Brexit is a distinctive – if long drawn out – moment in this conjuncture. For some, it marks a turning point as a new configuration of forces, identities and possibilities is established. For others, it resembles an unfinished transition, an ‘interregnum’ that is marked (in a much-quoted phrase from Gramsci) by the ‘variety of morbid symptoms’ that arise ‘when the old is dying and the new cannot be born’. This chapter critically examines three ways in which Brexit has been accounted for:
• as a variant of a wider contemporary shift towards populist politics;
• as a revolt against neoliberal globalisation;
• and as the revenge of the ‘left behind’.
Each provides reasons for thinking conjuncturally, especially about social antagonisms, social forces and their political-cultural articulation and mobilisation. The chapter draws attention to the symbolic struggles and their mediations through both social media and the ‘tabloidisation’ of the Brexit conflict. Ideas of the ‘left behind’, however, link popular, mediatised and academic arguments in important ways and provided one route to the ‘rediscovery of class’ in the moment of Brexit.
The continued accumulation of crises suggests that the Brexit moment has not given rise to a stabilised social and political-cultural equilibrium. Rather, the pace of accumulation has increased as long-running crises acquire increasing urgency (the climate catastrophe) and encounter deepening ones (the intensification of inequality), while the challenge of making the spatial, scalar and sovereignty imaginaries of Brexit materialise has proved difficult, both internationally and domestically. New crises kept arriving, from the pandemic to international conflicts, and from economic instabilities to the many forms taken by the deepening climate catastrophe. Meanwhile, finding ways of sustaining and subsidising capital, at least since 2008, has expended public resources on private wealth (through taxation, subsidy and contracting out, for example). This accumulation of crises has been shadowed by a rise of ‘counter movements’ challenging dominant political norms and narratives.
The attention for applying design-oriented approaches in public administration has increased significantly. Applying design is seen as a promising way to deal with wicked problems and create more responsive policies and services. We aim to contribute to the debate on the value of design for public administration and the development of the latter into a design science by conducting a systematic literature review into the empirical applications of design. We analyse the goals, processes and outcomes of 92 empirical studies. Based upon this we distil six design approaches, varying from traditional scientific and informational approaches to innovative, user-driven and thus more ‘inspirational’ approaches. The more traditional (science-driven) approaches still dominate the field. The impact of these types of studies is correspondingly low. We argue that further developing and refining the whole range of design approaches can foster both the scientific rigour and the societal relevance of a design-oriented public administration.
There is increasing debate about the role that public policy research can play in identifying solutions to complex policy challenges. Most studies focus on describing and explaining how governance systems operate. However, some scholars argue that because current institutions are often not up to the task, researchers need to rethink this ‘bystander’ approach and engage in experimentation and interventions that can help to change and improve governance systems. This paper contributes to this discourse by developing a design science framework that integrates retrospective research (scientific validation) and prospective research (creative design). It illustrates the merits and challenges of doing this through two case studies in the Netherlands and concludes that a design science framework provides a way of integrating traditional validation-oriented research with intervention-oriented design approaches. We argue that working at the interface between them will create new opportunities for these complementary modes of public policy research to achieve impact.
This book addresses the social, political and economic turbulence in which the UK is embroiled. Drawing on Cultural Studies, it explores proliferating crises and conflicts, from the multiplying varieties of social dissent through the stagnation of rentier capitalism to the looming climate catastrophe.
Examining arguments about Brexit, class and ‘race’, and the changing character of the state, the book is underpinned by a transnational and relational conception of the UK. It traces the entangled dynamics of time and space that have shaped the current conjuncture.
Questioning whether increasingly anti-democratic and authoritarian strategies can provide a resolution to these troubles, it explores how the accumulating crises and conflicts have produced a deepening ‘crisis of authority’ that forms the terrain of the Battle for Britain.
The concluding chapter reflects back on some of the organising themes of the book and its approach to conjunctural analysis. It explores the relevance of particular ideas taken from Gramsci that have been used to address the present moment: the conjuncture, interregnum and counter-hegemonic possibilities. I consider some of the ways in which the current field of the political is being shrunk and rendered inhospitable. In response, I explore lines of thinking opened out by geographers in terms of ‘countertopographies’ and topological ‘power-geometries’. The chapter concludes by considering how the practices of reimagining, repairing and rearticulating might be ways of approaching the challenge of creating other futures.
Many of these accumulating crises were exacerbated by the pandemic. COVID-19 exposed the hollowed-out nature of the British state and was followed by failures of the favoured models of subcontracting. Although successful vaccination programmes averted some of the crisis (and partly rescued the government’s reputation), other troubles became apparent. Central among these was the concentration of risks of infection and death among racialised minorities. The visibility of such inequalities coincided dramatically with the killing of George Floyd (not least in the global resonance of the phrase “I can’t breathe”) in the midst of a series of ongoing challenges to racialised inequalities (attacks on the Windrush generation, racist policing, and more). The government attempted to deflect, delay and displace these challenges, not least into the register of ‘culture wars’. The idea of ‘culture wars’ poses important questions about the relationships between culture and politics, in which different intersections of politics, power and culture are mobilised – and contested. As I have already suggested, the (shifting) relationships between politics and culture are vital to understanding this conjuncture.
Developing the previous chapter’s understanding of social forces, this chapter draws on Stuart Hall’s concept of articulation to argue for a view of political mobilisation as accomplished through selective and contingent articulations. Rather than claims about decisive shifts in the political-cultural landscape, the chapter suggests that contemporary populisms and nationalisms have involved a distinctive practice of ‘vernacular ventriloquism’ as they imagine and project distinctions between the ‘people’ and their ‘enemies’. The Leave campaigns for Brexit developed a distinctive British populism (entwined with English nationalism) that assembled a particular bloc for the referendum, articulating many forms of loss, grievance and frustration. Stabilising this bloc has proved challenging: its coherence was challenged by the Corbyn-led Labour Party in the 2017 general election which voiced different popular anxieties and desires. It was, however, reassembled in the ‘Boris bloc’ of 2019, although, by 2022, this was coming apart, partly because of its internal contradictions and partly because of the proliferating crises that the Conservative government had to confront.
Policy design is a type of policy formulation activity centred on knowledge application in the creation of policy alternatives. Expected to attain public sector goals and government ambitions in an effective fashion, it can be undertaken many different ways. The current literature on policy design features an ongoing debate between adherents of traditional approaches to the subject in the policy sciences and those importing into policymaking the insights of design practices in other fields such as industrial engineering and product development: ‘design-thinking’. Issues examined in more traditional approaches to policy design are very wide-ranging and address a wide variety of formulation modalities and their strengths and weaknesses. Efforts to promote ‘design-thinking’ in the public policy realm, on the other hand, focus on policy innovation and rarely deal with issues such as the barriers to implementation, political feasibility or the constraints under which decision-making takes place. This chapter discusses these differences and argues adherents of design-thinking need to expand their reach and consider not only the circumstances facilitating the generation of novel ideas but also the lessons of more traditional approaches concerning the political and other challenges faced in policy formulation and implementation.
There has been much debate about the contribution of ‘design thinking’ to the fields of public policy and governance. This chapter makes an empirical contribution to this debate by examining the Organised Crime Field Lab – an environment for experimenting with, learning about and innovating in collaborative governance. The study involved working with 18 different multi-agency collaborations involving over 160 professionals as they developed novel approaches to fighting organised crime. Combining quasi-experimental and action research methods, our analysis offers valuable insights into how an environment can be designed that creates the conditions to support collaborations in overcoming the most common challenges in their design process. In particular, we find that a specially designed environment including a structured but flexible problem-solving space, an inclusive facilitative process and a custom-made accountability structure can support collaborative design processes.