Key Concepts in Governance


Mark Bevir

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    The language of governance is increasingly prominent in discussions of changes in the nature and role of the state. Governance has become a topic of concern to political and non-profit actors; it even has a place among the lending criteria of institutions such as the World Bank. In addition, the language of governance includes new ways of thinking about social coordination and patterns of rule as they appear in civil society, political institutions, and the international arena. Corporate governance, for example, has become a staple ingredient of company reports and the business pages of financial newspapers.

    Despite its prominence, the language of governance remains bewildering. One problem is that the key concepts of governance derive from diverse disciplines – public administration, political science, economics, business, sociology – and these disciplines rely tacitly on different assumptions. This book addresses this problem: it illuminates the key concepts in terms of their respective contexts. Yet the language of governance is also bewildering because it covers both specific narratives about changes in the state and new theories of social coordination in general. This book addresses this problem: it provides an opportunity to step back from particular narratives and contexts in order to consider theoretical and conceptual debates.

    I hope that this book will make it easier for students to learn about new ways of thinking about governance as well as the changing nature of the state. Students should find it a useful companion to broader literatures. I hope they will use it to learn about the concepts that inform governance today, and to reflect on these concepts in ways that will lead them to try to reform and improve governance.

    Readers will realize that no book of this size could possibly cover all the concepts of relevance to governance. I have necessarily selected some concepts for inclusion at the expense of others. The process of selection was a rather incremental one, conducted in the context of discussions with colleagues and students. Yet I was loosely guided in my selections by principles that reflect the general account of governance provided in the introductory essay, ‘What is Governance?’ I have tried to balance theoretical concepts that refer to social coordination and how to study it with empirical ones that refer to the changes in the nature and role of the state. I have also tried to balance concepts that seek to describe the world as it is with concepts that appear within more normative accounts about how we ought to conduct public policy and promote democracy. Part of me would have liked to include more concepts that refer to technical innovations in public policy. However, I was also eager to capture the theoretical breadth that we surely associate with the term ‘governance’ when we remember that it did not originate in debates about public administration and that it remains as prominent in international relations, rational choice theory, comparative politics, and other areas of scholarly and practical concern as it does within public administration. Besides, I remain convinced that students in professional schools of public policy benefit greatly from learning about the broader theoretical issues by which alone we can decide the appropriateness and desirability of any given policy technique. Hence the selected concepts cover not only changing policy instruments but also theoretical debates about patterns of rule and how they are changing.


    It is a pleasure to record my debt to a recent cohort of my students. This book was conceived, written, and tested with them in mind and with their input. Thanks to Bethany Gerdemann, Orion Haas, Minna Howell, Justin Norval, Prashant Reddy, Brittany Sachs, Ana Schwartz, Andre Tutundjian, Tony Zhao, and Lechuan Zhou. I am also grateful to the contributors to Sage's Encyclopedia of Governance. They taught me much about topics on which I otherwise would have known too little. Perhaps I am biased, but I believe the Encyclopedia is the perfect resource for readers who would explore further the key concepts of governance.

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