The state as a producer of public policies

What are the changes currently taking place in modern states? Caught in multiple interdependences, they are subject to dynamics of change that are both external – globalisation, various forms of regional/multilateral/transnational integration, developments in capitalism, the reshaping of the social and political field in the broad sense – and internal – the reforms of decentralisation and privatisation, the mobilisation and pressures of political extremes, the challenge to legitimacy, mutations in the forms of public bureaucracies (e.g. neo-managerialisation) and the introduction of new technologies (e.g. digital technology and virtualisation).

Within this context of profound change, these modern states remain to a massive extent policy states, i.e. 1) states that produce public policies that continuously select and prioritise public problems and, conversely, withdraw from/dismantle former domains of public action, and renew the instruments they employ; 2) but also states that are transformed through the a feedback loop between the public policies that they help to develop the return impact of those policies. Moreover, this phenomenon is not restricted to nation-states alone, but extends to other political systems, sometimes operating in the absence of a state, as in the case of the European Union.

From a conceptual and theoretical perspective, the systematic analysis of  policy states in different contexts (Europe, United States, Latin America) will contribute to progress in identifying the most powerful mechanisms of state transformation. In empirical terms, the collective effort directed to this theme could help to produce a number of case studies (Great Britain, France, Italy, Mexico, Brazil). Involving a significant number of the Centre’s members, this work adopts a comparative perspective and draws on different contributions from the sociologies of the state and public action, research on public bureaucracies, and the sociology of activism. We will focus on three key orientations:

1) The rescaling of political authority

In order to account for the reshaping of contemporary states that is currently taking place, we propose to study the phenomena of the redistribution and relocation of power relations empirically, as reflected in public policies and institutions. This will enable us to analyse the processes, conflicts and resistances through which jurisdictions are redefined, the boundaries and capacities for the exercise of political authority between these bodies, and the way in which the role of public policies is reinforced as a vehicle of intervention by and on state authorities in multiple domains. A number of research projects along these lines have been initiated at CEE, on: the changing boundaries between ministries, agencies and their respective bureaucracies (SOG-PRO Project, Philippe Bezes), territorial reform policies and  transformation in the organisation of relations between the central and local levels (Patrick Le Lidec), the new hybridisation of the public and private domains through migration and border control policies (Virginie GuiraudonSégolène Menesson), transport, housing and energy transition policies (CREATE PROJECT with Charlotte HalpernPatrick Le GalèsRichard Balme), research on the nature of stateness in the post-Brexit process of the “dismemberment” of the United Kingdom (Colin Hay), and the state from a comparative perspective beyond the European context (Patrick Le GalèsRuggero Gambacurta-Scopello). Studies on legislative output in France or in Europe (Observatory of European Institutions, Olivier Rozenberg in partnership with EUI) or on the links between integration and EU policies (Charlotte Halpern) also form part of this exploration of the redistribution of power relations.

2) The technologies of government

The forms through which states exercise their governing role (in the broad sense of management, regulation, monitoring and anticipation) and are renewed as a result of the strengthening of neoliberal and neo-managerial political rationalities, constitute a second theme of research. These processes drive the development of technologies (devices, knowledge, expertise, instruments, etc.) that are increasingly rational and depoliticised (e.g. indicators, prediction and futurology, procedures for ‘good government’ and regulation reduction, digital technologies, databases, etc.). These technologies are produced and circulate within and between governments, including states, but also and above all in transnational spaces. This results in a profound disruption of government activities, making them a primary object of investigation in their own right in CEE’s research. This includes work on future governance in political systems and the relations between social sciences and policy analysis with respect to prediction, forecasting and planning (Jenny Andersson), on transhumanism and post-human futures (PhD thesis by Apolline Taillandier), on the role of these devices in the comparative and multidisciplinary study of tax policies in the home care/services sector in Europe and the US (Virginie Guiraudon), on the rationalisation of methods of government and bureaucratic control under the impact of New Public Management (Philippe Bezes), on the reduction in the regulatory burden in French and European agricultural policies (PhD thesis by Blandine Mesnel), on instrumental choices for energy transition (Charlotte Halpern), on the growing use of digital technologies (Antoine Courmont), and on increasing/diminishing access to rights (Tommaso Vitale).

3) The new forms of state legitimisation

This third theme extends the field exploration to the effects produced by state transformations on the emergence of new forms of legitimisation (e.g. based on performance or efficiency), which in return affect the relations with citizens-nationals-beneficiaries of public policies and contribute to the spread of norms (e.g. “good” government, “good” governance and “good” state) in the name of democracy. Entirely new forms of participation are developing, linked with the proliferation of techniques for tracking public opinion and mobilising citizens; rules of responsiveness, transparency, ethics, anticorruption drives, are becoming institutionalised; finally, the multiple dimensions of risk (financial, climatic, terrorist, environmental, social, etc.) give states an opportunity to position themselves symbolically as managers of crisis. The change in the relations between states – producers of public policies, managers of crisis, managerialised or purportedly more transparent – and ordinary citizens, is the subject of a significant number of CEE’s studies on systems of citizen participation and consultation on energy and urban renewal (Richard BalmeClément Boisseuil), the use of symbols in governmental rhetoric and practices to structure the public debate and the framing of the issues around terrorist attacks (Florence FaucherLaurie Boussaguet), the symbolic dimension of territorial reform policies (Patrick Le Lidec), the long-term effects of neoliberalism, austerity and the crisis on state forms and social movements (Patrick Le Galès), the forms of political socialisation, attitudes to criminality, to inequalities, and relations to politics (Colin Hay), the handling of migrants and the opening/closing of access to rights (Tommaso Vitale), the spread of norms of transparency and “good” government and the introduction of anticorruption policies (thesis by Sofia Wickberg), the construction of trust between citizens and governments (Bilal Hassan), the relations between farmers and European institutions in the context of the “greening” and bureaucratisation of the common agricultural policy (Blandine Mesnel), or the question of conjugal status and access to nationality in Japan in marriages between nationals and foreigners (Amélie Corbel).

Ultimately, the desire to bring together and create an interplay between approaches that are often kept separate will make it possible to explore the transformations of the state and of public action in their different dimensions and comparatively, in order to identify the national and transnational conditions of production, the mechanisms that run through them and the effects of context.