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CCIG Lecture series: John Clarke on 'Governing the Social in an age of Austerity'

Tuesday, 21 May 2013, 18:00 - 20:00

The Open University in London, 1-11 Hawley Crescent, Camden Town, London, NW1 8NP

This keynote is part of the CCIG Lecture series on 'Being on the line: citizenship, identities and governance in times of crises'.

We are living on the line. Ours is a time of intensified disruption of the familiar. Rights depletions, loss of public and community life, identity crises, pervasive insecurities, and lack of imaginative governance seem to rule the day. Yet, living on the line is also living in sites of contestation and reinvention where new possibilities for citizenship, identities and governance are competed over and mediated. The now is never just new but neither can it be reduced to old frameworks, to instituted traditional conceptions.

In this lecture series, leading CCIG researchers put social sciences on the line. We examine its limits, rework old concepts and develop new ideas and methods to draw out possibilities for critique, social justice and positive social change in times of crises. The lecture series brings research at the cutting edge of the social sciences to bear on contemporary predicaments and in particular on our understanding of how transformative processes work by challenging divisions, intolerance and discriminations.

Governing the Social in an age of Austerity

This opening lecture given by Prof John Clarke who will explore contemporary politics and policies of governing the social in the age of ‘austerity’, beginning from an examination of what Clarke and Newman have called the ‘Alchemy of Austerity’.* The rhetorical space created by ‘Austerity’ has been occupied by innovative – and contradictory – strategies aimed at transforming the field of the social and its relationship to other domains (most obviously, the economic).

At the core of this analysis is a view of the social as a field of contention, subject to conflicting demands and desires, open to divergent mappings of people and places, and always traversed by projects that seek to transform, improve or restore social orders.

The lecture will argue that Foucauldian concerns with governmentalities need to engage with this more contentious understanding of both the social and the strategies aimed at governing it.

A focus on ‘governing the social’ then offers a productive way of thinking about the projects, processes and practices through which people are managed, directed, improved, controlled and contained. It also demands attention to the ways in which such strategies are contradictory, prone to failure, and are themselves contested.


Wendy Larner, University of Bristol

Sarah Neal, University of Surrey

* John Clarke and Janet Newman (2012) ‘The Alchemy of Austerity’ Critical Social Policy, 32: 299-319.