Taking responsibilities and participation seriously : A Critique of ‘Good Governance’


D. Parthasarathy

Department of Humanities and Social Sciences

Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, India

Email: dp@hss.itib.ac.in


First draft of an article published in Christoph Eberhard, Droit, gouvernance et développement durable, numéro spécial des Cahiers d’Anthropologie du Droit, Paris, Karthala, 2005, 376 p (307-321)




This paper provides a critique of the theoretical and policy models of ‘good governance’, and the implications of governance reforms for poverty, equity, and human rights through an analysis of changes in selected governance systems and institutions in the developing world, as well as through a critique of discourses on governance. The major argument is that a focus on political, administrative, and economic reforms, ignores social structures and divisions with crucial implications for poverty and equity dimensions of development programmes and policies. Specifically, hierarchical dimensions of the social structure, and discriminatory and exclusionary tendencies inhering within traditional structures, and unwittingly engendered in ‘modern’ institutional practices, are seen to result in forms of governance that lead to unsustainable, and iniquitous forms of development. More importantly, governance reforms and changes with a narrow focus on development promote legal and administrative changes that are biased towards certain sections of society, or that directly and indirectly deny basic human rights to citizens. In part the failures and limitations of ‘governance for development’ reforms are rooted in an imperfect understanding of civil society, and the failure to consider the different levels of capabilities of diverse social groups to actively participate and contribute to processes of social regulation, development and change. The existence and functioning of well-managed community based governance systems are rarely acknowledged.


Most ‘good governance’ definitions and approaches focus on the exercise of political, economic and administrative authority to effectively manage a society's affairs. As such these approaches seek to advance the rule of law, promote accountability and transparency, and enhance consensus with references to social and economic priorities, and the means of achieving development objectives. The philosophy of good governance also encompasses civil society and its groups and organizations and the ways in which these are structured. However what is often neglected in dominant discussions and frameworks is that good governance approaches to development also need to focus on processes, mechanisms, and institutions through which societies collectively make decisions and implement them, and the ways in which individuals, groups and communities articulate their interests, and exercise their rights.


An important argument of this paper is that institutions and mechanisms of governance, from being methods of social regulation and control have become tools for profit making and economic (commercial) efficiency; from securing the social relations and conditions of production (in the Althuserian sense), i.e. from being ideological state apparatus, laws and formal rules and regulations (including those embodied in institutional structures and practices) have turned into instruments of capitalist production, into means or factors of production, as a direct aid to production. Such tendencies have been there earlier as well - for e.g. the introduction of patent laws in the 17th and 18th century in Europe - but the commodification of laws and ethics is a much larger trend now. The term commodification is being used also to refer to the fact that laws and ethics have emerged as objects of exchange and trade, they are products that are manufactured and sold by skilled workers. Laws, ethical norms, and social institutions are judged on the basis of their potential to generate profits. Like all commodities, good governance and its baggage of mechanisms, rules and institutions are 'fetishized', and in the Marxian sense appear to have intrinsic value while actually concealing the power relationships involved in their production and distribution. Thus even while the thrust towards good governance takes place to advance the goals of globalization and economic liberalization, ‘good samaritans’ who may or may not agree with the procedures and objectives of global economic integration, defend a universal model of good governance based on specific ways of approaching issues of democracy, freedom, development, and human rights. These have been referred to as the members of the Blessings of Civilization Trust[1], who uncritically and in ways typical of orientalism, attempt to push models of good governance in many of the developing countries. In this paper therefore we attempt to critique some of these perspectives as well, so that a critique of current good governance models from a ‘cultural imperialism’ point of view goes beyond an economistic and ideological critique.


Economic Liberalization and “Good Governance”


The Blessings-of-Civilization Trust, wisely and cautiously administered, is a Daisy. There is more money in it, more territory, more sovereignty, and other kinds of emolument, than there is in any other game that is played.

Mark Twain, 1901



Entities such as the UNDP, multilateral financial institutions including the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, aid agencies such as USAID (United States Agency for International Development) and DFID (Department for International Development of the Government of United Kingdom), and neo-liberal, neo-classical academics have over the last decade or so stressed the virtues of governance reforms in developing countries for economic growth ad poverty reduction, as well as importance of such reforms for the success of economic liberalization and structural adjustment programs. Partly the focus on ‘good governance’ emerged from strong criticism of these bodies for supporting or neglecting to oppose authoritarian governments in their implementation of economic reforms packages. In addition, in identifying the causes of economic reform failing to reduce poverty in any significant manner, social scientists - independently and working for these institutions - came up with the theory that poor governance, by leading to leakages and ‘state capture’ was a major factor in the failure of structural adjustment programmes.


The World Bank has played a leading role in the development of good governance models and imposing them on developing countries through ‘political conditionalities’[2]. Other multilateral lending agencies and development institutions such as ADB (Asian Development Bank) and DFID have adopted these models wholesale as reflected in their definitions and approaches towards good governance. The approach of UNDP and UNESCO are somewhat different in that it is more politically correct, giving importance to participation, human rights etc, and has comparative less emphasis on the merits of privatization, but on the whole adopting a similar structural approach to good governance in terms of identifying its components and the actors who will implement ‘good governance’.


DFID is providing nearly £ 6 million over a period of 3 years to support the Centre for Good Governance recently set up in India, and for the wider governance reform programme in India[3]. The assistance is for a number of ‘strategic’ areas including improving policy making and performance management and to support a range of measures to increase ‘accountability’, ‘responsiveness’ and ‘transparency’ in government.


The Asian Development Bank focuses almost entirely on the exercise of authority in equating good governance with good government. Moreover it is also very explicit in identifying the role of good governance in development by defining governance “as the manner in which power is exercised in the management of a country’s social and economic resources for development”[4]. However by not focusing on sources of legitimacy, it leaves the scope open for authoritarian, but efficient’ ways of governance for development, by for instance, stating that, “governance means the way those with power use that power”[5]. The decentralized mechanisms of the exercise of power especially through traditional as well modern institutions that evolved through peoples efforts, is thus entirely outside the ken of the ADB. In its actual work, the ADB is more involved with what it calls economic governance or “sound development management”.


The World Bank, for long a proponent of the minimalist state now seeks to promote effective states, a concept that finds support even from economists like Amartya Sen who are not completely pro-market and perceive a role for the state in developing countries. The Bank identifies five fundamental tasks of a government: a) establishing law and order and securing private property rights, b) maintaining macro-economic stability while not interfering with private markets, c) investing in basic services and infrastructure, d) maintaining social safety nets, and e) and safeguarding the environment (World Bank, World Development Report: The State in a Changing World, 1997). In essence, the Bank is focusing entirely on the functioning of the state in its approach towards good governance, and its role in enabling the private sector to flourish.


In the Human Development Report of 2002, which focuses on the role of governance on development, the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has been quoted as saying that “good governance is perhaps the single most important factor in eradicating poverty and promoting development.” The UNDP defines governance as “the exercise of political, economic and administrative authority in the management of a country’s affairs at all levels” (UNDP Human Development Report, 2002). However as mentioned earlier, the UNDP recognizes the multifaceted nature of governance by stating that “governance comprises the complex mechanisms, processes and institutions through which citizens and groups articulate their interests, mediate their differences and exercise their legal rights and obligations”. Very specifically, it takes into account the role of the private sector and civil society in the governance process, something that is done by other institutions in a limited, mechanistic way; the UNDP goes further than most in defining and accepting a role for civil society, but fails ultimately as we shall show, through its limited definition of civil society itself, by leaving out vast sectors and communities which are not represented through formal, recognized, or accepted civil society bodies. A key manner in which the UNDP’s approach differs from that of multilateral funding institutions is that it focuses on expansion of choice, rather than focus only on market mechanisms for bringing about development.


The UNESCO firmly identifies the source of good governance approaches in the structural adjustment programmes promoted by the World Bank, and mentions an “ideological risk” in debates about “who governs, how and on behalf of whom”[6]. Perhaps because the UNESCO is more of an academic body, and less of a development institution, it is able to provide a critique of the discourse on good governance, by delineating its ideological roots, by linking it very clearly to market reforms, and by identifying the discourse itself as a “new strategic top-down and hegemonic speech”.


Reflecting a shift in neo-liberal economic discourse, many of the good governance approaches stress on the importance of institutions, institutional reform and institutional development for economic growth and development. While the new institutional economics and the work of economists like Douglass North have had an important bearing on this, it is significant to note that even neoliberals like Milton Friedman now are of the opinion that “countries that come at it (globalization) with the right institutions and governance can get the best out of it and cushion the worst”[7]. In a strategy paper on governance, the World Bank expands the notion of institutional development beyond the public sector to all sectors of the economy. With respect to the public sector the economic functions are identified as - policymaking, service delivery, and oversight and accountability. Almost all Bank loans now have institution-building components. Many loans focus on reforming what are called core institutions in the public sector - civil service, public expenditure and financial management institutions, revenue collection systems, and legal and judicial institutions. Thus in spite of its claim to expand institutional reform beyond the public sector, the focus seems to be primarily on public or governmental institutions. The World Bank is also building a data bank on institutional indicators[8].


The UNDP aims to provide assistance and ‘build core competencies’ in areas relating to governing institutions such as legislatures, judiciaries and electoral bodies, public and private sector management, decentralization and support to local governance, and civil society organizations. It takes a formal institutional view of governance stressing the importance of “efficient institutions and rules that promote development by making markets work and ensuring that public services live up to their name”. However again, it is quite different from the World Bank approach in that the UNDP also emphasizes protection of human rights, and “promoting wider participation in the institutions and rules that affect people’s lives.” For this it seeks to achieve not just efficient or equitable outcomes but also concerns itself with ‘fair processes’. This leads to raising questions regarding “what makes institutions and rules more effective”. The answers include transparency, participation, responsiveness, accountability and the rule of law.


To these key components of governance DFID adds predictability. DFID and others usually define participation in a state centric manner as the ability to “operate political systems which provide opportunities for all people, including disadvantaged, to organize and influence state policy and practice”. From this to emphasizing the building of state capability and therefore making the state more powerful is but one short step. Indeed the term governance and its institutions is restricted to the state by DFID in defining it as “how the institutions, rules and systems of the state – the executive, legislature, judiciary and military – operate at central and local level and how the state relates to individual citizens, civil society and the private sector”[9].


The ADB, following the World Band definition of governance pursues an approach that “encompasses the functioning and capability of the public sector, as well as the rules and institutions that create the framework for the conduct of both public and private business, including accountability for economic and financial performance, and regulatory frameworks relating to companies, corporations, and partnerships”. As is clearly evident the institutional approach is entirely geared to enhancing private sector performance through public sector institutional reform.


In the next section, it is proposed to elaborate upon these approaches and develop a critique with special reference to the developing country context. In addition, a critical assessment is made of the fairly limited viewpoints of those scholars who are sympathetic to the situation of developing countries, but fail to consider unique social and cultural features, owing to a focus on certain ‘universal’ cultural attributes such as freedom and choice. Illustrations of the way in which governance models are being implemented and celebrated are also adduced to explain the main arguments of the paper on the ‘cultural imperialist’ or ‘orientalist’ nature of the good governance ideals that are currently being propagated.



“Good governance” and the challenges of participation


Large questions are no longer political, religious or ideological. They are ethical but in a healthy capitalist sense of ethics.

(Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Hope, 1998)


An early and influential definition of governance by the World Bank’s was provided in its 1992 report Governance and Development, where it was defined as “the manner in which power is exercised in the management of a country’s economic and social resources.” A later report (The 1994 report Governance: The World Bank’s Experience) elaborated on it - “Good Governance is epitomized by predictable, open, and enlightened policymaking (that is, transparent processes); a bureaucracy imbued with a professional ethos; an executive arm of government accountable for its actions; and a strong civil society participating in public affairs; and all behaving under the rule of law.”


Nirja Gopal Jayal, in commenting on such approaches to governance remarks that ‘good governance’ for the World Bank is essentially a technical instrument. Its focus on sound development management as the objective of good governance, even while including components such as transparency and participation, is essentially a reductionist view of the role of the state. This is best exemplified in the technique it adopts to support good governance, for example, through political conditionalities for sanction of loans. The commodification of governance is facilitated by measuring the proportion of lending operations with governance content, by actually fixing a monetary value to good governance rather than assessing its quality or outcome.


Vandana Desai (Desai, 1998) argues similarly when she states that governance reforms are essentially to do with managerialisation of government. The new managerialism is essentially involved with sound development management as mentioned before, and thus focuses primarily on economic aspects. UNESCO describing the greater emphasis on civil society in modern times states that this can be “described as a shift from "supply-side" to "demand-side" development strategies”. The focus on participation is similarly considered in instrumental terms rather than addressing its intrinsic value.


The need to promote accountability and transparency then arises from an inability on the part of foreign capital to compete, and function efficiently, where local capital is able to do so due to a better understanding of rules of the game, and their membership of networks which include political and bureaucratic elites. As mentioned in the introductory section, this has been one reason for re-linking administrative and state bodies with civil society and market institutions. From a Weberian perspective, these emerging linkages have been criticized on the basis of an argument that the blurring of boundaries between state and civil society reduce the “scope of democratic accountability”, making it “difficult to pin down responsibility in the case of shared decision making” (Joseph 2001)[10]. Such an argument is distinctly orientalist in that it assumes the efficiency of and valorizes the separation of state from civil society[11], while at the same time totally missing out on the history of community structures which have successfully fused the different functions while not sacrificing accountability. Why procedures cannot be devised to pin down responsibility in the case of shared decision-making is difficult to understand. There is a failure in such arguments to perceive the dynamics of the exercise of power, and the ways in which it is regulated and constrained in groups, communities and social structures where economic, social and political functions are fused in common customary practices and traditional institutions. Such arguments are also reflected in critiques of good governance models which emphasize the failure to make a separation between the public and the private in such models. While the advantages of their separation are quite debatable, and are contingent upon an active civil society as well as low levels of inequality and stratification, such perspectives miss out on the changing nature of the public sphere, which even as it articulates the state and civil society in new ways, it also distinguishes the public from the private. The nuances of the changes that are taking place are well captured in a UNESCO document (UNESCO, n.d). New kinds of integrative strategies, collective action, social capital development, and joint management strategies are emerging in developing countries, which despite their limitations and distortion by being part of top-down development packages, have inherent possibilities that are not being tapped owing to a focus on the state as the primary agent of development, and the strict separation of public and private for reasons of accountability. It is ironic that liberal scholars critical of social engineering approaches have little qualms supporting externally imposed governance structures. Just as multilateral aid agencies and financial institutions commodify norms, institutions and legal regimes which have emerged under historically specific conditions, so also liberal, neo-liberal, and radical scholars fetishize certain values including accountability, transparency, private-public separation, etc by universalizing associated, historically contingent norms, practices, and institutions.


It must be remembered that accountability as a value originated under specific historical conditions and is central to the bourgeois ethic of work efficiency, goal attainment and profit making. While the need for accountability is by no means absent in non-bourgeois forms of economy and society, the degree of accountability needed and its guaranteeing mechanisms may be quite different. Mechanisms for instance may be integrated into religious, community, or cultural beliefs, practices and rituals, rather than be located in formal institutional structures set for this specific purpose.


The theme of participation, on the surface, seems to be a welcome change in the approach of multilateral finance and development agencies. However as Jensen (Jensen, 2000) has noted, themes of “good governance”; “institution building”; “empowerment”; “participation”; “gender”; etc. “are currently fashionable Western concerns to promote desirable social and political change”, and are “clearly linked to … particular Western epistemologies.” While definitions of participation outline stakeholder influence and control over “development initiatives, decisions and resources that affect them”, Jensen observes that in reality agendas of development programmes continue to be set in a non-participatory manner. ‘Beneficiaries’ of programmes “function merely as legitimisers of the project already planned by powerful outsiders”[12].


The idea of participation is also critiqued in that it is usually employed in the notion of “making people participate; help them be empowered; raise their consciousness, implicitly assuming that they themselves don’t have any power to act and need outsiders help to reach these goals”[13]. An important aspect that is left out of notions of participation is cultural institutions and practices, as agencies stress upon only NGOs in the process of participation.


Recent literature has also brought out the ‘tyranny of participation’. Ute Bühler (Buhler, 2002) and Uma Kothari (Kothari, 2001) for instance mention the “depoliticisation of participation that accompanies the valorization of the personal, the local, and the community at the expense of an analysis of and challenge to the power structures that suffuse both the local and the wider context in which it is embedded”. In the Indian context, participatory development initiatives have completely bypassed elected local government bodies, which have recently been made more inclusive by making provision for reservation of a substantial proportion of local government bodies for women, lower caste, and tribal people[14]. An emphasis on formal procedures and techniques in good governance models has led to a consequent neglect of the unseen and invisible aspects of participation and social exclusion deriving from social structure and the distribution of power, status and assets. Depoliticization of course, is a larger effect of good governance models with a major stress on formal institutions. Despite democracy, as development initiatives are increasingly routed through a development bureaucracy and non-accountable NGOS, citizens are able to less and less put pressure on elected leaders and bodies on development issues, and hold them responsible.


Shalini Randeria (Randeria, 2001) for instance, points out that the entry of project law, legal changes that are enforced as part of structural adjustment / economic liberalization programmes, and membership of WTO and other international treaties and conventions, have created a situation wherein even governments plead inability to implement their own laws owing to their having signed various agreements, contracts and treaties. Thus the experience of citizens in developing and economically developed countries like has been curbs on economic freedom arising from accession to international agreements and conventions, and policies implemented as part of liberalization, decisions regarding which are rarely taken in a participatory manner. Participation in developing or implementing local level programmes then has little real significance for people cocnerned.


More and more citizens’ political action is barred as an option, or is dealt with in a violent manner by the state, which only recognizes action that is channeled through formal institutions. For many groups such action is outside the realm of possibility owing to ignorance of rules, lack of power, etc. Laws and institutional rules are framed in such a way that for many groups there is little hope of securing justice through institutional means, as is attested by the experiences of groups struggling against development related displacement. An emerging model of good governance in India has been the state of Madhya Pradesh, where the government’s programme on people displaced by the construction of large dam project has been anything but transparent and efficient, and movements for justice have been put down with force. In the state of Andhra Pradesh in India, another ‘model’ of good governance, extra judicial deaths of those opposing state policies are routine, and protests against major power sector reforms were put down violently by the state, even as an entire range of participatory development initiatives are being implemented outside the jurisdiction and authority of elected local government bodies[15]. The Chief Minister of the state in fact views politics as an impediment to development. Paralleling the destruction of powers of local democratic bodies, a centralization of governance has occurred which has not been much criticized because it is a model of good governance! Thus despite the rhetoric regarding participation and human rights, in fact rights issues have rarely been a part of actual good governance, and funding institutions have rarely imposed human rights conditionalities or criticized models which fail on this count, but which otherwise implement all other procedures of good governance.


Work done at the IDPM in Manchester (Cooke and Kothari, 2001) also shows how participatory development often ignores the political and cultural context in which it take place, primarily because participatory processes are viewed and treated as technical or management solutions to what are actually political or political economy issues and problems.


Like participation, the term civil society, apart from becoming a buzzword in development, has acquired a formalistic character and is defined in a very limited manner in good governance models. The UNDP approach for instance, like most other models gives distinct and separate roles for the state, market and civil society. “The state creates a conducive political and legal environment. The private sector generates jobs and income. And civil society facilitates political and social interaction - mobilizing groups to participate in economic, social and political activities”. While the need to promote interaction between the three is acknowledged, the overlapping of different functions and the performance of different functions by civil society organizations, or communities themselves through customs and practices is ignored. These have crucial implications for the well being of individuals and groups, since in many cases access to certain functions, facilities or services may be easier and better if they come through informal bodies which are embedded in community structures rather than through formal, specialized, distinct state or private sector entities. That communities may have authority structures of their own is not even considered. Only economic, political and administrative authority is given formal recognition. Even if community structures may be authoritarian and non-egalitarian, the possibility of their reform or their integration into formal political and administrative is not contemplated.


The functions of the state likewise are conceptualized in a narrow framework as a facilitator of private sector development through its roles in “creating a stable macroeconomic environment, maintaining competitive markets, ensuring that the poor (especially women) have easy access to credit, nurturing enterprises that generate the most jobs and opportunities, attracting investment and helping to transfer knowledge and technologies, particularly to the poor, enforcing the rule of law, providing incentives for human resource development, and protecting the environment and natural resources. An analysis of social science literature would reveal that many of these functions are carried out at a community level without the intervention of the state, and if they were allowed to perform these functions well, there would actually be little role for the state, especially in performing the first two functions.


While there are problems with a ‘communitarian’ approach to development, and all community structures are by no means democratic and choice enhancing, the debate needs to move beyond universalism and relativism, or communitarianism and individualism. As Penna and Campbell (1998) argue in an interesting paper, cultural factors, norms, practices and indigenous institutions are of value in the everyday lives of non-western societies. Rather than dismissing non-Western cultures as anti-democratic and authoritarian, there is a need to engage and work with existing institutions and practices to promote development and enhance choice and freedom for individuals and groups. In this context the Asian Values debate has thrown little light while generating much noise. While politicians like Mahathir Mohammed and Lee Kuan Yew have argued in favour of order and discipline for developmental prospects and economic growth, their critics like Amartya Sen, even while unearthing traditions of freedom and tolerance in Asian societies, do not generally go beyond pointing out the utility of freedom and democracy in a general sense. Sen’s analysis (Sen, 1997) is not rooted in an understanding of institutions and norms. His support for democracy and freedom is grounded in a discourse on human rights that has its foundation in Western political history and culture. Debates both in developing countries and in the developed west are grappling with complex issues such as affirmative discrimination, entitlements, gender and ethnic / communal / racial violence[16]. One therefore needs to go beyond the functions of the state and market, to focus on social relations, cultures, and practices in addressing such issues. Sen’s discussion on this issue and on freedom and development in general seems to be quite divorced from his work on entitlements and cooperative behaviour. This is perhaps because he is unable to visualize alternative views of development and development process, beyond the market and state mediated processes. There is a general failure on the part of good governance advocates to question, “whether cultural specificity also demands different ways of conceptualizing development”.


Even if one is simply discussing the role of state in development, it is important to rethink the role of the state merely as a facilitator as most multilateral institutions seem to project. The UNDP identifies the private sector as the primary source of opportunities for productive employment, and the role of the state is to facilitate this process. Here the private sector is viewed simply as the private corporate sector. Self-dependent and self-reliant communities of workers are completely outside this definition. States therefore see little contradiction in facilitating private sector growth even as it decimates the vast informal sector which provides employment and sources of livelihood to millions in countries like India. Secondly policies which deprive vast numbers from sources of livelihood (through enclosure, displacement, contracting out of natural resources) thus destroying sources of employment, are inconsistent with policies which identify the private sector as the primary source of employment.


These problems therefore emerge from inadequate definitions of the nature and scope of the state and civil society, which exclude semi-autonomous and autonomous self-governing communities with their own institutional structures, laws and social security mechanisms. There is an absolute failure to conceptualize the role of non-state authorities in governance. Also as mentioned earlier, there is a tendency to look upon politics, participation, governance, and economics as autonomous social fields. Most governance models then follow the approach that if a governance model is not in consonance with the market economy, it therefore needs to be reformed. If the economic model does not fit well with the governance model, leading to market failure both are deliberately forged together through reforms. In the case of participation, governance reforms usually take place outside of existing democratic structures with the involvement of a development bureaucracy and NGOs; secondly participation is rarely allowed in determining the larger economic structure and governance structure and reforms in these areas. These are given and decided at national and international levels, and participation is usually allowed in predetermined programmes at local levels, usually at the stage of implementation. Vandana Shiva in a critique of Sen’s views questions his views on democracy and economic growth stating that “trade liberalization and globalization policies empty democracy of economic content, and remove basic decisions from the democratic influence of a country's people”. Good governance projects in effect divorce political democracy from economic democracy.


In such a situation, in conditions of inequality and stratification, participation has led to the appropriation of control, leadership and benefits from development initiatives by local elites, as documented be development writers like P.Sainath, and in other studies. In the state of Andhra Pradesh in India, Shramdan - a programme of labour donation for village infrastructure development – has degenerated into a programme of free labour by the poor for infrastructural projects which are suggested by the rich and which benefit them. Ironically, scholars who recognize these effects and critique such approaches end up arguing for a stronger role for the state, despite evidence of ‘state capture’ by elites before and after economic and political reforms[17]. Such arguments are based on the logic of redistribution which can be facilitated by the state. Quite apart from the fact that redistribution systems are present in many communities, what is significant is that such arguments detract from a movement to endow the poor with productive assets as a long-term solution to destitution. The World Bank in essence provides a reductionist view of the role of the state in promoting equity. In one of their reports asset redistribution is mentioned as a possible focus of state action, but measures to bring this about deal only with mechanism such as “better sectoral allocation of public expenditure, investment in health and education and anti-poverty programmes”. Not only is there little mention of issues such as land reform but the report says nothing about the need to offer 'broadly equal economic opportunities to all', which can be achieved not only by “redistributing assets, increasing access to markets, skills and credit”, but also by “removing those cultural biases (including gender bias) which exclude large number of citizens from the production and exchange process”.


Participation therefore has to be conceptualized in political terms, rather than override existing institutions, and marginalize democratic bodies. Similarly governance has to move away from outlawing and eliminating politics, from the strong Weberian approach of emphasizing rules and formal institutions. Again radical scholars like John Harriss who have critiqued the depoliticization involved in development models which use buzzwords like social capital, empowerment, and civil society, ultimately end up supporting a greater role for the state in bringing about development under conditions of social inequality. Such an approach ignores the fact that quite often the state colludes with imperial, feudal and capitalist interests, as also the many examples of genuine participatory experiments having to work against government barriers.


Limitations in neo-liberal, liberal, and radical approaches to governance also emerge from a failure to understand governance in terms of governmentality. For Foucault, governmentality indicates “technologies of domination of others and those of the self”; a narrow focus on formal institutions completely elides the procedures by which individuals behave and act in ways that fulfil or disregard the norms of governance.





Good governance propounded by development institutions are mostly linked to market forms of development. They are signified by their inability to consider non-market economic models, and an unquestioning attitude towards economic liberalization. No distinction is made between form and content; certain forms of governance are condemned as unethical and undemocratic, while at the same time demands for economic sovereignty are rejected. Ethical and legal notions tied to specific institutional and economic contexts are celebrated and imposed in a hegemonic fashion over developing countries. Ethics and law are commodified, branded, packaged and sold to countries 'affected' by crises in governance.


The good governance debates of the 1990s and beyond echoes both the modernization debate of the 1960s, as well as the civilizational mission of colonizers encapsulated in the rhetoric about the ‘white man’s burden”. Just as the basis for superiority earlier was the gap in science and technology between Europe and the newly-discovered areas[18], and an apparent inability of colonized peoples to govern themselves, in recent times efforts to explain the lack of progress of non-European societies has led to the identification of lack of good governance, and the taking up of good governance as a civilizing mission. Most good governance projects are “couched in terms of charity, and are not rooted in rights claims,” as Jayal (1997) and Mahajan (1999) argue. Efficiency considerations deviate from normative concerns, even as indigenous initiatives for democracy are suppressed in the name of good governance. Contrary to what many liberals and neo-liberals believe, it is the strengthening of specific kinds of civil society institutions and not their erosion that is leading to the “politics of retribution and revenge”, and the “shrinking of space for dissent”[19], which is fuelled in part by the delegitimization of political action, and the closure of economic and political pathways of development to citizens of many countries. ‘Impartial rule-based procedures’ have excluded those who could not access them due to reasons of illiteracy and powerlessness, or even just the inability to see a ‘fit’ in terms of their social structures, cultural practices, and livelihood strategies.


Governance, is not simply about getting (formal) institutions right. Going beyond a statist or market-focused approach requires a conceptualization of governance in terms of ‘governmentality’. For Foucault, governmentality refers to a form of activity that shapes, affects, or changes the conduct of a person or group of persons. Thus discourses on governance that tie it to specific institutional configurations, themselves are an aspect of governmentality to secure control by a few over a larger population. These discourses, as Barthes (1975, 20) puts it, give specific institutions - particularly state or government institutions – an effective agency which is largely illusory in that, other factors and agents can also cause effects. But such discourses on governance persist and are given legitimacy because they can be used both to blame official institutions for development failures, and to use the state to promote particular economic policies. If then, with Foucault, one perceives governmentality in terms of power that is exercised through an assemblage of institutions, methods or procedures, theories, and reflections, then the problems associated with state or market centred models of governance become evident, and the possibilities of an alternative model that genuinely promotes ‘good governance’ come to the fore. The critique of ‘good governance’ approaches presented in this paper provide an initial way to look at the politics of policies and institutions; it enables us to understand that such models define problems in particular ways, which are then generalized and internalized, both by those who determine policies and institutions, and by ‘beneficiaries’, the target of development, by scholars and activists. ‘Good Governance’ models then begin to embody a conception of economic growth, development, reform and democracy that becomes incontestable, making it difficult to think of alternatives. These models become aspects of power networks that work through (development) paradigms, through concepts, through institutionalized norms and rules, controlling the possibility of alternative action, thought, and meaning creation. To open up the possibility of alternatives is the challenge that faces scholars and activists.




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[1] A term used by Mark Twain around the turn of the 20th century in response to Kiplingesque arguments regarding the White Man’s Burden.

[2] See Neerja Jayal Gopal, 1997, on this.

[3] Information obtained from the DFID Home Page.

[4] Governance in Asia: From Crisis to Opportunity, ADB, 1998.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Governance, the New Public Realm and Civil Society Organisations, UNESCO statement on their homepage: http://www.unesco.org/most/globalisation/Governance.htm

[7] Neo-classical economists including Friedman have “earlier implicitly assumed that institutions (economic as well as political) don't matter” as Douglass North points out.

[8] These indicators mainly refer to Public Sector Institutional Performance including Contract-intensive money, Budget volatility (from year to year, across functional classifications), Waiting time for telephone lines, Merit-based civil service, Numbers of civil servants in comparison with international practice, Civil service pay (comparisons with the private sector), Civil service pay (vertical compression), Civil service pay (horizontal compression), Percentage of political appointees in the civil service, Turnover rates for civil servants, Tax and Public Expenditure Management, Delays in auditing of public accounts, Revenue predictability, Variance between appropriations and actual spending, Legal Framework, Percentage of private land formally titled, Intergovernmental Relations, Extent of central government “bail out” of local governments, Elections at subnational levels, Subnational share of government expenditures, and Vertical imbalance (subnational expenditure minus revenue shares)

[9] Making government work for poor people: building state capability, DFID Strategy Paper

[10] From the point of view of accountability, for Weber the efficacy of modern bureaucratic organizations seem to stem from his emphasis on norms, usages, conventions and laws, rather than on values, as reflected in his discussion of law and bureaucracy, in contrast to his emphasis on the role of values in development.

[11] This separation originated in the west and has reached the greatest level there.

[12] Krishna Reddy also makes this argument in the context of governance reforms in Andhra Pradesh in India. Populist programmes, he says, are designed to garner legitimacy for the neo-liberal project, and the process of state withdrawal from the economic sector. In this context populism does indeed follow procedures contrary to what Andre Beteille believes. See Reddy, 2002.

[13] Jensen quotes Rahnema as saying: “When A considers it essential for B to be empowered, A assumes not only that B has no power - or does not have the right kind of power[!] - but also that A has a secret formula of a power to which B has to be initiated”. He also notes that “No matter how firm the commitment to good intentions, the notion of “powerful outsiders” helping “powerless insiders” slips constantly in”


[14] See Krishna Reddy, 2002, for a description of this process in Andhra Pradesh.

[15] See Manor, 2000 for a description of the deliberate undermining of elected local bodies in the state of Andhra Pradesh.

[16] As opposed to the general utility of a rule bound objective bureaucracy for good governance, the need for substantive equality in the case of specific groups or individuals requires a rejection of ‘rational’ systems in favour of systems that reject “formal equality and calculable adjudication and administration”, and instead promote “law and administration (that) serve the equalization of economic and social opportunities. This cannot be done by recourse to a commodified ethics that that seeks to ensure fairness and justice purely through rational institutional arrangements guided by efficiency considerations. (Max Weber, ‘Rational and Irrational Administration of Justice’, in Rheinstein, 1969: 347-356.)

[17] Harriss, 2001, and Gopal, 1997, are examples of such analysis.

[18] See Adas 1989 on this.

[19] As argued for instance, by scholars such as Ramachandra Guha; see Guha, 2001.