Book Review: Democratic Governance

By Mark Bevir (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2010, ISBN 978-0-691-14539-6, 320 pp., £20.95)

By Simon McMahon | 11 October 2010


Democrati c Governance is concerned with the challenge to democracy posed by the spread of new forms of governance. From the 1980s, the rise of New Public Management theories and practi ces have heralded a positi vist approach to politics and policy that prizes scienti fi c experti se and its apparent neutrality above all else. Bevir soundly argues that this has encouraged the promulgati on of nonmajoritarian, and therefore non-democrati c, modes of state organisati on and public administrati on. At the heart of this criti que lies a disparaging evaluati on of the infl uence of modernist social science on today’s public administrati on and a subsequent call for a new focus of analysis and practi ce in order to restore faith in democrati c insti tuti ons. Bevir’s defi niti on of new governance is composed of three principal aspects: firstly, the replacement of central bureaucracy with marketi zati on, new public management and co-governance; secondly, the inclusion of new social actors in policy networks, policy communiti es and issue networks; and thirdly, a shift in theoreti cal outlook from developmental historicism to modernist social science. The originality of the argument of Democrati c Governance is the positi ng of this fi nal aspect as a factor that constitutes the previous two. Modernism and positi vist social science have had an undeniable infl uence on today’s politi cal practi ce. Indeed, the relati onship between academic ideas and politi cal practi ce is nothing new, noti ceable from the pamphlets of John Stuart Mill to the think-tanks and research insti tuti ons of contemporary society.

Bevir is specifi cally interested in the way that the shift in knowledge producti on to modernist social science has inspired theories on public administrati on that have in turn inspired new policies and practices. The spread of the analysis is wide-reaching and impressive, touching on issues of representative democracy, public administrati on and public policy through the lens of theories from politi cs, economics and sociology. The book is divided into nine chapters spanning across three secti ons. The fi rst, The New Governance, offers a theoretical background in the form of an historical review of modernist theories of governance. Here the argument outlines the way in which rati onal choice theory and new institutional theory have fed into reforms of politi cal practi ce. On the one hand, in the 1980s the New Public Management reforms introduced the marketi zati on of public duti es to the private sector in an att empt to lower costs through competi ti on and raise efficiency through the setti ng of targets and rewards. This was fuelled by rati onal choice theory and the belief that the market consti tuted a collecti on of rati onal individual interests.


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* Published in the Second Issue of Journal of Global Analysis (JGA).

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