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Thomas Prosser

Liberalism advocates individual rights to freedom and autonomy. Owing to its emphasis on issues such as freedom of movement and equal opportunities, liberalism is often presented in ethical terms. Links with self-interest are nonetheless apparent. Because liberalism underlines rights such as freedom of movement and non-discrimination, it attracts socio-cultural professionals who benefit disproportionately. Liberalism thus defines ethics in terms consistent with the interests of richer classes; rather than stigmatizing wealth inequalities, an attitude which prevails in some tribal societies, liberals advocate equality of opportunities. Liberalism is currently undergoing crisis. Following long-standing association between liberalism and supranational organizations like the EU, the rise of national populism has made certain liberals less committed to national democracy. This threatens the traditional balance between domestic and international liberal democracy, making reconciliation of diverse interests more difficult.

in What’s in it for me?
Thomas Prosser

Social democracy seeks compromise between capitalism and socialism, advocating democratic collective action to achieve political and economic freedoms. Recent social democrats have made mistakes, presiding over deregulation and unordered immigration. This is related to globalization, a process estranging social-democratic elites from concerns of traditional supporters. Social-democratic acceptance of capitalism, a long-standing left-wing criticism, is associated with such failures.

Despite mistakes of social-democratic politicians and the challenge of globalization, social democracy has redeeming features. Emphasis on economic security means that it averts the instability associated with conservatism, while respect for individual rights counters national-populist stigmatization. Social democracy also avoids difficulties associated with the new left; restrained patriotism appeals to lower classes, while preference for gradual change avoids potential instability. In a way which other worldviews are not, social democracy is based on compromise, making it an appropriate governing tactic.

Because of divisions in its base, between authoritarian lower classes and liberal middle classes, social democracy may have entered terminal decline. If this is the case, the ability of social democracy to reconcile separate interests might be emulated by alternative positions.

in What’s in it for me?
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All about that base
Thomas Prosser

The new left advocates redistribution and equality. Though the new left is descended from socialism, important differences in support bases mean that the two are distinct. Working classes dominated socialist parties; young middle classes are relatively prominent in the new left. The new left advocates economic justice, yet there are good reasons for suspecting that its programme will primarily shift resources from the rich to the young middle classes, leaving the poorest in a similar position. This results from the new-left support base; no theory of redistribution, least of all the Marxist approaches which many in the new left favour, predicts that political movements will transfer resources away from supporters. This offers fascinating insight into the way in which self-interest furtively hijacks policy. Though talk is easy, the new left naturally emphasizing the justice of its programme, limited resources and subliminal tendency to prioritize personal need mean that resources tend to be transferred to supporters. The 2017 and 2019 Labour manifestos thus pledged to abolish tuition fees, a measure benefiting the middle classes, while doing little to reverse Conservative benefit cuts.

in What’s in it for me?
Thomas Prosser

The first chapter elaborates the problem of self-interest and sets out the approach of the book, arguing that most of us gain something from our political views. We are evolved animals and, consistent with the premises of several fields, tend to act in our self-interest. Though the link between self-interest and specific worldviews may often be indirect, associations become clearer if three influences are understood. Firstly, people sometimes express interests in non-material terms. Secondly, human cognition is limited, meaning that we fail to appreciate the extent to which our preferences benefit ourselves. Thirdly, individual worldviews have separate constituent parts, reflecting long-term historical development. The chapter introduces five worldviews (conservatism, national populism, liberalism, the new left and social democracy) with reference to these points and elaborates tenets of institutional theory, a crucial explanatory framework. Finally, the chapter argues that understanding of self-interest makes us more tolerant and improves the quality of politics.

in What’s in it for me?
Self-interest and political difference
Author: Thomas Prosser

This punchy and provocative book asks a simple but overlooked question: why do we have the political views that we do?

Offering a lively and original analysis of five worldviews – conservatism, national populism, liberalism, the new left and social democracy – Thomas Prosser argues that our views tend to satisfy self-interest, albeit indirectly, and that progressive worldviews are not as altruistic as their adherents believe.

But What’s in it for me? is far from pessimistic. Prosser contends that recognition of self-interest makes us more self-reflective, allowing us to see humanity in adversaries and countering the influence of echo chambers.

As populist parties rise and liberalism and social democracy decline, this timely intervention argues that to solve our political differences, we must first realise what we have in common.

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Between government and governance
Christian Lo

The first part of the chapter summarizes the main findings of the book and discuss their theoretical implications for network governance theory. A key point is that political and administrative practices do not divide themselves into any orderly distinction between government and governance. Consequently, the author argues that the two categories should rather be treated as conceptual metaphors that enable an analysis of the coexisting institutional logics regulating municipal policy processes. The chapter further addresses a number of key propositions from the network governance literature, including the transformation thesis and metagovernance. While the author nuances most of these propositions, the goal is not to provide a new and comprehensive account of governance. Rather, the empirical investigation in the book demonstrates how political practices are informed by a contingent mix of different traditions and developments. The author therefore provides a warning against uncritically transporting theoretical conceptualizations as comprehensive explanatory devices across contexts.

The author also summarizes the analysis of pragmatic policy alliances, arguing that such alignments are made up of individual actors mediating between organizational and individual goals, thereby operating in tension with the hierarchical command chain of the municipal organization. However, such alignments can also find an alternative source of legitimacy rooted in a sense of pragmatism and egalitarian trust. This observation is carried into the end of the chapter, where the author concludes the book with a discussion of the historical and cultural conditions underpinning relations in municipal policy development.

in When politics meets bureaucracy
Re-examining the transformation thesis
Christian Lo

Based on the author´s experiences of a mismatch between the collaborative governing practices encountered during fieldwork and their representations in the network governance literature, the first part of the chapter develops a critique of contemporary governance theory. The author argues that the normative implications of the so-called “transformation thesis,” depicting a transformation from government to governance, have led to several problematic biases in the literature, including the tendency to overemphasize government and governance as separate modes of governing. Instead, the author argues that a mix of hierarchies and networks is axiomatic to any system of governing and that changes to practices of governance take more diverse forms and paths. In line with recent perspectives from interpretive political science, the author argues a need for ethnographic accounts of governance that can unveil this larger diversity of practices, actions and strategies in play.

The second part of the chapter details the multi-sited research strategy, ethnographic methods and analytical perspectives applied in the study. The author argues that doing interdisciplinary work entails an analytical reconstruction of the research object itself and discusses how perspectives from political anthropology inform the perspectives on political practices in the book. Here the author also introduces F. G. Bailey´s classical game approach to analyzing political struggle, which inspires the action-oriented analytical approach applied throughout the book.

in When politics meets bureaucracy
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Christian Lo

The chapter gives an introduction to the main themes addressed in the book and the analytical perspectives applied. The author argues that the Norwegian municipality provides a particularly interesting case for exploring some key tensions and dilemmas in how actors in bureaucratic organizations interact with their surroundings through both formal and informal ties. The specific ways of resolving such these tensions and dilemmas, as well as their consequences for political life, are introduced as key topics for the ethnographic analysis developed in the book. Another topic introduced is the relation between the political-science-derived concepts of government and governance. By centering the focus on their interconnectedness, the author argues, these two concepts enable analysis of a central tension in the examples of political struggle and the policy processes investigated: that is, the tension between adherence to the hierarchical command chain of the municipal organization and alternative alliances found both within and beyond the formal municipal organization.

The chapter also provides a brief overview of the ethnographic methods applied in the study and introduces some of the analytical perspectives from political anthropology in the analysis. In the final parts of the chapter, the author gives a brief overview of the book’s structure and ends by addressing some of the limitations of the study presented in the book.

in When politics meets bureaucracy
Christian Lo

The chapter is an introduction to the organizational landscape of the municipal organization and some key features of municipal policy processes that will be further analyzed and discussed in the succeeding chapters. In the first part of the chapter, the reader is introduced to the ambiguous borders of the municipal organization by visiting three different offices and the persons occupying them in the municipal hall. The second part of the chapter gives two examples of policy processes and associated political struggles that will also be revisited in the subsequent chapters. The first example describes the political and administrative process surrounding the building of a sporting arena while the second example concerns a process of centralizing healthcare services in one of the municipalities studied.

The two examples illustrate three points related to the main themes covered in the book. First, both cases entail a degree of controversy and show how the political and administrative spheres of the municipal organization become arenas of political struggle during policy processes. Second, while demonstrating how both political and administrative actors can become the prime movers of policy processes, they also show how successful “municipal entrepreneurship” depends on a dialectic relationship between the two roles. Third, and important to the ambition of exploring the relationship between government and governance, the two cases display how internal and external relations (and resources) are interwoven during policy processes, and how external relations become an integral part of policy struggles within the municipal organization.

in When politics meets bureaucracy
Christian Lo

The chapter is structured as a presentation of the dominating narratives describing the development of local government, the municipal organization and political culture in Norway. While these narratives inform the analysis of policy processes in the later chapters of the book, their relevance is also critically explored as their explanatory powers are put to the test.

The chapter begins with a historical overview of the major institutional developments that have given the Norwegian municipality its present form and function. Thereafter, the author provides a brief introduction to the multiple roles the present-day municipal organization is working to fulfill (service provider, administrative machinery, democratic body, local community developer and employer). The third part introduces three interrelated narratives dominating the stories of recent developments within municipal leadership. These are the introduction of New Public Management reforms, the aforementioned shift toward (network) governance and, finally, a narrative of local government being reduced to mere implementers of national policy.

The final part of the chapter is informed by the notion that political institutions neither develop nor persist within a historical and cultural vacuum. Rather, their present-day form and practices are profoundly shaped by their historical pathways and the political culture informing them. Through past ethnographic accounts, the reader is introduced to a discussion of political culture and the configuration of “egalitarian individualism” claimed to characterize Scandinavian culture. This discussion will form an important theoretical background for the analysis of municipal policy processes presented in the succeeding chapters.

in When politics meets bureaucracy