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Session Overview
RN29_06: Power and Authority Today
Thursday, 22/Aug/2019:
2:00pm - 3:30pm

Session Chair: Csaba Szaló, Masaryk University
Location: GM.325
Manchester Metropolitan University Building: Geoffrey Manton, Third Floor 4 Rosamond Street West Off Oxford Road

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Putting Authority Center Stage Again in Sociological Theory

Evelien Tonkens, Menno Hurenkamp, Margo Trappenburg, Thomas Kampen

University of Humanistic Studies, Netherlands, The

Authority has for long been a central theme in sociology, but it has been neglected since the 1970s, when attention shifted to problems of power. Authority has been rejected as redundant and paternalistic (with a few exceptions). However, authority – as legitimate power as Weber defined it – is highly present and cannot be neglected in egalitarian, democratic societies. Authority is faced with deep ambivalences that sociologists need to address. Authority is not only rejected but often at the same time also demanded, to coordinate processes, regulate relationships, end otherwise everlasting discussions, and provide moral guidance to (other) citizens. Interestingly, egalitarian societies have developed new forms of authority, ridden with these ambivalences. Examples are: upside-down authority, that comes from below, like the authority of patients, volunteers or parents towards doctors or teachers. Or (formally) absent authority, like ‘self-steering’ teams of social professionals. Or fallible authority, for example of doctors or judges (or referees on the football pitch) whose work is ever more transparent so that their mistakes are in the spotlights. Or digitally-hidden authority, coming from machines that do not allow much contestation but effectively control our behaviour in ways we hardly notice, in conflicts with for instance government or insurance companies. Such new forms of authority deserve empirical as well as theoretical analyses from sociologists. In this paper, we aim to analyse current ambivalences in these new forms of authority, and thereby put authority centre stage again in sociology.

Contemporary Governance and Rationalisation: Examining Institutional Reforms from a Weberian Perspective - An Example from Greece

Vasiliki Kantzara

Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences, Greece

The contemporary ‘governance’ discourse has its roots in the social conditions that prevailed after World War II. The discourse gradually managed to incorporate different and even contradictory critiques on the poor functioning of state institutions as well as on some ethically suspect actions of large private corporations.

The solution to the problems, at the time, was perceived to be ‘structural reforms’ or ‘adjustment’ that in due course took the name ‘new public management’. With the help of international and supranational organisations, reforming public institutions on, for instance, education, health, local government or labour were spreading quickly in European and North American countries, especially after the 1980s. Part of the appeal of this new policy was that it aimed at ‘increasing efficiency’ and ‘reducing costs’; some of the consequences, however, point to increasing privatisation of public services, social inequality, and precariousness, as well the rising of populist ideologies and xenophobia.

The societal effects have been mostly interpreted as the effects of applying a neoliberal agenda. In the proposed paper, I suggest that institutional reforms could be examined and understood as part of rationalising the steering of institutions and public goods. Rationalisation, in Weberian terms, means that humans attempt throughout history to change society, according to an image they have about how they ought to live. A worthy pursuit, that nonetheless has, sometimes, unfavourable effects.

On basis of research done in Greece, I shall discuss how the institutional reforms incorporate a kind of rationality called 'formal' and what the consequences are. Last, I shall refer to the implications of employing the notion of rationalisation for theorising, understanding and explaining current societal changes.

A Bhaskar-Cartwright Synthesis for Studying Political Process

Balthazar de la Banquise

Cornell University, United States of America

Roy Bhaskar and Nancy Cartwright are two contemporary philosophers of science committed to a realist ontology and a relativist epistemology, each with a significant following in the social sciences, with Bhaskarists focused more on Marxism and sociological metatheory and Cartwrightists more on mathematical economics and evidence-based policy. Both schools subscribe to entity realism, the position that the world is composed of real things with causal tendencies, all of which are often unseen: the job of science is to explain these hidden causes. Unfortunately, there has been no significant exchange between or synthesis of the two schools, to their mutual detriment. This isolation is particularly damaging because each side can benefit from the insights of the other, as when two people in a rowboat suddenly become aware of their copresence. The current paper begins to connect these schools, first by highlighting their common philosophical background, second by showing their conceptual complimentarity (in particular the open-closed and transitive-intransitive distinction from Bhaskar, and the nomological machine and dappled world concepts from Cartwright), and third by addressing a potential incompatibility (viz., that Cartwright is a weak actualist, in Bhaskar's terms). Finally I illustrate how a Bhaskar-Cartwright synthesis can help when theorising political process and change, by analysing the coemergence of new parliamentary parties with new parliamentary procedure, "not so much to identify similarities among instances as to account systematically and parsimoniously for their variation." (Tilly 1995:1601).

Populism, Political Disorientation and Reluctance to Confront Fascistization and Criminal Politics

Carlos Frade

University of Salford (Manchester), United Kingdom

This paper takes issue with ‘populism’ as a category to understand the contemporary moment and puts forward the alternative idea of ‘fascistization’ – a process whose initial stages would include the contemporary phenomena which today are habitually referred to as extreme right-wing politics or populism. Populism is considered a term of disorientation. Indeed, the existence of two populisms (right-win and left-wing) cannot but create confusion, while the fact that no real oppositional category to populism can be found suggests that in reality populism is opposed to the status quo, which ultimately makes it a term of the system.

‘Fascism’ is treated as a process, not as a final form, and while contemporary manifestations of the extreme right lack two distinctive traits of classical fascism as regime (a mass movement and storm-troops), however, understanding fascism as a process that follows a logic, evolves through stages and grows in spaces of disorientation should help us to take the measure of our situation.

The second major problem we face is the historically-rooted disinclination to seriously confront fascistization. Today this is chiefly manifested in the tacit consent granted by democratic subjectivities to a crucial aspect of fascistization: ‘criminal politics’, a category used here to encompass all the contemporary state and media politics of scapegoating, dehumanization and persecution of the lower classes (both ‘national’ and ‘immigrant’, many of whom are in addition put in ‘detention centres’) which not by chance take place together with the imposition of austerity as a permanent situation.

The paper thus seeks to bring some orientation to our present and to encourage a more active and politicised stance against current catastrophic politics.

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