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Consultancy as Flexible Power? Post-democracy and the afterlives of neo-liberalism

Consultancy as Flexible Power? Post-democracy and the afterlives of neo-liberalism

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Published by Paul Stubbs

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Published by: Paul Stubbs on Apr 21, 2012
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Consultancy as Flexible Power?

post-democracy and the afterlives of neo-liberalism
Paul Stubbs
Senior Research Fellow The Institute of Economics, Zagreb
pstubbs@eizg.hr Dubrovnik, 20 April 2012

Definitions I
A Consultant is ... “someone whose job is to give advice on a particular subject” Advice is ... “an opinion you give someone about what they should do”

Definitions II
“...experienced professional who provides expert knowledge (often packaged under a catchy name) for a fee. He or she works in an advisory capacity only and is usually not accountable for the outcome of a consulting exercise. Some consultants (like Peter Drucker and W. Edward Deming) have brought dramatic shifts in management thinking and improvements in the performance of organizations.”

Joke Analysis
• "Analyzing a joke is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it." E.B. White • “Humour is not resigned it is rebellious” Sigmund Freud • “Freud argued that what is repressed returns to haunt us ... Jokes, like dreams and slips of the tongue, bear the traces of repressed desires” Michael Billig

Jeffrey D. Sachs

Janine Wedel “Shadow Elite”
“The new breed of players, who operate at the nexus of official and private power, cannot only co-opt public policy agendas, crafting policy with their own purposes in mind. ... Flexians craft overlapping roles for themselves – coincidences of interest – to promote public policies (and sometimes their own private finances as well).”

Shadow Elites
• The Harvard Boys – US Aid to Russia and ‘shock therapy’ • The Chicago Boys – structural adjustment in Latin America and pension reform in Eastern Europe • Goldmann Sachs or ‘Government Sachs’ – new European austerity politics • Neo-cons or the new military-industrialpolitical-consultancy complex

International Consultancy as ‘Flexible’ Power
• Extensive ‘tendering’ for project work of EU, World Bank, OECD/DAC countries, etc. • ICCs and INGOs form an intermediate ‘new marketised sector’ of unknown size and resources • Most EU (social policy) consultancy awarded to single country teams • Quality control of consultancies is limited to cost and delivery • Problems of ‘revolving door’ • Evaluations reinforce idea of ‘success’

‘Extended’ welfare mix
NATIONAL STATE MARKET National Government National Businesses SUPRANATIONAL IGOs, Donors Multi-national Corporations


Service NGOs Grassroots movements and NGOs Domestic household strategies

INGOs and ICCs Trans-national social movements Trans-national household strategies


The Afterlives of Neo-Liberalism
• Org. Change/Reform <-> Transnational Consultancy • New Public Management <-> Neo-liberalism(s) – multiple agencies and sites of governance • Efficient, effective, (in)equitable? • Contracting, Competition and Collaboration • Complex, innovative, contingent, multiple, hyperactive, unfinished Importance of “uncomfortable encounters with ‘local’ politics and cultures ... that are (also) mobile and connective” (Clarke, 2008).

What do consultants do?
• ‘Projects’ – design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation • ‘Strategies’ – action plans, institutional design, new laws, creation of new agencies • ‘Technical assistance’ – capacity building, training • ‘Reforms’ – political, technical, institutional, fiscal

Who are the consultants?
• • • • • • • • International consultancy companies Individual consultants (retired civil servants) Researchers and professors Think tanks, networks, epistemic communities Public bodies operating outside of state borders International NGOs International solidarity bodies ...

Key Questions
• How are international development consultants ‘managed’ and how do they ‘manage’ their activities? • What is the relationship between ‘charismatic’ and ‘competence-based’ claims in transnational consultancy encounters? • How are consultants’ abstract ideas of ‘reform’ or ‘change’ territorialized in specific ‘assemblages in translation’? • How is transnational consultancy enacted as a site of the exercise of agency in emerging and flexible spaces of governance, authority and rule?

Conceptual Framework
• Critical ethnographies of international development – ‘black box’ of project practice • Narrative and dramaturgical perspectives on organizations – expanded theatricality of performance; front-stage and back-stage; actors – scenes – action; scripts and improvisations • Contact zones – liminality, assymetry of power, translation and negotiation; power-charged encounters

• Reflexive Autoethnographic Praxis
• Participant-insider/Self as principal informant – long-term, multi-sited and initially unintentional • ‘Extended case method’: from process description to analysis of forces • Work of translation and re-assemblage • Neither ‘lone hero’ nor ‘lone victim’

Case 1
Bosnia-Herzegovina, 1998, External Programme Evaluator, UNDP, Area-Based Development
• Team of 3 activists linked to Anti-war campaign Croatia • Critique included: 1. UNDP Res Rep introduced Mayor of Sarajevo 2. Project narratives ‘when war came to BiH’ 3. Project signs in villages in English only • Re-written ‘appreciation’ effectively buried by UNDP

Case 2
Albania, 2011, Expert/Consultant, UNDP (Ministry of Economy), Corporate Social Responsibility – Policy Paper and Global Compact • Is anyone really committed to this? • A Policy paper authored ‘in the name of the Govt of Albania’ • A launch event: “What if nobody turns up?” • Unpredictable political ‘buy-in’

Parodoxes of Persuasion and Performativity (PPP)
• Acting in front of multiple, active, audiences, and engaging in front-stage performances and back-stage manoeuverings – to create ‘reputation’ – translation/assemblage NOT transfer • Paradoxes of materiality and of selection (‘body shopping’ and ‘body swapping’) • Impression management in liminal states

Parodoxes of Persuasion and Performativity (PPP) II
• Distinction between ‘local’ and ‘foreign’ central to the organisation of international development but difficult to maintain in the black box of everyday encounters • Reform projects as ‘foreign’ bodies always channelled through mobile, unpredictable processes of translation (routes not roots) • ‘Time’ is contested and complex • Dominance of ‘technical’ over ‘political’ aspects – importance of intermediaries in hybrid environments marked by a blurring of sovereignty

Managing new performativities
• Participatory stakeholder workshops • Use of translators and translation • Actants – flip charts, power point presentations, small group work • Technical English – benchmarks, indicators, stakeholders, … • Outputs – logical frameworks, extensive reports, evidence-based practice, measured judgements

Managing uncertainties and contradictions
• Multi-agency partnerships • ‘International’ and ‘local’ experts – fee rates, roles, knowledge claims, interactions • Charisma and/or bureaucracy - time, authority, place • Translating ‘Contact zones’ into ‘dialogic zones’? • Forms of resistance to consultancy inputs • Voice and power

• • • • • • • Little or no quality control Limited transparency No registration process No standards of behaviour/code of ethics Limited political control Underdeveloped macro-evaluation culture Massive inequalities in remuneration

More work needed ...
• Autoethnography: How different forces are condensed in specific locations NOT how different sites, scales and spaces are articulated • Revisiting the field and reassambling the cases • Studying other cases – role of IMF/EU partnerships at interface of ‘economic’ and ‘social’ • Narrowing the incommensurability gap – consultancy only part of the ‘re-transcribing of practices’ • Or ...


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