A post-welfarist regime of the social

The ‘social’ is no longer the diverse sector that is subject to the ineluctable logic of bureaucratic rationalization under the aegis of the welfare state. Rather, the social is reconfigured as a series of ‘quasi-markets’ in the provision of services and external to the state, and the forms of ‘natural liberty’ on which they depend, to one of constructing centres of agency and activity, of making them durable, and of implanting continuous relations of authority. These centres are then placed under the discrete and indirect surveillance of regulatory authorities in order to normalize, stability, and optimize activities, identities and power relations.

A post-welfarist regime of the social [Dean, Governmentality, 2nd edition: 200-3] 

In this chapter we have sought to offer a preliminary diagnosis of what marks the novelty of our present. Rather than accede to the hubris of ‘meta-histories of promise’ or the postmodernist dance of ‘signs, speed and spectacles’ discussed in Chapter 2, an analytics of government engages contemporary liberal rule as a general rationality or mentality on the one hand, and as a particular regime or assemblage of government on the other. From the perspective of the former, at least one variant of neo-liberalism can now conceive of government, perhaps for the first time in two centuries, as no longer a government of society. This is not without consequences or costs, and often forces a fundamental realignment of traditional conservative forces. This stye of neo-liberalism ceases to be a government of society in that it no longer conceives its task in terms of a division between state and society or a public sector opposed to private one. The ideal here is to bridge these older divisions so that the structures and values of the market are folded back onto what were formerly areas of public provision and to reconfigure the latter as a series of quasi-markets in services and expertise. The market has ceased to be a kind of ‘fenced-off nature reserve’ kept at arm’s length from the sphere of public service; instead, the contrivance of markets becomes the technical means for the reformation of all types of provision (e.g. Burchell, 1994). To be sure, the point of doing this is to prevent excessive government by ensuring the most efficient use of resources. But it also, and perhaps more importantly, to reform institutional and individual conduct so that both come to embody the values and orientations of the market, expressed in notions of the enterprise and the consumer.

The goal of a neo-liberal critique of the welfare state is a displacement of social policy and social government by the task of cultural reformation. Where neo-conservatism uses exhortation, sometimes religious, and sovereign instruments in its ‘culture wars’ to fight the effects of dependency, additional and the ‘counter-culture’, neo-liberalism tries to render this objective of cultural reform practicable by means of a form of governmental constructivism. For example, it is no longer enough to provide services and expertise to assist the unemployed to exercise their freedom in the labour market; access to such services and expertise must take the form of a market so that the unemployed can _learn_ to exercise their freedom in such a market as consumers. If the market is the embodiment of rules of conduct that guarantee freedom, then the reconfiguration of the social must take the form of markets. This will underwrite the cultural reformation. This is what I mean by the folding back of the objectives of government upon themselves. it is the first example of what we mean by reflexive government. Reflexive government is hence not the addition of more reflection to the way in which we govern and are governed, but a turning in of the ends of government upon themselves and the transit of the conception of the governmental domain form processes that are exterior to a political authority to the instruments of government themselves.

From the perspective of the analysis of forms of contemporary rationalities of government, there are indications that it is now possible to consider the task of national government to be that of governing without governing society. This may take the form of the proposition that a theoretical knowledge of society is impossible, after Hayek, or the dictum that rather than depend on society people must rely on themselves, in the manner of Margaret Thatcher. More fundamentally, it registers the displacement we have just noted in which the task of national government is less to govern social and economic processes external to itself and more to secure the institutions and mechanisms of social and economic government themselves. part of the security of such mechanisms is to ensure that they take a form which is consistent with the objectives of government and which promotes individual and institutional conduct that is consistent with those objectives. Hence we find ourselves in a world in which the prolematization of the inefficiency, bureaucracy, rigidity, unaccountability and dependency said to be characteristic o the welfare state leads to solutions that entail the contrivance of markets and the development of a governmental consumerism.

From the perspective of advanced liberal regimes of government, we can witness the utilization of two distinct yet intertwined technologies: technologies of agency, which seek to enhance and improve our capacities for participation, agree and action; and technologies of performance, in which these capacities are made calculable and comparable so that they might be optimized. If the former allow the transmission of flows of information from the bottom, and the formation of more or less durable identities, agencies and wills, the latter make possible the indirect regulation and surveillance of these entities. These two technologies are part of a strategy in which our moral conduct and political conduct are put into play as elements within systems of governmental purposes (Dean, 1996b).

Together these technologies force a new linkage between the regulation of conduct and the technical requirements of the optimization of performance. These technologies form components of the assemblage of current governmental practices together with the polymorphous rationality of risk. This assemblage is a condition of and conditioned by a form of pluralism that acts upon our loose forms of identification and an obligation to construct certain types of durable entities (e.g. communities, households, regions) which will discover themselves as social and political actors in partnership with markets in services and expertise.

We are working our way toward something of a diagnosis of the transformation of the rationalities and practices of rule in our present. It is not too big a jumpy, however, to suggest that the ethos of the welfare state has been displaced by one of ‘performance government’ and that we have witnesses, not the death of the social, but the emergence of a post-welfarist regime of the social. With a welfarist version of the social, a unitary apparatus sought to act through and upon ‘the social’ to secure society. With the new regime, multiple agencies seek to put our actions into play so that they might be acted upon and rendered calculable and comparable, and so that we might optimize our capacities for performance as various types of persons and aggregations. Here the ‘social’ and its agencies (social workers, nurses, counsellors, community bodies, government departments, educational authorities, even social movements and support groups) become our partners and facilitators, as well as being tutors in the multiple forms of risk. The ‘social’ is no longer the diverse sector that is subject to the ineluctable logic of bureaucratic rationalization under the aegis of the welfare state. Rather, the social is reconfigured as a series of ‘quasi-markets’ in the provision of services and external to the state, and the forms of ‘natural liberty’ on which they depend, to one of constructing centres of agency and activity, of making them durable, and of implanting continuous relations of authority. These centres are then placed under the discrete and indirect surveillance of regulatory authorities in order to normalize, stability, and optimize activities, identities and power relations.

We have already suggested that the control of risks in the governmental economy of liberalism gave rise to two strategies of government in the twentieth century, both of which take of from forms of knowledge of the population. The first tries to govern the population in such a way as to optimize the life of some, while disallowing the life of other, by acting upon biological processes of heredity. The second endeavours to act upon the social environment in such a way as to make safe or compensate for the harms to the life of a population generated by industrial society. Among the most privileged instruments of such a strategy is the technology of social insurance. That these two strategies of the assurance of life have given way to new, dispersed forms of the government of risk indicates the emergence of something new in the trajectory of the arts of government.

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