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Challenges to Governance through Contrasting Images


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Annnex to: Policy Options for Civil Society through Complementary Contrasts. The following alternative perceptions are discussed as contrasting metaphors of civil society and its implications for the process of association and development. They are not mutually exclusive and may often be complementary. The contrasting images are summarized in Table 1.


TABLE 1: State versus Society (tentative)

Each horizontal rows represents an axis of bias in selecting a policy mix between State and Society. A policy choice must effectively be made between the extremes for each of the 7 axes. For wider public understanding, it is vital to represent each extreme by comprehensible images




. . "Excessive" "Useful" "Useful" "Excessive" .
COHERENCE ORDERED "Subway network" "Carnival fair" CHAOTIC
. . Totalitarian systems
Planning (urban zoning)
Public transport
Private transport
Slavonic dance
Urban jungle
Gang rule
CHANGE STATIC "Assembly line" "Market" DYNAMIC
. . Queueing
Monotonous repetition
Going with the flow
Guerilla group
Seasonal cycles
Ad hocery
Fast food
. . Institutional
Alienation and anonymity
Welfare dependency
Avant garde music ?
Division of labour
Collective farm
Task-oriented projects
Pictures at exhibition
Monitoring resources
Inter-group feedback
Inter-personal feedback
Spider web
Vulnerability of integrated systems
Organized crime rings
"Residential complex" "Cafe" INTENSIVE
. . Urban sprawl Grid plan
Global information
Neighbourhood cafe
Window box
Private garden
Family / Kinship (extended)
Elective affinities
Corner shop
Allotment subdivision
"News broadcast" "Symbol" IMPLICIT
(metaphorical or unstated)
. . Street hoardings
Public signs
Public law
Role models
Learning by example
Demonstration projects
Tradition-bound (taboo)
Unwritten rules (Catch-22)
. . Overexposure of private life Institutional
Shop windows
Religious belief and practice
. . Over-regulation
excesses (Kafka)
Jazz group

4.1 Challenge of coherence

Here the challenge to governance is to strike a balance between the extremes of excessive order and excessive disorder. Excessive order inhibits levels of diversity necessary to an adaptive response to a complex and changing pattern of problems and possibilities. Excessive disorder inhibits any possibility of comprehensive or integrated programmes to such patterns within society as a whole.

4.1.1: Ordered array ("Subway network") Civil society can be viewed as constituting an ordered array of modes of association, like stations on a subway network. This view would tend to be favoured by those who are used to defining their environment in an orderly manner, in terms which favour management and control, whatever the degree of simplification necessary. In such an array, when permitted, each form of association has its place and function. All are relatively accessible, although some may only be reached through intervening associations. Each such context is different, but not necessarily better in any developmental sense.

Development: In this metaphor, development might be envisaged in terms of extending and complexifying the network into a rich array of associations. This would be contrasted with a less developed condition equivalent to a subway network with relatively few stations and (possibly poorly connected) lines. Goals of social development might be expressed in terms of improving the stations, increasing the facility of movement throughout the network, and organizing the network into the most effective configuration of stations.

4.1.2: Disorder and chaos ("Carnival fair") Civil society can be viewed as essentially unordered in any planned sense, to the point of being essential chaotic and disorderly -- or self-ordering as in a natural ecosystem. This view would tend to be favoured by those who do not seek control over their whole environment, realizing that they are subject to more forces than they originally assumed, or simply prefering the challenge of the disorderly and unpredictable (cf William James, Bergson, Schopenhauer, Rousseau). The range of associations may then be too confusing to present any stable or orderly features permitting them to be distinguished or usefully labelled in any typology.

Development: In this metaphor, development would be more concerned with ways of increasing the diversity and richness of counter-balancing groups and organizations, avoiding reliance on arbitrary or artificial patterns of order. As in any form of horticulture, the challenge for governance is to facilitate the ability of each species of association to counteract the excesses of other species.

4.2 Challenge of change

Here the challenge to governance is to strike a balance between features of society ensuring stability and predictability against those associated with change and development. Excessive stability results in a stultifying, unchallenging society, unresponsive to a changing world. Excessive change leads to social instability and insecurity, making consolidation of any social progress impossible.

4.2.1: Static structure ("Assembly line") Civil society can be viewed as forming a static, semi-permanent set of associative contexts (especially by those who benefit from such predictability). This view would tend to be favoured by those seeking a reliable set of social partners (employers), stable markets (advertisers), or faithful constituencies (politicians), over an extended period of time.

Development: Legislation and regulatory procedures would be used to reinfoce this view by anticipating the range of basic needs of the average citizen, which are held to be unchanging or to change quite slowly. Social development is then primarily the process of ensuring that more people have such needs satisfied.

4.2.2: Dynamic structure ("Market") Civil society can be viewed as constituting a dynamic structure, in which associations arise in the dynamic relations between relatively static elements. Like harmonies and melodies, based on a configuration of established musical notes, such associations cannot be readily isolated and named with any confidence. They only exist temporarily as dynamic relationships changing continuously. This view would tend to be favoured by those who respond to the unique opportunities of the moment, possibly because their survival depends on the uniqueness of their response.

Development: In terms of the musical metaphor, social development then becomes a question of being able to form more complex harmonies amongst the predictable features of the environment, encompassing for longer periods the disharmonies which might otherwise be considered more significant. The challenge for governance is then to provide information and communication systems of sufficient sophistication to provide a suitable framework for the emergence, development and reconfiguration of such associations. The telephone/fax system is now a well-recognized model; e-mail and Internet are suggesting models for the future.

4.3 Challenge of identity

Here the challenge to governance is to strike a balance between encouraging individualistic identification with particular organizational units as opposed to identification with a wider community of relationships between many such bodies. Excessive emphasis on individualism results in an alienating degree of specialization which inhibits more integrated, holistic approaches. Excessive emphasis on patterns of relationship inhibits individual initiative through particular bodies.

4.3.1: Discrete phenomena ("Army") Civil society can be viewed as made up of distinct associations, with a well-defined membership, with some form of boundary separating them. This view would tend to be favoured by those who need to distinguish clearly where they are, either from where they have been, or from where they want to be. As on a ladder, each association corresponds to a dependable step and there is no intermediate condition. Individuals are viewed as identifying with particular associations.

Development: In terms of this metaphor, social development may then be conceived as moving up a series of steps, possibly understood as a series of developmental stages. From each successive step a broader view may be possible, incorporating those below it. Governance would rely on the ability to systematically track such associations, their functions, and their members.

4.3.2: Continuous phenomena ("Community") Civil society can be viewed as part of a single continuous field of societal activity. In the light of field theories, particular associations might then be understood as interference patterns (cf Moiré patterns). Individuals identify with patterns of relationships between individuals and groups in a wider community. These cannot readily be limited to particular associations as illustrated by the phenomenon of "networking".

Development: In this metaphor, social development might be understood in terms of increasing the number and complexity of such interference patterns and increasing the facility for shifting elegantly between them.


4.4 Challenge of participation (and involvement)

Here the challenge to governance is to strike a balance between marshalling human resources as opposed to relying on the ability of individuals to self-organize in response to social needs. Excessive emphasis on marshalling human resources inhibits individual motivation and evokes resistance to collective initiatives. Excessive reliance on individual initiative leads to selfish indifference to collective challenges.

4.4.1: External relationship to phenomena ("Residential complex") Civil society can be viewed as made up of externalities, as objects of investigation, and as "places" that can be visited. As such their existence is independent of any particular observer. This view would be favoured by those with either a rationalist or an empiricist orientation.

Development: Social development is then a question of acquiring the expertise, or possibly the technology, to gain access to such places at will. For governance, organizational units can be understood as rationally positioned on "maps" through which their functional relationships can be understood. Governance may then be concerned with the efficiency of such disposition in terms of the operation of such units and access to them. Organizational resources are seen as lending themselves to "mobilization" and "marshalling".

4.4.2: Identification with phenomena ("Café") Civil society can be held to be only genuinely comprehensible through an intuitive identification with the experience it constitutes, experienced by the observer as he experiences himself (cf Bergson, Hegel). This view would be favoured by those whose views have been strongly formed by particular unsought personal experiences of alternative associations, largely unconditioned by external explanations and expectations.

Development: Social development from this perspective might then be viewed as progressive achievement of a more profound, enduring, and all-encompassing identification with such alternative associations as communities through which identity itself is redefined. "Mobilization" of any kind is resisted and governance is faced with the task of encouraging individual and group self-motivation as well as the freely chosen participation of individuals in associations that reflect their perspectives and goals.

4.5 Challenge of significance

Here the challenge of governance is to strike a balance between significance clarified through clear definitions as opposed to significance implicit in situations and contexts but eluding unambiguous definition. Excessive emphasis on clear and literal definitions inhibits ability to respond to conditions characterized by ambiguity and the unstated. Excessive emphasis on unstated contextual significance inhibits any ability to formulate unambiguous rules where these are essential.

4.5.1: Sharply defined phenomena ("News broadcast") Civil society can be viewed as being made up of clearly defined phenomena (cf Descartes, Hume), like individually framed paintings. This view would tend to be favoured by those concerned with the objective, legal reality of organizations and associations. For them, any other kinds of association are unreal abstractions of no significance, other than as distractions from the concrete legally defined reality. Associations undefined in this way literally do not exist.

Development: Social development might then be viewed as a process of progressively refining what is defined to exist in this way. Governance is then a matter of devising ways of evaluating and recognizing bodies deemed necessary for social progress.

4.5.2: Implicitly defined phenomena ("Symbol") Civil society can be viewed as implying levels of significance beyond those which are defined by legal (or other academic) categories (cf Hegel, Whitehead, Niebuhr, Proust). As with the experience of an iceberg, this view would tend to be favoured by those for whom the associative experience encompasses both the visibly definable and some sense of the invisible presence of its underlying mass (and the possibility that it may suddenly become visible). Significance is attached to the unexpressed presence or the potential of any moment.

Development: Social development might then be viewed as the emergence of such potential and the increasing recognition of the range of significance that remains unexpressed and which can be progressively given form within society. Society is understood as pregnant with an emergent future.

4.6 Challenge of understanding (and communicability)

Here the challenge of governance is to strike a balance between a stress on comprehensible initiatives in respose to communicable problems as opposed to a stress on initiatives of a less comprehensible or communicable nature. Excessive emphasis on what can be readily communicated inhibits any ability to respond to deal with levels of complexity and subtlety why defy human comprehension. Excessive emphasis on what is beyond human comprehension leads to superstition and reliance on self-selected experts and inhibits action within existing capacities.

4.6.1: Inherently comprehensible phenomena ("Public school") Civil society and its component elements can be viewed as comprehensible in terms of existing paradigms or through their natural evolution. This view would tend to be favoured by pragmatists, and those with a scientific orientation, for whom a satisfactory explanation in terms of collectively known factors must eventually be possible (if one cannot immediately be imposed).

Development: Social development is then a process of making what is known to the experts more widely accessible and of investigating what they do not yet comprehend. The challenge for governance is then to identify and work with appropriate levels of expertise and to ensure that recommendations are comprehensible and communicable.

4.6.2: Inherently incomprehensible (or inexplicable) phenomena ("Church") Civil society can be viewed as calling for explanation in terms of other frames of reference, which may not necessarily be accessible to the ordinary human mind (cf Plato, Schopenhauer, Hegel, Plotinus, Niebuhr, Toynbee). This view would tend to be favoured by many religious groups (especially of fundamentalist persuasion) and in cultures sympathetic to belief in other levels of being or realms of existence. It might also be favoured by experts relying on very sophisticated mathematical models of strategic challenges and opportunities whose nature cannot be readily communicated.

Development: Social development is then essentially an evolving mystery whose nature is beyond the grasp of the human mind. The challenge for governance is to respond to the range of articulations of the nature of that challenge, without being unduly swayed by particular extreme views.

4.7 Challenge of spontaneity

Here the challenge of governance is to strike a balance between due process and spontaneity. Excessive emphasis on due process in response to social phenomena inhibits vital improvisation and self-organization in the case of unforeseen problem situations. Excessive emphasis on spontaneity inhibits any ability to benefit from collective learning and to ensure equality and justice in social responses to similar conditions.

4.7.1: Phenomena in a context of due process ("Tribunal") Civil society can be viewed as subject to known (or knowable) laws and procedures as a part of definable processes. This view would tend to be favoured by those concerned to minimize exceptions in dealing with associations of various kinds and to rely on precedents, even to the point of requiring them.

Development: Social development is then viewed rather like a pre-established educational curriculum through which people need to pass in an orderly manner, building on appropriate foundational experiences, to the possible levels of achievement defined by the outstanding pioneers of the past. The challenge for governance is to ensure that the procedures are appropriate and to minimize unnecessary red tape and procedural delays.

4.7.2: Spontaneous phenomena ("Dance") Civil society can be viewed as a set of totally spontaneous conditions or experiences unconnected to each other. This view would tend to be favoured by those who perceive chance, accident or divine intervention to be prime explanatory factors. It is also natural to those who respond spontaneously to their environment, placing relatively little reliance on norms, precedents and expectations. As in emergency situations, associations would be created and abandoned according to need and with little concern for legal and procedural requirements.

Development: In this view social development is the increasing ability to rely on the spontaneity and inspiration of the moment and the ability to respond proactively to the opportunities it offers. The challenge for governance is to provide contexts which facilitate self-organization and reconfiguration of associative groupings whilst inhibiting the emergence of inadvertent injustice and disruption.

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