open-ended, relatively indeterminate, fragmented, pragmatic conceptions of interests and benefits can be intelligible to and have an impact on the market, the most flexible and indeterminate institution of all, thereby helping the markets to flourish unimpeded by its all too evident failures.
20In light of this, neoliberal governance operates what Massimo de Angelis calls “Polanyi’s inversion” (2003: 23). While Karl Polanyi argued that the economy, rather than being a separate realm, as claimed by neoclassical economics, was embedded in society, the governance matrix is premised upon the need to embed society in the economy. As the UN sponsored global compact states, “The rationale is that a commitment to corporate citizenship should begin with the organization itself by embedding universal principles and values into the strategic business vision, organizational culture and daily operations” (2000: 3). In other words, “universal values” are good for business and on this premise lies the voluntary character of the compact (Shamir, 2005). There is no possibility of such values or principles endangering the robust profitability that grounds the flourishing of economic organizations, as happened, for instance, with taxation when it was first imposed. Because it was imposed, the public policy of taxation ended up selecting the businesses that could survive under taxation. On the contrary, in the governance matrix it is up to the businesses to select the values and principles they can live with. It is true that the cost of a too restrictive selection may be high particularly in brand dominated sectors (public shaming), but in such cases it is still an economic calculation rather than a social one that drives the decision.
21In light of this, I would say that governance is a genetically modified form of government to make it more resistant to two dangerous plagues: on one side, bottom-up non‑pre‑selected potentially chaotic pressures; on the other, state- or inter-state led politically motivated uncontrollable and abrupt changes in the rules of the game, that is, of capital accumulation.
22The historical relationship between democracy and capitalism is non-linear if for no other reason because, in the last two hundred years, different models of democracy (Macpherson, 1966, 1977; Held, 1987) as well as different models of capitalism (Boyer, 1986; Boyer and Drache, 1996; Santos, 2001) have been in place. Moreover, democracy, whatever its model may be, has a double existence as a real existing political regime and as a popular aspiration to self-rule. Throughout the 20th century the tension between democracy and capitalism in the North centered around the question of social redistribution. This was one of the core questions underlying the crisis of legitimacy in the 1970s. The conversion of the crisis of legitimacy into the crisis of governability was the capitalist response to the pressures for wider and deeper social redistribution. Neoliberalism neutralized or strongly weakened the democratic mechanisms of social redistribution: social and economic rights and the welfare state. Deprived of its redistributive potential, democracy became fully compatible with capitalism, and to such an extent that they turned into the twin concepts presiding over the new global model of social and political affairs, being imposed worldwide by neoliberal globalization, structural adjustment policies and, lately, also by neocolonial warfare.
23Thirty years later, the question of redistribution is more serious than ever. The rates of exploitation have assumed such high levels in some sectors of production and in some regions of the world that, together with the mechanisms used to obtain them, they suggest that we are entering a new period of primitive capital accumulation. Moreover, the unexploited or unexploitable populations are in an even more dramatic situation as the conditions of reproduction of their livelihoods have deteriorated in the meantime due to economic restructuring and environmental degradation. They have been declared discardable populations. Finally, the triadic recipe of privatization, marketization and liberalization has eroded the modern commons created by the state and transformed it into a new generation of enclosures. A new form of indirect rule has emerged in which powerful economic actors detain an immense and unaccountable power of control over the basic livelihoods of people, be they water, energy, seeds, security or health. Having this in mind, I have tried to show elsewhere that we may be entering a period in which societies are politically democratic but socially fascistic (2002). This explains why it has become so risky for people to take risks in a society seemingly full of opportunities.
24The question of social redistribution is the most serious question confronting us at the beginning of the 21st century. But it is not the only one. Since the 1980s, the question of social redistribution has been compounded with the question of the recognition of difference. Today we live in societies tremendously unequal, but equality is not the only value we cherish. We also cherish difference, equal difference, an aspiration which was not prominently present in the conception of the crisis of legitimacy of the 1970s.
25The litmus test for governance is therefore the extent to which it can confront both the question of social redistribution and the question of the recognition of difference. In light of what I said above, I don’t see any potential for meaningful social redistribution being generated in the governance matrix. Hypothetically, as I suggest, governance may address the question of recognition of difference more convincingly than the question of social redistribution. But even here the structural limitations of governance will surface. My hypothesis is that it is more likely that it recognizes cultural diversity in the public sphere than that it confronts the racialization of the labor force as a mechanism to reduce the value of labor power.
26I don’t deny that governance may bring some benefits to the more disadvantaged groups within the circle of partnership. As I said, such benefits may even spill over to the excluded, and this fact must be acknowledged. But I don’t see in this any potential for enabling popular participation or for social redistribution as a matter of rights. In other words, what is beneficial does not determine, by itself, what is emancipatory. If the population of the homeless is growing exponentially, it is a good thing that homeowners allow them to take shelter in the porches of their houses. It is better than nothing. But, because of its voluntary character, whatever redistribution is thereby achieved is achieved under the logic of philanthropy. That is, it does not occur in an enabling way, in recognition of both the right to the benefit and the right to reclaim the effectiveness of the economic right in an autonomous, participatory way.
27It may be argued that, under certain circumstances, the voluntary character of compliance is more virtual than real, given the pressures exerted upon the governance circle, oftentimes from the outside. In this case, different social processes may be at work and they must be distinguished. Let’s look at two examples of outside pressure brought about by the state. The first example is the case of the codes of conduct in the apparel industry in Guatemala, as analyzed by César Rodriguez-Garavito (2005). Here, in the process of negotiation of the free trade zone of Central America, the Guatemalan State is pressured by the USA to be more active in the repression of human rights violations in the workplace. Itself under pressure, the Guatemalan State pressures the subcontracting firm of Liz Claiborne to comply with the code of conduct and the firm complies. In the second case, as analysed by Heinz Klug (2005), the state of South Africa, pressured by a strong social movement calling for free or affordable retroviral medicines for HIV/AIDS patients, successfully pressures the pharmaceutical companies to withdraw their suit against compulsory licensing and the production of generics and to lower the prices of their brand products.
28It is important to note that, in both cases, the state, which had ejected itself from social regulation, intervened supposedly from the outside, using its sovereign prerogative, if not formally at least informally, to put pressure on the governance circle and obtain a given outcome, considered politically important. But, while in the Guatemalan case the state intervenes under pressure from above and the benefited workers are not called upon to participate in the deliberation over the benefits, in the South African case the state is pressured from below and yields to the pressure of the social movement. Indeed, the state joins forces with the social movement for that particular purpose. In the first case, if the benefits are taken away from the workers, they will be as powerless as before to reclaim them. In the second case, the state action contributes to empower the social movement, to enhance its leverage in social contestation in a particular case and possibly in future cases, eventually even against the state. In sum, these two cases show, first, that the state is the absent structure of the governance matrix – a fact that is best revealed in conditions of institutional stress – which means that the governance matrix operates inside the “self-outsidedness” of the state; second, that, notwithstanding the unfavorable conditions of the present, the enabling struggle for the right to social redistribution – the right to have rights in Arendt’s formulation (1968: 177) – may have some success, not because of governance, but in spite of governance.
29In this paper I deal with neoliberal governance. It is apparently the only game in town. But it is not. I said above that, in recent years, neoliberal globalization, albeit the dominant form of globalization, has been confronted with another form of globalization. In the last ten years, and most clearly since 1999 and the Seattle contestation of the WTO meeting, another form of globalization has been emerging by force of the social movements and civil society organizations that, through networking and building up local/global linkages, are conducting a global struggle against the inequality, destitution, dispossession and discrimination brought about or intensified by neoliberal globalization, a struggle most generally guided by the mobilizing idea that another world is possible. I call this form of globalization counter‑hegemonic globalization.
30My claim is that, in the womb of this alternative globalization, another governance matrix is being generated, an insurgent counter-hegemonic governance. It consists of the articulation and coordination among an immense variety of social movements and CSOs with the purpose of combining strategies and tactics, defining agendas and planning and carrying out together collective actions, from protests against the multilateral financial institutions to the organization of the four editions (so far) of the World Social Forum, and of a large number of regional, national and thematic social fora. Quite strikingly, the main features of the neoliberal governance matrix are also present in the insurgent governance matrix: voluntary participation, horizontality, autonomy, coordination, partnership, self-regulation, etc. Different historical trajectories have led to this surprising convergence. On the side of neoliberal governance, the originating impulse has been the refusal of state centralism and state coercion and the formulation of a new model of social regulation based on the interests and voluntary participation of the stakeholders. On the side of counter-hegemonic governance, the originating impulse has been the refusal of the working class parties and labor unions as the privileged historical agents and modes of organization of progressive social transformation and the formulation of a new model of social emancipation based on the recognition of the diversity of emancipatory agency and social transformative goals.
31Even more striking is the fact that counter-hegemonic governance faces some of the challenges and dilemmas that confront neoliberal governance. For instance, in both cases, a principle of selection is at work. In the case of counter-hegemonic governance, the most excluded social groups, those that would conceivably benefit most from a successful struggle against neoliberal globalization, do not participate and are unlikely to see their interests and aspirations taken into account. The negative utopia that aggregates all the movements and CSOs – the refusal of the idea that there is no alternative to the current capitalist global disorder – coexists with the different and even contradictory interests, strategies and agendas that divide them. The struggle to expand the circle of counter-hegemonic governance goes on and some of the movements and CSOs that participate in it are the same that fight for the expansion of the circle of neoliberal governance.
32Will the neoliberal governance and the counter-hegemonic governance ever meet in a kind of dialectical synthesis of global governance? I very much doubt it. Are they going to influence each other? I think that it is possible and that indeed it is already occurring.