From the popularity of ‘Nudge’, to the initiatives of the UK government’s Behavioural Insight Team and the RSA’s Social Brain project, the politics of the brain seems to be increasingly central to how we understand the world and to how policy responses are shaped. Following recent developments in psychology and behavioural economics it seems that the gap between the promise of liberalism – with its assumptions of universality and progress - and the realities of constructed and structural differences and inequalities can be understood as a product of faulty or problematic mechanisms of human cognition. Rather than the rational, interest-bearing Homo Economicus of liberal thinking we are increasingly conceived (individually and collectively) as vulnerable and fragile Humans ill-adapted for the complex choice-making necessary in today’s world. Following on from the work of Anthony Giddens it is argued that we live in a globalised late modern world of ‘reflexive modernity’ and ‘manufactured uncertainty’ where individuals increasingly need to be more responsible and reflexive in understanding how the decisions they make construct and shape their lives and communities. It is often argued that real Third Way thinking - beyond Left perspectives of state intervention and Right perspectives of free markets – is that of capacity- and capability-building individuals and communities in order to achieve greater adaptive efficiency and resilience. A similar approach dominates international concerns with development and conflict-prevention in failing and fragile states. This approach of good governance, which regards the state’s role as a facilitator rather than a director – as necessary to construct and shape markets and societies through indirect mechanisms of ‘choice architecture’ – has been engaged with through the language of neoliberalism, new institutionalism and Foucauldian biopolitics. However, one thing seems clear to us, that policy practices seem to be running ahead of theoretical understandings in this area. This day event, bringing departmental members together with outside experts hopes to develop our understanding and to facilitate further research.

Department of Politics and International Relations

The day will be composed of invited keynote speakers and 4 plenary panels:

09.30 – 11.00 - Opening Keynotes

Chair – David Chandler (University of Westminster)

Owain Service (Deputy Director, Behavioural Insights Team, UK Cabinet Office)

Applying behavioural science to public policy

Dr Jonathan Rowson (Head, Social Brain project, Royal Society for the Arts)

Socialising with the Brain: A Reflexive Approach to Autonomy

COFFEE

11.15 – 12.30 - Panel 1: Nudge (convened by Ricardo Blaug)

Advances in neuroscience and cognition are already well established in advertising and are now being increasingly being used in the making of public policy. Democratic citizens are now to be ‘nudged’, beneath their own awareness, into behaviours deemed desirable by states. Such techniques have so far largely escaped critique, and are thus characterised as mild forms of ‘libertarian paternalism’, as relatively harmless importations from consumer marketing and as largely value-free. This panel examines the ideological underpinnings of such ‘choice architectures’, inquiring into the values they in fact advance, their impact on politics and their compatibility with democracy. A central concern is to ask whether our increasing ‘neurological reflexivity’ might lend itself not only to an elitist view of democratic citizens as blind horses, but also for more democratic ends, such as greater public control of representatives, the avoidance of citizen manipulation and the increased effectiveness of public deliberation and decision-making.

Chair – Paulina Tambakaki (University of Westminster)

Jessica Pykett, (Aberystwyth University)

Vulnerable Citizens: Constructing the Feminised Subjects of Soft Paternalism

Ricardo Blaug (University of Westminster)

Nudging in Reverse

Patricia Hogwood (University of Westminster)

Poor but Happy? Subjective Wellbeing and the German ‘Inner Unity’ Project

LUNCH

1.30 – 2.45 - Panel 2: Adaptive Efficiency (convened by Dan Greenwood)

Several recently emerging research trajectories in political science strongly emphasize the presence and significance of complexity as the context for policy-making. The concept of complexity is used to refer to the plurality of criteria that need to be taken into account in decision-making, the web of inter-relationships between various governance actors and institutions and the difficult, inter-related choices and trade-offs they face in developing political strategies and policy. These actors, it is stressed, inevitably have limited knowledge and face significant uncertainty in the face of complexity. In seeking to define and implement governmental strategies and goals, the difficulties if not inevitability of potential unforeseen consequences and the need for a continual process of adaptation and learning are emphasized. Hence, it is argued, there is a need for ‘adaptive’, ‘reflexive’ forms of governance. The aims of this panel are threefold. Firstly, to consider contributions from prior research in political science and public policy to understanding the need for ‘adaptive efficiency’ in the face of complexity and the significant epistemological challenges to which complexity gives rise. Secondly, to consider the significant potential for future research to more closely consider how effective, ‘adaptive’ governance and policy processes can be designed and developed. Thirdly, to consider the inter-relationships between this research agenda and ongoing debates about the need for greater democratic accountability, public engagement and progressive policy change.

Chair – Ricardo Blaug (University of Westminster)

Dan Greenwood (University of Westminster)

Evaluating policy in the face of complexity

Richard Barbrook (University of Westminster)

Electronic Brains: Herbert Simon and Cybernetic Fordism

Professor Christopher Hood (University of Oxford)

Commentary/Contribution

COFFEE

3.00 – 4.15 - Panel 3: Resilience (convened by Liza Griffin)

‘Resilience’ has fast become a key discourse in political and environmental circles and has posed a challenge to previously hegemonic concepts like ‘sustainability’. A once technical term used in relation to ecological systems, resilience is now used to describe the ability of social and political communities to prepare for, respond to, and recover from moments of so-called crisis. Featuring regularly in media, policy and academic debates, the term is not a neutral one. Today it is not only being used by radical activists as a potentially empowering concept but is also deployed by governments as a new (neo-liberal) technique for governing. Citizens and communities across the world are being interpellated by policy initiatives designed to bring about their resilience in the face of perceived security and environmental threats, giving rise to new political subjectivities and political geographies. This panel will chart the rise of this emerging political discourse, explore its articulations and try to consider its potential dangers and opportunities.

Chair – to be confirmed

Chris Zebrowski (University of Keele)

The End of Panic: A Genealogy of the Resilient Subject

Liza Griffin (University of Westminster)

Making Communities Resilient To Crisis: Exploring the Tensions & Dilemmas

Tassilo Herrschel (University of Westminster)

Localising Globalisation – Inclusions and Exclusions in the Battle for Economic Opportunities – and Survival

Roland Dannreuther and Wojciech Ostrowski (University of Westminster)

Resilience and Critical Energy Studies

BREAK

4.30 – 5.45 - Panel 4: Vulnerability (convened by David Chandler)

In an age of ‘manufactured uncertainty’ it is held that through the choices we make we construct our own vulnerabilities to the world we live in. However, we do not make the world through rational conscious collective and individual actions but often unconsciously through unforeseen and unintended effects. We make decisions and choices without full awareness or knowledge but based upon our social rootedness, the forms of embodiment of our subjectivity and past practices and experiences. We are therefore vulnerable subjects rather than knowing and directing and controlling subjects imagined in Enlightenment discourses of Cartesian rationality which sharply pose a distinction between us and our contexts and environments. This panel seeks to explore the rise of and role of vulnerability in understanding the human subject and how this vulnerability is increasingly understood to be linked to our embodiment and the environment.

Chair – Nicholas Michelsen (King’s College, London)

Julian Reid (University of Lapland)

A New Bodily Ontology? Cutting the Political Subject off its Life Support

David Chandler (University of Westminster)

The Autotelic Subject: A Biopolitical Analysis of The ‘Real Third Way’ and the Politics of the Brain

Rob Macmaster (University of Westminster)

The Body: Vulnerability, Resilience and Adaption

5.45 – 6.15 Summing Up

6.15 DRINKS RECEPTION

Abstracts

Jessica Pykett, (Aberystwyth University)

Vulnerable Citizens: Constructing the Feminised Subjects of Soft Paternalism


Ideas of soft paternalism or so-called 'nudgeanomics' have been gaining increasing currency in UK central government policy-making across a range of sectors since at least 2004, when the Cabinet Office published a discussion paper on Personal Responsibility and Changing Behaviour. The mantra of 'behaviour change' is now commonplace, and draws heavily on behavioural and brain-process insights from fields such as behavioural economics, social marketing and the popular neurosciences. This paper develops perspectives from feminist economics, critical psychology and feminist political theory in order to demonstrate how soft paternalism offers a gendered account of human behaviour and is thus used to assert a conversely gender-blind explanation of the legitimate role of the state in governing through behaviour change.

Ricardo Blaug (University of Westminster)

Nudging in Reverse

Drawing on recent advances in the study of human cognition, governments now seek ways to change citizen behaviour, and to do so beneath their awareness. So foolish are the citizenry that they seemingly require subliminal ‘nudging’ in order to preserve their own best interests. This paper asks whether our increasing ‘neurological reflexivity’ might lend itself not only to an elitist view of democratic citizens as blind horses, but also for more avowedly democratic ends. These might include greater public control of wayward political and economic elites, discouraging subliminal corruption by power and improving the effectiveness of public deliberation and decision-making. The paper thus explores ways in which cognisant democratic citizens could nudge policymakers in reverse, thereby making them - beneath their awareness - better democrats.

Patricia Hogwood (University of Westminster)

Poor but Happy? Subjective Wellbeing and the German ‘Inner Unity’ Project

The ‘Inner Unity’ project to promote social and cultural cohesion between West and East Germans is a concerted attempt at behavioural change. Yet twenty years after German unification, it seems to have foundered. Parliamentary enquiries into the former GDR ‘dictatorship’ have fallen prey to ideological triumphalism and attempts at a positive construction of the GDR past are dismissed as mere ‘Ostalgie’ (nostalgia for the East). In spite of government commitments to equalise standards of living across the federation, East Germans remain substantially worse off than West Germans. Likewise, East Germans’ levels of subjective wellbeing remain resolutely lower than those of West Germans. This paper explores the potential of a ‘nudge’ approach, both to identify alternative objectives for the Inner Unity project and to explore means by which they might be achieved. The paper argues that the Inner Unity project should focus on maximising social capital, generated from within communities. This approach has the following benefits: it depoliticises the East-West divide, divorces wellbeing from objective benchmarking, and downplays the role of state welfare in providing wellbeing. Further, such a reorientation has the potential to raise the levels of subjective wellbeing not only of East Germans, but also of the poorer sectors of West German society. 

Dan Greenwood (University of Westminster)

Evaluating policy in the face of complexity

The concept of complexity is a much discussed, fashionable one across the social sciences and increasingly in the study of governance and policy. However, much academic research in politics tends to refrain from evaluating the effectiveness of policy-making in addressing complexity. Here, an approach to addressing this need is proposed, which focuses on the problem for policy-makers of acquiring the various forms of knowledge needed to effectively address complex policy challenges.

Richard Barbrook (University of Westminster)

Electronic Brains: Herbert Simon and Cybernetic Fordism

In the imaginary future envisaged by Herbert Simon, mainframe computers would by the mid-1970s supplant most forms of bureaucratic and technical labour within manufacturing. Even most managers would become surplus to requirements. The corporation and the computer would be one and the same thing and capitalist firms would have become self-reproducing automata. Five decades on, Simon's failed prophecy isn't just of historical interest. In 2011, the Net may have replaced the mainframe as the leitmotif of technological determinism, but Simon’s application of dodgy scientific metaphors to justify authoritarian management techniques still haunts the modern world. As Norbert Wiener argued back in the 1950s, workers need to control the computers in their own interests not those of the bosses.

Chris Zebrowski (University of Keele)

The End of Panic: A Genealogy of the Resilient Subject

By the early 1980’s a burgeoning literature in the field of ‘disaster research’ sought to overturn the widespread assumption of panic that had, until then, dominated popular and expert understandings of collective human behaviour during emergencies (cf. Keating, 1982, Sime, 1983, Quarantelli and Dynes, 1972, Quarantelli, 1977). In stark contrast to competitive, self-interested behaviour assumed to accompany disasters experts documented the resilience of social norms: widespread cooperation; decreased violence and crime; and rational decision-making based on imperfect knowledge within a rapidly unfolding event. This reconsideration of human behaviour within emergencies has been drawn on extensively within contemporary resilience discourses to argue for the reorganization of emergency planning and response from its traditional emphasis on top-down, disciplinary control towards greater emphasis on facilitating and optimizing the self-organizational capacities of populations-in-emergency. Rather than taking this ‘advance’ for granted, this paper looks to situate this shift in the understanding of populations-in-emergency as part of a wider re-conceptualization of species-life associated with the rise of neo-liberal practices and governmentalities. Taking a genealogical approach this paper looks to trace the impact of the complexity sciences in forging this new understanding of species-life within the co-constitutive fields of economics and ecology and trace its migration into the field of emergency preparedness and response.

(KEATING, J. P. 1982. The myth of panic. Fire Journal, 147, 56-61; QUARANTELLI, E. L. 1977. Panic Behavior: Some Empirical Observations. In: CONWAY, D. J. (ed.) Human Response to Tall Buildings. Stoudsburg: Dowden Hutchinson & Ross; QUARANTELLI, E. L. & DYNES, R. R. 1972. When disaster strikes (it isn't much like what you've heard and read about). Psychology Today, 5, 66-70; SIME, J. D. 1983. Affiliative Behaviour During Escape to Building Exits. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 3, 21-41)

Liza Griffin (University of Westminster)

Making Communities Resilient To Crisis: Exploring the Tensions & Dilemmas

Resilience has been around for decades as a concept for describing the ability of ecological systems to withstand and absorb change. But it has recently taken on a special significance in UK policy circles as a governing tool for managing risk and encouraging communities to prepare for environmental disasters and security threats. Local communities in Britain are now being asked to be ‘resilient’ to natural and human induced hazards. This paper explores its particular incarnation in the UK, articulating the political values attached to the current resilience policy discourse, and outlines three nascent tensions and dilemmas involved in its deployment around time, space and power.

Tassilo Herrschel (University of Westminster)

Localising Globalisation – Inclusions and Exclusions in the Battle for Economic Opportunities – and Survival

The quest for ever greater competitiveness in a globalised economy has put growing pressure on territories across spatial scales to appeal to capital – or lose out. Increasingly, cities and metropolitan areas have entered the limelight – often pushed by central governments as ‘champions’ or ‘beacons’ of propagated national economic prowess. This leads to a growing shift towards relational, rather than administratively defined territories, with actor networks – running between localities, and between institutions and personalities, the underlying organising mechanism. The result is divisions between those who are included and those who are not. Such relational dynamics, whether intentionally or not, produce divisions between inclusions and exclusions, as defined by the belonging to actor networks. But such conditions may change, as networks are more variable and unpredictable than static territories. It is also here that response strategies need to engage in their attempt at ‘fighting back’ when found marginalised and excluded policies. And different strategies may be required for varying degrees of marginalisation. But what is the scope for such resilience? What does it say about democratic representation and the freedom to make choices about future development scenarios about quality of life?

Roland Dannreuther and Wojciech Ostrowski (University of Westminster)

Resilience and Critical Energy Studies

Energy security is ultimately about building resilience into our local, national and global energy systems to ensure that supplies of energy required for society are provided reliably and at reasonable cost. The question of who are the main beneficiaries of these ‘resilient systems’, and who represent the main threats to them, remain generally unproblematised. The study of energy security had its first renaissance in the mid-1970s with the oil crises of that period and when most studies concentrated on analysing either the geopolitical struggle for scarce resources among the Great Powers or the corrupt and unstable nature of the energy producing states which were seen to threaten the steady supply of oil and gas to Western markets. Recent studies on the field of energy, which since the beginning of the 2000s have enjoyed a second resurgence, largely fall into this well-established realist/geopolitical or liberal/technocratic camps. As such, energy security is viewed almost exclusively in terms of the interests of the West with the main threats to the resilience of the global energy system perceived to be coming almost exclusively from the illiberal and dysfunctional oil-producing states in the South. There has, though, been an emerging wave of critical energy security studies which challenges, in various ways, existing ways of thinking. For example, the human security approach focuses attention away from the West to the 2 billion people – one quarter of the world’s population – who have no access to cheap reliable energy, such as electricity. Other stands of critical thinking call for reconceptualising (remapping?) of the notion of energy security through the study of the non-state actors - in particular large energy companies – and their actions at the local, national and international levels. Those studies argue that our limited resilience to the current neo-liberal order is underpinned by our lack of knowledge of the key players who constitute a current matrix of global energy security. More critical research has also focused on ways in which oil and gas have hampered the development of democratic spaces in the West and elsewhere in the world since the 1950s.

Julian Reid (University of Lapland)

A New Bodily Ontology? Cutting the Political Subject off its Life Support

What is it to be human today? Over the course of its modernity the western philosophical imagination has undergone a transformational shift as to how it answers this question. From its foundational investment in an understanding of the human as that divinely endowed animal which, with the exercise of its unique capacity for reason, could one day achieve sovereignty over nature, to the contemporary diagnosis of the sickness of reason, the ‘illusion’ of sovereignty, and the vulnerability of the human to the catastrophic capacities of the planet on which it lives, the philosophical imaginary of western modernity has changed dramatically. This transformation has come about in various different ways and is argued to be necessary for various different reasons, many of which are deeply political, historical, scientific as well as environmental. However when we look at the theoretical tropes through which the death of the belief in the potentiality for sovereignty has come about there can be little doubt that one of the most powerful sources of its facilitation has been the biophilosophical movement in France, which in the postwar era, has sought to tear ‘the subject from the terrain of the cogito and consciousness’, and ‘root it in life’ (Agamben 1999: 221). Of all the thinkers that have contributed to this movement and transformation, none have been as influential as Michel Foucault. Fundamental to the traditions of thought that have taken inspiration from his works is the claim that any theory of subjectivity today has to be able to take into account the embodied nature of subjectivity, and more to the point, the living of the life which embodiment entails. The human subject is a subject that lives, indeed which must live in order to be, and which in living, is a thing that can and must die, and which therefore cannot aspire to the kinds of sovereignty promised to it by the false prophets of western metaphysics. Sovereignty, once considered in light of the radical dependence and finitude of the human subject, must be dismissed as dangerous fantasy. It is now widely assumed.

David Chandler (University of Westminster)

The Autotelic Subject: A Biopolitical Analysis of The ‘Real Third Way’ and the Politics of the Brain

In the age of liberal modernity, citizens were interpellated as rational interest-bearing subjects enabling the liberal conceptual binaries which were the staple framework for political and economic theorising: the binaries of the public and the private; the citizen and the non-citizen; the formal sphere of law and politics and the informal sphere of economic and social activity. Today, it seems that the liberal subject is no longer interpellated in these terms and that the binaries of liberal political and economic theorising are losing their purchase on how we understand the forms of governing and problem-solving necessary in our more complex, globalised or ‘post-political world’. This paper seeks to genealogically trace the reworking of the human subject at stake in this shift away from the Enlightenment subject, highlighting how the limits to liberalism have been recast from external limits of socio-economic progress, to the internal limits of the human brain. In doing so, it focuses on the revival of interest in the work of Anthony Giddens in articulating a Third Way approach of empowering or producing the ‘autotelic’ subject – the rational and responsible citizen - which has been allegedly given powerful support from newly generated knowledge of the human brain and human behaviour.

Rob Macmaster (University of Westminster)

The Body: Vulnerability, Resilience and Adaption

Maurice Merleau-Ponty argues that the body is in the world and in being in the world is vulnerable to disease and injury. An outcome of the cognitive turn has been a resurgence of interest in Merleau-Ponty’s work on the body by neuroscientists and analytical philosophers of mind. They understand Merleau-Ponty as producing a detailed and sophisticated investigation of the embodied mind. I will argue that this interpretation however fails to account for the primacy of the body to cognition. Furthermore, I will argue that the term embodiment suggests a ghost in the machine. As though there was something operating within and controlling the body that is not a capacity of the body. I will argue that by understanding the body in terms of its corporeal capacities and subjectivity as an emergent property of these capacities we are better able to appreciate the role of vulnerability and resilience in our everyday lives. As the body is in the world it is vulnerable to disease and injury and is affected by pollution and environmental changes. However, although the body is vulnerable it is not docile but is actively involved in adapting to and stylising its world prior to conscious reflection.