Academic journal article Tamara Journal of Critical Organisation Inquiry

Can Public Policy Be Counter-Hegemonic? toward a Pragmatics of 'Contingency' and 'Disruption'

Academic journal article Tamara Journal of Critical Organisation Inquiry

Can Public Policy Be Counter-Hegemonic? toward a Pragmatics of 'Contingency' and 'Disruption'

Article excerpt


'Public policy' functions discursively as both the scholar's favorite example of ideology, and our most enduring, hoped-for site of truly democratic social change. Intersections of theory (post-Gramscian, Lacanian, postcolonial feminism, narrative) with case studies reinforce the insight that both discourse and social practice always hold a myriad of possibilities for either countering or reproducing structural forms of inequality and subordination. An evaluation of the metaphors of 'contingency', 'horizon', and 'disruption' is combined with research on the Mi Comunidad program in Guanajuato, Mexico, a 1996-2001 state-run job creation policy, in order to argue that even transformative and equality-driven social and political projects should be based in:

(1) careful attention to the language and norms of any planned motion toward some future, especially regarding descriptions of those who qualify for inclusion in the envisioned future; and (2) a continuous interrogation of their own foundations in inequality, e.g. in clientelism, paternalism, and hierarchized bureaucracy.


The case of the Mi Comunidad (My Community) job creation program in Guanajuato, Mexico offers a mixed set of insights for those concerned with fostering transformative social change through public policy. While many developments of value emerged in the everyday practices of this paradoxical case, the implementation of the program failed to sustain its official goals, and indeed contributed to a reproduction of preexisting gendered, economic inequalities. The program was run by two conscientious and capable administrators, however, it was marred by its own ambitious, selfcontradictory, and dogmatic agenda. Both the official discourse and the everyday practices of the program intensified an urban/rural division between program participants, invoking an ideology of mobility or, more specifically: capacity for mobility. Left out of the promising world of advance and progress were those who inhabited the category of 'rural female', a pejorative classification reserved for the laborers in the governmentsponsored factories. This category was reproduced in part by the two female, professional- and middle-class administrators of the program; it eventually became the primary source of blame for the program's failures, deflecting attention from other problems.

However, short of radically democratic procedures, broadly-based redistributive justice, or projects that dismantle the violent or coercive aspects of states, how surprising it is that a public policy would end up reproducing structural and personal forms of domination? Is it possible that even the most high-minded public policies are often doomed before they hit the ground, by virtue of the contexts of their design and imposition? Indeed, for many contemporary scholars, it is common sense if not axiomatic that public policy is complicit with and reproductive of dominant power, ie. hegemony. The logic of public policy, with its teleological orientations and its roots in ancient Western thought regarding 'the public good', is prima facie suspect from the perspective of much critical theory; some strands of anti-essentialism excavate and systematically undermine the very notion of 'the public good'. Yet, if one takes seriously the existence of contingent and multiple realities and subject positions, etc., then there are always spaces for re-opening and disrupting hegemony, even within public policy language and implementation. Below, I combine case details with insights from authors who have sought to apply posthumanist and post-Marxist theory to organizational settings or public management, testing some ideas which I think are most relevant and promising for public policy.

Policy: Hope or Euphemism?

For critical theorists, a key problem with public policy is its seemingly inevitable orientation toward one single, specific future, attainable through one specific means, and easily metaphorized through vague terms drawn from the dominant rhetoric of globalization. …

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