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Sosiaalitutkimuksen keskus SOCRU

The Moderns: A Study on the Governmentality of World Society

Site of research: Department of Social Research, University of Tampere

Project director: Professor Pertti Alasuutari

Sponsor: Academy of Finland

Duration of the project: 2009-2012


M.Sci Elina Mikola 1/2009-

M.Sci Jukka Syväterä 1/2009-

M.Sci Laura Valkeasuo 3/2009-

PhD Ari Rasimus 4/2009-

The objectives and a brief description of the project

How can we account for uniform changes in all advanced market economies, for instance the recent neoliberal reforms? That is an enigma and an object of debate within the social sciences and in public discussion. Yet it is important how we conceive of them. If the explanations portray social changes as inevitable and the political reforms as having no alternatives, they contribute to depoliticizing politics. Thus the topic of this research project, the dynamics of global change, is highly relevant and fills an obvious gap in existing knowledge.

The global social change has stirred much interest within globalization research. However, we argue that neither the existing globalization theory nor the critics to it (Kiely 2005; Rosenberg 2005) give a satisfactory answer to the puzzle why there is a growing isomorphism among nation states, i.e. why do the states make similar political reforms and where does the isomorphism come from? Such isomorphism is a puzzle also for dominant paradigms in political science and international relations (for reviews, see Finnemore 1996; Meyer, Boli et al. 1997).

To approach the mystery of isomorphism and uniform change of nation-states in this research project, we apply and combine the tools provided by world culture theory (Meyer, Boli et al. 1997; Boli and Thomas 1999; Lechner and Boli 2005) and Michel Foucault's governmentality approach (Foucault 1991; Merlingen 2003; Lipschutz and Rowe 2005; Walters and Haahr 2005). By combining these conceptual tools we are best equipped to account for the isomorphism among nation-states.

According to world culture theory world-society models shape nation-state identities, structures, and behavior via worldwide cultural and associational processes. As also stressed in the governmentality framework, instead of treating actors as unanalyzed "givens," world culture theory conceives of them as entities constructed and motivated by global cultural and institutional frames, and therefore isomorphism is the consequence of actors enacting cultural models that are lodged at the global level (Boli and Thomas 1999). Consequently, nation-states are more isomorphic than most theories would predict and change more uniformly than is commonly recognized.

In this research project we are particularly interested in the governance of global change and in the domestication of global trends at the nation-state level. When talking about the isomorphic policy change trajectory that nation-states are following, the international intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) are at the focus. In addition, we particularly need to understand how exactly the national actors are standardized and "culturally tamed" (Meyer, Boli et al. 1997): how global governance is achieved in such a way that policymakers at the domestic level willingly make the same reforms as other countries, and how they are passed through the democratic decision-making process.

To study such influence of the IGOs, Michel Foucault's concept of governmentality (Foucault 1991) is of particular relevance. The governmentality framework is based on the concept of power in a broad sense, as a network of dominance entangled with knowledge and with the subject positions and identities of the actors involved (Foucault 1980; Alasuutari 1996; Alasuutari 2004), and it pays attention to the fact that modern governance works by influencing or guiding the comportment of others through acting upon their hopes, desires, or milieu (Inda 2005).

However, instead of asking how the IGOs affect nation-states, we focus on analyzing how national actors use them, that is, how they refer to the knowledge produced by IGOs in justifying measures to be taken in the country in question. This means that one analyzes how the knowledge production of the IGOs is brought to the national agenda and makes an intervention to the existing discourses, resulting in changing definitions of the situation.

As one of our earlier studies indicated (Alasuutari and Rasimus forthcoming), in which we scrutinized how the OECD is used in parliamentary documents in one of its member countries, Finland, the modernization is routinely used in justifying the adoption of exogenous models and reforms. The same point is emphasized within world culture theory: reforms are justified by assumptions about universal laws, and "individuals orient their action above all toward the pursuit of rationalized progress" (Meyer, Boli et al. 1997). Therefore, to shed more light on how uniform reforms are carried out in separate nation-states, this project pays particular attention to the use of the modernization framework as a justification.

Dating back to the Enlightenment philosophers (Pollard 1968; Nisbet 1980; Alasuutari 2006), "modernization" and "modernity" have a positive ring; it is part and parcel of the positive self image of the nation-states belonging to the world society. From the turn of the 20th century onward, it has been used as an epithet that many regimes have wanted to use in describing their own country. In that sense, world culture could be called the culture of the Moderns: a tribe that skillfully spreads its cultural features by appealing to a notion of a self-evident, predetermined developmental path.

There are some institutions in world society that dress the soil for such a tacit assumption about a predetermined developmental path toward progress. Two institutions and mindsets stand out as particularly important in this respect. One is the idea of objective science, and the other one is composed of the mindsets related to art and fashion. That is why these two areas are given special attention in this research project.

In this research project we aim at making a contribution to existing knowledge about the way in which world-society models are adopted at the nation-state level. We are particularly interested in studying uniformity of change brought about by political reforms: how they are justified and domesticated, and how the process unleashed affects existing practices, discourses and mentalities, thus forming new systemic wholes and creating seeds for consequent changes. The objectives of the project can be presented in the form of the following hypotheses.

  1. Nation-states domesticate world culture.
  2. Domestication of innovations such as internationally influenced political reforms causes changes in the existing configuration of practices, discourses and mentalities.
  3. Art and fashion as institutions and mindsets reflect and reproduce the world culture as the culture of the Moderns, so that there is a reciprocal relationship between social changes and taste formation of the population.

To test these hypotheses, the research project carries on and complements the previous research of the research team (Rautalin and Alasuutari 2007; Alasuutari and Rasimus forthcoming). To complement the ongoing research, the project will study the influence of the OECD and other sources of world models from a comparative perspective. In addition, the project will analyze how the recent neoliberal changes are intertwined with changes in cultural policy, and in the mentality and taste formation of the population. As a whole, the project is composed of three sub-projects which are 1) The Use of the IGOs in Policy Reforms, 2) Public Management Reform Coordination: The Case of Horizontal Government Reforms, and 3) The Changing Notions of Art and Fashion. As a result of these sub-projects the research project will contribute to developing theory about global governance and about the role of international organizations in harmonizing social change in advanced capitalist societies. Thus, it helps us understand how the culture of modernity is expanded and modified. In addition, it will deepen our understanding of the emergence of the market regime and its effects on everyday life.

Description of the case studies

Rhetoric, Networks and Uses of the OECD's Foreign Direct Investment Programs

In his PhD-thesis MSSc. Antti Tietäväinen will analyse the OECD’s foreign direct investment programs and their uses at national level.

The OECD is a 30-country organisation of mostly Western, post-industrialised nations, which has committed to promote free-market economy. Within the OECD the member countries have tried to remove barriers to foreign investment by establishing binding disciplines about liberalisation of capital movements, applying peer pressure, and by less evident means such as establishing the measures used in gathering comparative statistical information. The organisation is also known for planning of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) –agreement in the mid 1990s, which drew wide criticism and was seen to accelerate the "race to the bottom" in environmental and labour standards.

However, the OECD’s investment policy has also other face. In 1976 the organisation adopted Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, which are recommendations providing voluntary principles and standards for responsible business conduct for multinational corporations operating in or from member countries. After the MAI the organisation adopted a more open communications strategy, and a director of public affairs and communications was appointed. OECD Watch, a body governing co-operation with NGOs promoting corporate accountability, was founded. The member countries have also agreed to establish National Contact Points, which are government offices encouraging responsible business conduct and observing accountability of corporations.

The aim of this study is to analyse how the policy change, which was done after the MAI-events, was done? What does inclusion of new actors like NGOs to the OECD mean to the organisation and the actors themselves? How are the OECD’s recommendations about sustainable investment policies used at the national level?

Public Management Reform Coordination: The Case of Horizontal Government Reforms

To study how isomorphic changes in different countries are upshots of governments exchanging experiences, within the project PhD Ari Rasimus scrutinizes The Finnish programme management reform (Programme... 2007) as an example of public management reforms, which have been influenced by the OECD. The government programme management reform is also a prime example of the how public management reforms and development are intertwined with research and evaluation, so that the social effects of policy measures are tightly monitored.

The Finnish programme management reform aims at more horizontal and strategic policymaking and ensuring effective implementation of the government’s political agenda. The new programme management entails that when a new government decides about its political agenda, there is a fairly small number of particular Government Programmes, which are implemented “horizontally”, i.e. crossing the sectoral organization of central administration into ministries. A substantial part of the government programmes themselves was to fund research and development in their focus areas. In addition, the programme management also entails the government’s mid-term policy-review sessions, in which in-depth policy evaluations on the social effects of prioritised current policies for the use of the prime minister and the whole government.

It is also essential to note that once the programme management reform has been made and there is already experience about it, Finland’s experience is promoted to others to adopt and learn from. The OECD is an organization which aims to collect and spread information about reforms in this area, thus contributing to uniformity in public management reforms.

In addition to researching the Finnish programme management in its national and international context as a whole, this case study takes one government policy programme of the present government, Children, youth and families, established in 2007, as an object of case analysis. We study how the programme is justified; how it is implemented, i.e. what projects are started; what reports and publications are produced; how the programme is reviewed; what policy implications are drawn; and how the experiences are communicated to other countries.

Change of the Finnish higher education and research policy as part of the European harmonization process: Legitimation, means and disputes

In her PhD thesis MSSc. Laura Valkeasuo studies the change of Finnish higher education and research policy as part of the European harmonization and modernization process. She is especially interested in the mechanisms by which two European goals EHEA (European Higher Education Area) and ERA (European Research Area) are justified on the European level as well as become integrated in the national higher education and research policy. She is exploring the means of harmonization as well as the ways to legitimate the change. She is also addressing questions concerning power relations and conflicts such as the construction of liability, the role of NGOs and ways to interpret the common goals. Valkeasuo is concentrating mainly on Finnish higher education and research policy but international comparison of the different European countries is also in the focus of the research. The study aims to serve a better understanding of the process of globalization, its struggles and means of execution, and to draw a more comprehensive picture of aspirations attached to the higher education and research. As theoretical basis Valkeasuo uses various theories and methodological approaches such as the world culture and the world polity theory, domestication approach and governmentality framework. The data, mainly official documents and publications of Civil Service, as well as interviews, are to be studied by discourse and rhetorical analysis.

World cultural models and the governance of biotechnology

In his Phd thesis MSSc. Jukka Syväterä studies governmental practices around medical biotechnology from perspectives of world polity theory and foucauldian governmentality approach. The primary interest in his study is to find out how world cultural models of bioeconomy and bioethics are domesticated at the level of nation-state. The data will consist of biotechnology strategies aimed to boost uses and innovations of medical biotechnology as well as of  the documents related to bioethical committees and interviews of members of these organizations. In addition to the common goals of the whole research project, in his study Syväterä aims to contribute to the wider discussions on the social and cultural aspects of developments in biomedicine.

Adaption and implementation of the European climate change mitigation policy: The case of Finland

MSSc. Elina Mikola is studying the adaptation and implementation of new models and instruments in European climate change mitigation policy. Most of the instruments recently implemented, such as European Union's Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS), are based on the idea to use market mechanisms to control the level of emissions. In this study parliamentary documents and newspaper articles are analyzed to illuminate how the implementation of new international policy instruments is justified, criticized and legitimized at the nation state level and what kind of interpretations, expectations and presuppositions current climate policy is based on.  The assumptions and arguments about the role, interests and responsibilities of nation state considering the global environmental risks are also examined.


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Alasuutari, P. (2004). Social Theory and Human Reality. London, Sage.

Alasuutari, P. (2006). Is Globalization Undermining the Sacred Principles of Modernity? Questions of Method in Cultural Studies. M. White and J. Schwoch. Malden, MA, USA, Blackwell: 221-240.

Alasuutari, P. and A. Rasimus (2009). "Use of the OECD in justifying policy reforms: The case of Finland." Journal of Power 2(1), April 2009: 89-109.

Boli, J. and G. M. Thomas, Eds. (1999). Constructing World Culture: International Nongovernmental Organizations Since 1875. Stanford, Stanford University Press.

Finnemore, M. (1996). "Norms, culture, and world politics: insights from sociology's institutionalism." International Organization 50(2): 325-347.

Foucault, M. (1980). The History of Sexuality / Vol. 1. An Introduction. New York, Vintage Books.

Foucault, M. (1991). Governmentality. The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality. G. Burchell, C. Gordon and P. Miller. Chicago, University of Chicago Press: 87-104.

Inda, J. X. (2005). Analytics of the Modern: An Introduction. Anthropologies of Modernity: Foucault, Governmentality, and Life Politics. J. X. Inda. Oxford, Blackwell: 1-20.

Kiely, R. (2005). "Globalization and Poverty, and the Poverty of Globalization Theory." Current Sociology 53(6): 895.

Lechner, F. J. and J. Boli (2005). World Culture: Origins and Consequences. Malden, Blackwell.

Lipschutz, R. D. and J. K. Rowe (2005). Globalization, Governmentality and Global Politics: Regulation for the Rest of Us? London, Routledge.

Merlingen, M. (2003). "Governmentality: Towards a Foucauldian Framework for the Study of IGOs." Cooperation & Conflict 38(4): 361-384.

Meyer, J. W., J. Boli, et al. (1997). "World Society and the Nation-State." American Journal of Sociology 103(1): 144-181.

Nisbet, R. (1980). History of the idea of progress. London ; New Brunswick, NJ, Heinemann : Transaction.

Pollard, S. (1968). The Idea of Progress: History and Society. London, Watts.

Programme... (2007) "Programme Management within the Finnish Government." Prime Minister’s Office Publications.

Rautalin, M. and P. Alasuutari (2007). "The Curse of Success: The Impact of the OECD PISA Study on the Discourses of the Teaching Profession in Finland." European Educational Research Journal 7(4): 349-364.

Rosenberg, J. (2005). "Globalization Theory: A Post Mortem." International Politics 42(1): 2-74.

Walters, W. and J. H. Haahr (2005). Governing Europe: Discourse, Governmentality and European Integration. New York, Routledge.

Muutettu: 8.3.2011 15.12 Muokkaa

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