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Theories and concepts of governance

In line with our pluralistic understanding of governance, team members apply a variety of theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of governance. In the following, we give an overview of the approaches used by team members in their research focusing on

Argumentative theories (Herbert Gottweis)

Argumentative theories of governance focus on the constitutive forces and formative conditions for the emergence and operation of particular governance regimes. Argumentative approaches towards governance share an emphasis on language as a key feature of any policy process and thus as a necessary key component of governance and policy analysis. Argumentative policy analysis links post-positivist epistemology with social theory and methodology and encompasses theoretical approaches such as discourse analysis, post-structuralist approaches, frame analysis, and interpretative policy analysis. Although these different approaches are hardly synonymous, they nevertheless share the special attention they give to argumentation and language and the process of utilizing, mobilizing, and weighing arguments and signs in the interpretation and praxis of policy making and governance (Fischer 2003.) This epistemological orientation is critical of the understanding that institutions of governance are not simply out there to be found by policymakers or citizens using them. Rather, institutions are themselves constituted through the acts of description or use. In the context of this tradition of thinking, theories of governmentality (Dean 1999) and critical discourse theory (Foucault 1971, 1991; Fairclough 1992) also play an important role and have shown that governance is inseparable from argumentation, discourse and the construction of political identity.

Cultural theory (Andreas Pribersky)

After the ‘linguistic turn’ of the seventies, the ‘cultural turn’ – that led to a complete restructuring of the humanities – represents the second wave of qualitative approaches to gain an increasing influence on the social sciences since the eighties. The reintroduction of cultural theory as an important tool for political analysis is closely linked to some key issues of contemporary politics: the changing behaviour of consumers and voters, the loosening of traditional social relations as well as of political affiliations and the transformation of society towards new cultural group patterns reopened the question of Political Culture(s) as a basis for democratic governance in the advanced societies (Gibbins 1989, Gibbins/ Reimer 1999). At the same time, the global attempts of democratisation and decolonisation (Huntington 1991, Diamond 1999) raised again the question of the establishment of stable democracies gaining actuality in the still unfinished process of democratic transformation of the former Soviet bloc and Soviet Union (Beyme 1996) and the effects of this process on the European and global political order (Geertz 1996). In the process of an integrating and enlarging Europe, these problems are especially sound in an increasing problem of rising nationalism and right-wing populism (Pribersky 2001, Pribersky/ Liebhart/ Kurtán 2002) or in the crisis of representation of European politics (Öhner/ Pribersky et al. 2005).

These political developments lead to a constant increase of the use of the term ‘culture’ as an explanatory variable of political differences and encounters (Huntington 1996) also in the mass media and to a re-evaluation of approaches of cultural theory concerning their explanatory force for contemporary politics (Schwelling 2004). The extension of political analysis of the subcultures of society by the means of a Cultural Studies approach or the reformulation of the term ‘Political Culture’ from a political science (Thompson/ Ellis/ Wildavsky 1990)  and from an anthropological perspective (Abélès/Jeudy 1997) as well have greatly contributed to a new understanding of democratic governance, that includes the building and the participatory element of a Civil Society and its importance for democratic stability: therefore, these contributions are considered an integral part of the program of the Vienna School of Governance.

Democratic and legal theories (Josef Melchior, Sieglinde Rosenberger, Werner Zips)

For quite a while, the implications of the various modes of governance for democracy had been neglected in governance studies that focused primarily on the efficiency and effectiveness of the given arrangements. While the new modes of governance have the potential to increase participation and citizen involvement, and they may enhance the problem-solving capacity of politics, critical questions remain. Are governance practices able to overcome what Putnam called 'Bowling Alone' (2000)? How to evaluate governance by standards of liberal democracy? How can equality of access be secured when informal networks of actors flourish? Is there a bias in the new governance arrangements privileging some groups (like producers, big business, functional elites and well organized groups) over others (for instance, consumers, workers, women, immigrants, or the unemployed)? In which policy fields can new forms of participation be identified and which governance arrangements tend to escape democratic control and accountability? What about the legitimacy of non-state actors? In the context of the European Union, the debate about the democratic deficit has intensified over the last two decades stimulating a broad range of answers to the question whether and how the EU and its governance structures may be democratized (Antalovsky, E./J. Melchior/S. Puntscher Riekmann 1997;  Melchior, J. 1999a;  1999c). The debate about any further democratization of governance in the EU draws on theories of representative democracy, direct democracy, participatory and deliberative democracy, feminism and constitutionalism (among the vast literature limited room allows only to mention a few contributions to the debate: Majone, G. 1998;  Schmitter, P.C. 2000;  among the vast literature limited room allows only to mention a few contributions to the debate: Abromeit, H. 2002;  Melchior, J. 2004a;  Rosenberger, S. 2005).

From a normative point of view, connecting discourse theory and forms of democratization is one of the key issues at stake. The notion of legal pluralism reflects the epistemological and indeed ideological struggles with more rigid state-centric positions that portray law as a unified, homogenous, exclusive, and territorially binding category in juxtaposition to theories of pluralistic governmentality (Wiener 1999;Benda-Beckmann F./Benda-Beckmann K./Griffiths 2005).
One core critical aspect of research is to show, if and how a political system, network, or relationship is tied to broader society-wide communicative processes that have a democratic, legitimating quality. Perhaps many of those so-called indigenous societies in Africa, Asia, Polynesia, Australia, South America and other parts of the globe turn out to fit (at least occasionally) better to a proceduralist conception of justice that combines notions of communicative competence, democracy, and rule of law, than the self-acclaimed Western representatives of modernity
(Rouveroy Van Nieuwaal, E.A.B.V./W. Zips 1998). A parameter of procedural justice counterfactually applied to empirical conditions lays claim to the potential of law as the guarantor of equal participation in (self-)regulatory processes beyond unilateral power and control (Zips, W. 2002).

Gender theory in political science (Birgit Sauer)

Gender has been developed as a theory in political science since the 1970s. Theories of gender point out how politics and policies structure and construct gender differences and gender inequalities. They also conceptualize the ways in which gender regimes have an impact on polities, policies and politics. Starting with the integration of gender difference as a variable in studies on political behavior and mind sets, gender difference and gender relations since the 1980s have been developed as category which structures societies, economies and politics (Scott 1990). In political science gender studies are located for instance in institutionalist approaches (welfare state institutions, Skocpol 1992), in theories of democracy and state (Phillips, Squires, Sauer) and in discursive approaches to policy-making (Bacchi 2005). 

Network theories of governance (Gerda Falkner)

Network theories of governance include approaches that investigate patterns of interest intermediation and public-private cooperation in the making and implementation of public policies. Their common concern is on how actors and agencies come to form networks, what holds them together, what determines their choices and how they influence political decisions (Rhodes 1997; March/Olsen 1989).

Most importantly, political scientists and sociologists have moved beyond the 1970s' and 1980s' debate on (neo)corporatism and have analyzed the rising importance of governance by policy networks (Kohler-Koch/Eising 1999; Peterson/Bomberg 1999; Peterson 2004). They now build on basic insights from the corporatist literature but focus more on the meso-level of governance in particular policy areas (not only on a macro-level across policies and sectors It is important to pay attention to new forms of network governance, on the one hand, and the evolution of the content of specific policies, on the other hand. Also issues of legitimacy and accountability are crucial in this debate.

Political economy (Rüdiger Frank)

Often policy makers make and seek to sustain policy choices that are economically indefensible or unsustainable, or strongly resist reform measures. On the other hand, measures that make perfect sense from an economic point of view do not function in reality, while other, seemingly less efficient ones turn out to be the perfect match for a given politically determined situation. Why do policy makers make such governance choices? Why do technically sound governance measures succeed in certain environments but fail in others? How can we better understand the political economy contexts governance takes place in? One key methodological approach towards this end is the understanding of institutions or the “rules of the game” in a society (North 1992). This approach helps us to directly incorporate many of the findings of East Asian Studies into the wider concept of governance, instead of viewing them just as the residual after all other approaches of explanation have failed.

Theories of transformation and transition (Dieter Segert/Rüdiger Frank/Weigelin-Schwiedrzik)

Theories of transformation and transition play an important role in the explanation of change from one regime type to another (e.g. form authoritarianism to democracy and vice versa) and in understanding the problems of governance that are involved in such changes. In the context of East-European transitions a governance problem of central importance is the simultaneity of economic, political and social change (Beyer/Stykow 2004). Actor centered concepts play a crucial role in the analysis of system change. This approach was mainly generated by the so-called “transitions to democracy”- school, and, later in the German discourse, by the “Systemwechsel”- group (Merkel 1996; Merkel/Sandschneider/Segert 1996; Merkel/Sandschneider 1997). The most analyzed actors were democratic party elites and – interrelated with them – the actors of civil society (Segert 1997; Kitschelt et al. 1999; Merkel 2005).

To understand regime change some topics and the differences of socialist regimes are of particular importance, mainly: long term effects of the pre-socialist heritage; two different types of path dependency and recently the question of post-socialism. Concerning the East European development the transition in East Germany is a special case that meets growing interest (Segert 2003; Land 2003, 2005). The legacy of state socialism is also stressed (Bunce 1999) and leaves its mark on governing institutions and processes in the region.


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