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Depoliticisation, Governance and the State
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Over the past two decades politicians have delegated many political decisions to expert agencies or ‘quangos’, and portrayed the associated issues, like monetary or drug policy, as technocratic or managerial. At the same time an increasing number of important political decisions are being removed from democratic public debate altogether, leading many commentators to argue that they are part of a ‘crisis of democracy’, marking the ‘end of politics’.

Tracing the political uses a broad range of international case studies to chart the politicising and depoliticising dynamics that shape debates about the future of governance and the liberal democratic state. The book is part of the New perspectives in policy and politics series, and will be an important text for students of politics and policy, as well as researchers and policy makers.

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Depoliticisation refers to the narrowing of the boundaries of democratic politics. It is therefore intertwined with concerns about ‘the end of politics’ and the emergence of technocratic postdemocratic forms of governance. This article provides a broad theoretical and conceptual canvas upon which the various contributions to this special edition can be located and their interrelationships exposed. It achieves this by exploring the relevance of Carl Schmitt’s concept of ‘the political’, and particularly his analysis of ‘the age of neutralisations and depoliticisations’, to contemporary debates concerning depoliticisation, (re)politicisation and even hyper-depoliticisation.

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Stagnating political participation, the growth of delegated agencies and the prevalence of rationalistic-technocratic discourse all represent interlinking aspects of what can been termed ‘the depoliticised polity’. Existing research has overwhelmingly focused on institutional or governmental depoliticisation strategies and fails to acknowledge repoliticisation as a critical counter-trend. This article argues that these weaknesses can be addressed through ‘a three faces’ approach that embraces societal and discursive depoliticisation strategies as complementary statecraft dynamics that often underpin more tangible governmental strategies. By revealing the existence of multiple forms of depoliticisation this approach also offers new insights in terms of politicisation and sociopolitical change.

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Depoliticisation refers to the narrowing of the boundaries of democratic politics. It is therefore intertwined with concerns about ‘the end of politics’ and the emergence of technocratic post-democratic forms of governance. This chapter provides a broad theoretical and conceptual canvas upon which the various contributions to this special edition can be located and their interrelationships exposed. It achieves this by exploring the relevance of Carl Schmitt’s concept of ‘the political’, and particularly his analysis of ‘the age of neutralisations and depoliticisations’, to contemporary debates concerning depoliticisation, (re)politicisation and even hyper-depoliticisation.

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Stagnating political participation, the growth of delegated agencies and the prevalence of rationalistic-technocratic discourse all represent interlinking aspects of what can been termed ‘the depoliticised polity’. Existing research has overwhelmingly focused on institutional or governmental depoliticisation strategies and fails to acknowledge repoliticisation as a critical counter-trend. This chapter argues that these weaknesses can be addressed through ‘a three faces’ approach that embraces societal and discursive depoliticisation strategies as complementary statecraft dynamics that often underpin more tangible governmental strategies. By revealing the existence of multiple forms of depoliticisation this approach also offers new insights in terms of politicisation and socio-political change.

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The aim of this collection was to be provocative and open up debate, and the book appears to have succeeded. In doing so, it seems to have achieved the not insubstantial feat of provoking Colin Hay, who makes several abject criticisms of the collection. He is uninspired by Bob Jessop’s ‘neologistic’ approach to the topic, exhausted by the myriad attempts at conceptual re-formulation, and somewhat aghast at the potential implications of our own discussion of Carl Schmitt’s work. This very short concluding chapter responds to Hay’s critique of Flinders and Wood’s chapters, and of the broader purpose of this collection, in three senses. It argues that Carl Schmitt’s work is used to contextualise the collection, rather than set a theoretical agenda. Secondly, it argues that conceptual reflection and problem-based research need not be antagonistic, but can in fact be complimentary. Lastly, taking the lead from C Wright Mills’ work on ‘the sociological imagination’, it argues for a little more ‘big thinking’ in the social sciences, and the development of a ‘political imagination’.

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