ECPR General Conference
University of Glasgow, Glasgow
3 - 6 September 2014

Governing Knowledge: Policy and the Politics of Knowledge Production and Use

European Politics
Policy Analysis
Public Policy
Section Number
Section Chair
Annabelle Littoz-Monnet
Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies
Section Co-Chairs
Christina Boswell
University of Edinburgh
Sotiria Grek
University of Edinburgh

The proposed Section would provide a forum for a growing body of research examining the relationship between knowledge, monitoring and policy in the context of global and European governance. It would aim to attract scholars whose research explores the role of ideas in the making of policy; the political uses of expertise and knowledge; the social construction of policy problems and responses; the transnationalisation of knowledge networks; and political science, sociological or ethnographic studies of the tools, actors and organisations involved in the production and utilisation of such knowledge in policymaking.

Over the past two decades, ‘good governance’ has increasingly been assumed to require robust evidence, research and monitoring. Part of this development appears to be linked to the politics of risk: in areas characterised by risk and uncertainty, science and expertise are considered to play a pivotal role in underpinning sound decision-making. Scientific knowledge has become a point of leverage and contention in areas such as global warming, military intervention and arms control, embryo research, GM food or data protection. At the same time, most OECD governments have seen a massive expansion in the monitoring and evaluation of public services, underpinned by mantras of New Public Management. This has led to a burgeoning in the use of auditing, preformance indicators and targets as tools for improving performance and accountability.

European and international institutions have played a central role in the development and promotion of these new methods and practices. Organisations such as the OECD, European Commission, IPCC, World Bank and others have whole-heartedly adopted – even pioneered – such tools, partly as a means of managing diversity and legitimising their brokerage role. They have found a niche in promoting ‘good practice’ in national public administration, including through the deployment of indicators, evaluations and new practices in data and information gathering.

These developments raise important questions about the relationship between knowledge and governance in Europe. Yet much of the research that has emerged since the 1980s – including in public administration and political science – has been uncritical of developments. In many cases it has bought into narratives of ‘evidence-based policymaking’ and better regulation, and been implicated in the very processes of knowledge production and exchange that are being analysed. The 2013 EPCR Annual Conference in Bordeaux was ground-breaking in bringing together a substantial number of papers and panels exploring these questions from different angles. We propose consolidating and further developing this exciting ‘new wave’ in studies of knowledge and European governance through supporting a series of panels reflecting on the following questions.

First, how and why do actors and organisations deploy knowledge in policymaking? Who are the actors involved in these processes, and what types of narratives, logics or rationales influence practices of knowledge construction and utilisation? Is knowledge used instrumentally to adjust policy outputs, more symbolically or tactically to underpin claims to power or legitimacy or as a means to depoliticize contentious policy issues?

Second, what sort of knowledge is deployed, by whom, and with what authority? How are tools for measurement, monitoring and standardisation developed and rolled out? What forms of knowledge or data are considered valid and legitimate, and on what basis? While there has been a great deal of emphasis on expert knowledge and research in policy discourse, there has also been a counter-trend involving the development of news forms of deliberative platforms incorporating both specialized and lay knowledge. Ethics advisory committees have been set up both in domestic and international arenas, thus extending the authority of expert knowledge, albeit of a different kind, to ethical questions. Meanwhile, the proliferation of new media undermines the traditional gate-keeping capacity of ‘experts’, providing a forum for non-experts and lobbyists to advance knowledge claims. New forms of knowledge are increasingly being used by different actors and communities in new ways. Again, how far can we identify such processes emerging in different policymaking settings, and with what implications for the relationship between knowledge and governance?

Third, how do experts try to preserve their autonomy, when the politicisation of science is becoming increasingly obvious for the public? Which strategies do they use to draw boundaries between the realm of science and that of politics? How do scientific experts react to the incorporation of lay knowledge in new deliberative forms of governance? How is diversity managed in these new types of reflective governance arenas?

Fourth, what are the effects of new tools of measurement, monitoring and evaluation? How do they influence, constrain or distort policy making, modes of governance, or organisational behaviour? What are the policy consequences of making sensitive ethical issues a matter of expert judgement? Through what processes are ideas about knowledge and ‘good governance’ diffused and applied across polities? How do actors and organizations ‘learn’ or even reformulate their identities through engagement with these new tools and practices? And what are the implications for accountability and democracy?

We invite scholars from across the social sciences and especially the disciplines of political science, public administration, sociology, social anthropology, organisation studies, and business and accounting, to submit proposals for panels that work with these ideas and are engaged in their critical analysis.

Panel List

P040Connecting Ideas and Interests: Expertise, Ideology and Think Tank Policy Entrepreneurs View Panel Details
P112Expertise as a Policy Instrument: Impact Assessment, Targets and Peer-Reviewing as Public Management Tools View Panel Details
P113Expertise, Democracy and Accountability in Public Policy View Panel Details
P122Functions and Uses of Expertise in Global Governance View Panel Details
P383The Role of Ideas and Indicators in Science Policies and Research Management View Panel Details
P391The Uses of Knowledge in Environmental Disaster Management and Prevention View Panel Details
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"To govern is to choose" - Duc de Lévis

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