Ball, S.J. (2008) ‘New Philanthropy, New Networks and New Governance in Education’, Political Studies 2008 Vol.56, 747-765
Ball’s study is situated within the context of political science examining a shift from government to governance. By this, he means a shift from a centralised bureaucratic hierarchical model of power and control to a model based on the intersection of multiple actors within decentralised networks of power. His aim is to conduct a small-scale study of this shift within the context of education policy. He does this partly through primary research involving interviews with senior policy makers, and partly through secondary research into previous studies. His argument is that new networks are emerging within this context necessitating close study of their structure and effects. Against previous studies such as Agranoff (2003), however, Ball argues that while there has been a shift in emphasis in state policy, this does not necessarily mean that there has been a radical break with the impact and power of the state in previous models.
The ‘new networks’ that Ball’s analysis are based on draw on an ‘anglo-Governance’ model that he attributes to the work of Rhodes (1995). They are based on the assumption that the state now depends on a varied range of non-state agencies and interactions. Networks can be defined in the following ways:
- They are formulated through the movement of a variety of actors (as anyone involved in the networks) engaged in processes of community-formation and exchange.
- They are a method as well as a way of describing systems.
- They are based on interweaving and inter-relating rather than hierarchical ‘top-down’ models.
- Drawing on Newman (2001), the fluidity of networks can be emphasised. They are diverse and flexible.
- Networks are self-organising, but only to a certain extent.
- They provide a type of informal authority.
- They allow the involvement of all sectors (public, private and voluntary) in systems of power.
- While a vital part of a shift to new understandings of the state as ‘polycentric’, networks still don’t tell us everything we need to know. They don’t completely displace old methods and erase state power, but rather show a change in the nature of state power.
Education Policy Study
Drawing on these definitions of new networks, Ball focuses on examples of new communities formed within the context of educational policy. He conducts interviews with figures in the industry, as well as drawing on secondary research. His study shows that:
- Within educational policy, there are new forms of experimental and strategic governance based on networked relations, which must be taken into account.
- New forms of policy community are emerging to challenge traditional public/private divides. The study reveals, for example, the importance of the public sector to the private.
- People move across and within these communities, working through contacts with each other. Within these networks, people can have multiple roles as, for example, ‘transactors’ or ‘crossover’ actors.
- New policy communities draw on the energies of entrepreneurs and philanthropists, and are rooted in sense of ‘corporate responsibility’.
- On one hand, this allows for new forms of policy influence and enactment, while disabling traditional policy makers in some ways.
- On the other hand, though, networks ‘structure and constrain’ as well as enable circulation.
Ball’s discussion focuses on how his findings can expand those from Agranoff’s (2003) study. One one hand, his study suggests there are some overlaps between his study and Agranoff’s categorisations. ‘Action frameworks’, for example, provides a useful category for understanding how policy can be implemented in innovative ways. On the other hand, however, Ball’s study suggests new functions for networks that are not accounted for Agranoff’s study. These functions include:
- The selective and exclusionary nature of networks within this field, the exclusion of Trade Unions from networks for example.
- The relation of shifts in spatial territory to increased opacity of information.
- That these networks are defined at least partly by commercial interests
- The discursive and political function of the networks, in, for example, validating what ‘good education’ is.
- The existence of a different type of regulation rather than an absence of regulation.
Ball’s study uses real examples to illustrate the importance of new networks and the blurring of the public/private divide within educational policy. He challenges the binary between competitiveness and responsibility – one can be responsible while also gaining competitive advantage. His study goes some way toward showing how new networks are operating as new forms of governance. Rather than understanding this as a ‘hollowing out’ of the state, emptying it of power, he proposes that it is more of a ‘filling out’, allowing its power to flow differently.
Personal response and questions raised by the text
- The text raises a number of methodological issues. Through their very nature of being unstable and mutable, it is difficult to measure and quantify networks. Attempting to empirically establish their boundaries leads to difficulties of measurement, as well as the necessity of considering one’s own implication in the networks. So, how can one measure networks? And how can one account for one’s own position within them?
- Ball points a lot to the limitations in scope of his study, but it must also be necessary to delimit which areas of the network will be focused upon. Upon studying the network, what other networks (social, affective, theoretical) are at stake?
- Ball’s more critical approach than Agranoff is useful, suggesting that it is not simply a case of categorising functions of the network, but critically examining their impact and relation to structures of power. How could this be expanded in a larger study?
- On the other hand, while being critical of the maintenance of state power in networks, it could be argued that Ball misses more potentially positive effects they have, and changes that have occurred. How could these issues be addressed?
- Ball focuses on ‘actors’ in terms of human agency, but returning to Latour’s formulations of actor-network theory (ANT), he could expand this in order to consider the role of the actor in a larger context. What other processes could be ‘actors’ within the network?
- It would also be possible to return to Latour’s own critiques of ANT. He discusses (1999), for example, how while the network was originally premised on processes of transformation, it came to mean the opposite of this – a way of accessing information without transformation. Latour rejects the definitions of actor and network and introduces other terms such as ‘framing’ and ‘summing up’. How could these be used in the analysis?
Agranoff, R. (2003) ‘A New Look at the Value-Adding Functions of Intergovernmental Networks’, 7th National Public Management Research Conference, Georegtown University
Latour, B. (1999) ‘On Recalling ANT’, in J.Law & J.Hassard (Eds.) Actor Network Theory and After. Oxford: Blackwell, pp.15-25.
Newman, J. (2001) Modernising Governance: New Labour, Policy and Society. London: Sage.
Rhodes, R.A.W. (1995) Understanding Governance: Policy Networks, Governance, Reflexivity and Accountability. Buckingham: Open University Press.