Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Labyrinths and Fabrications: Public Administration and the People

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Labyrinths and Fabrications: Public Administration and the People

Article excerpt


In his provocative book, Fabricating the People, Thomas J. Catlaw (2007) seeks to explain the "rising tide of hostility toward government" in the past thirty years and the (in his view) related "crisis of legitimacy" in the field of public administration (Catlaw, 2007, p. 1). Catlaw traces these problems, not (as we would) to the deep and growing corruption, corporatism, militarism, and hypocrisy of America's political class, but to a sort of conceptual mistake at the heart of modern representative government. He says representative government rests on a model-copy theory of representation following from the presumption that government represents a singular unity, a fictive One. But Catlaw, following the German legal theorist Carl Schmitt, claims government is always founded on a division between us and them by the derivation of an always incipient if not categorical "Other" excluded from the People, sine qua non. This division may be contested and the coordinates of its targeted exclusion may change, but the division itself persists. In Catlaw's view, this contradiction between the unitary conception of the People and the multiplicity inherent in political order induces a compulsion--the "biopolitical project" (Catlaw, 2007, p. 13)--to make the People whole by molding, subjugating, eliminating, removing, or otherwise neutralizing those whose otherness cannot be assimilated. Hence in the title and subtitle of his book, Catlaw says "politics and administration in the biopolitical state" are "fabricating the People."

Public administration has as a result been likewise fabricated, according to Catlaw, made into an enterprise committed fundamentally and inexorably to "a diagnosis in a historical narrative of disjuncture" (Catlaw, 2007, p. 97) between the fictive People conjured through the circuits of the state on the one hand, and what the constituent individuals of this fictive People would otherwise wish to become. As such, in Catlaw's analysis, public administration is always lagging behind an impetus for beckoned reform in order to re-align that which the people wish for with how the People has/have otherwise been derived.

The People Catlaw is concerned with are not those declaring allegiance to a singular Leader, as in a fascist state. Catlaw writes (in accordance with Lefort, 1986/1980; Laclau, 2000): "It is the ability to contest the terms of the universal in political hegemony that distinguishes and makes great the institutions and practices of constitutions. On the other hand biopolitical struggle means that there is considerably more at stake than the mere articulation of a representation of the People. Modern politics concerns the determination of Life and the processes that 'make us up.' Yet it takes up these matters in a specific manner--that is, representationally" (Catlaw, 2008, p. 114-115).

After explicating this armature of given dilemmas and veiled ontological maneuvers constituting the State, Catlaw proposes to eliminate politics and government as they are conventionally understood, calling for a "politics of the subject" and a practice of "subtraction" by which the people (not to be mistaken with the People) should/could/must disavow identifications that submerge into immanence what are actually inscriptions making people the People; a reification occurring through the circuits of the State under the logic of the model-copy by which fictive divisions are fabricated, as with people/government, public/private, friend/enemy. Via such practices of subtraction--also derived as "refusals" to submit to statist inscriptions of the One--the people can be restored to an essential plurality. This is to be done in small, isolated settings: the classroom, the boardroom, the bedroom, etc. It is not clear whether this politics and practice are a discourse. If they are, they are a "private discourse," and/or a "discourse of refusal."

Catlaw marshals Foucault's (1978/1994, 1995, 2006) account of modern representative government as an organ for population-management and improvement via industrial scale incarceration, socialization, etc. …

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