The Governmentality of Meta-governance : Identifying Theoretical and Empirical Challenges of Network Governance in the Political Field of Security and Beyond

Abstract: Meta-governance recently emerged in the field of governance as a new approach which claims that its use enables modern states to overcome problems associated with network governance. This thesis shares the view that networks are an important feature of contemporary politics which must be taken seriously, but it also maintains that networks pose substantial analytical and political challenges. It proceeds to investigate the potential possibilities and problems associated with meta-governance on both theoretical and empirical levels.The theoretical discussion examines meta-governance in relation to governmentality, and it puts forward the claim that meta-governance may be understood as a specific type of neo-liberal governmentality. The meta-governance perspective regards networks as a complementary structure to traditional administration that can be utilized in the implementation and realization of public policy, but which also preserves the self-regulating and flexible character of networks. This generates a contradiction between the goals of public management and the character of networks that requires further investigation.The combination of the specific dynamics of the political field of security, the diminishing role of sovereign powers, the emergence of security networks, and the meta-governance stance adopted by the Swedish state constitutes a situation that should have been favorable for the successful employment of meta-governance. The empirical investigation of meta-governance is divided into two parts. The first part reviews the historical process involved and shows how the Swedish government and public authorities have adopted a meta-governance stance. The second analyzes the specific instruments and strategies that have been deployed in the governance of security communications and in the management of Sweden’s new security communications system which is an important aspect of security networks. The historical study together with the analysis of the meta-governance tools deployed reveals that the meta-governors neither reached the goals specified, nor fulfilled the overall purpose of successful security communications.I argue on the basis of the theoretical and empirical findings obtained in the present study that it is very difficult to successfully employ meta-governance in respect to security and crisis management, and that we have sound reasons to suspect that meta-governance will run into similar difficulties in other political fields as well. I conclude that meta-governance is a far more difficult practice than has been anticipated by existing theories and policy recommendations. Turning to meta-governance as a way to govern and control organizations may in fact lead to further fragmentation and distortion of public politics.

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