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Impossible Governance?

Reviews

This book will surely come to be recognised as a landmark on the long road towards putting a loving, suffering, struggling subject at the centre of social policy. Psychoanalysis meets Foucault in this hugely ambitious account of the state’s melancholic entanglement with social difference. Fail again. Fail Better! - Paul Hoggett, Emeritus Professor of Social Policy, UWE, Bristol.

 

Shona Hunter's book offers a welcome reframing of theories and practices of governing. Rather than repeating the failures of a focus on state and institutions as abstract entities, Hunter draws on feminist psychosocial perspectives to open up a focus on the relational politics of governing. Grounded in case studies of everyday practices and experiences, this book highlights the 'impossibility' of conventional governing and explores possibilities for renewal and reparation. - Janet Newman, Emeritus Professor, Open University.

 

By foregrounding the 'feeling work' that characterises the daily practices of state agencies, their staff and their users, Hunter demonstrates with supreme skill and intellectual adroitness the power of feminist, psychosocial analysis to unlock and make meaningful the social, historical, cultural and psychic forces in and through which our subjectivities and collective belongings are made. - Gail Lewis, Reader in Psychosocial Studies, Birkbeck College, University of London.

 

Power, Politics and the Emotions is committed to paradox and complexity because for Hunter, the fight for racial justice is only possible through fulsome engagement with ambivalent multiplicities, of taking the time to sit with difference and rest with the intractable entanglements these seem to produce. Attempts to bypass these ‘even’ by the knowing self-reflexive subject, will always risk reproducing oppressive tendencies and social orderings. However, ‘surfacing’ the realities of social policy and welfare work that are frequently closed off from intellectual and normative critiques of social policy and welfare are seen by Hunter as crucial for any attempts for a more equal, nourishing and socially just world. This is because they expose the everyday interactions that are a means of organising the lived relations of difference and complexity that are fundamental to state enactments. The book’s conclusion is perhaps more hopeful and visionary than the sustained critique of ambivalence and impossibility might suggest. This is achieved through explanation of the potential of uncertainty, of not knowing in a world desirous of knowing and at speed, and the possibilities for social change that may arise from collective responsibility in state formations that are as yet unrealised.

Rachel Dobson  Lecturer in Criminology, Birkbeck College, University of London​

Why, in spite of many policy initiatives, training programmes and recruitment drives does it remain so hard to achieve race equality within public services? Does the discourse of ‘diversity’ neutralise attempts to address injustices that remain in terms of inequality? And why is it often hard for ‘good people’ to get it right in respect of managing difference in their everyday working lives? These are the kinds of questions that readers of Ethics and Social Welfare might look to this book for help with. This is a complex book and one that can be read in many ways for different purposes. It is not a book about ethics although in its concern with the necessity for renewing rather than abandoning the state it seeks possibilities via the relational politics of governance, ‘not by its institutional structures and processes but from its ongoing everyday ethical life’ (16). … The concluding chapter turns to hope and the importance of developing constructive and reconstructive analyses of the state, rather than simply offering yet another critique of neoliberalism. For Hunter hope occurs in the practice of encountering others and being open to the risk of being changed through relationships with others. Yes, indeed. Perhaps my discomfort is a starting point for a dialogue about how different research approaches can contribute to transformative practices for diversity and equality. It is not an argument for ignoring an important contribution that urges us not to give up on the state.

Marian Barnes