In this introductory article, we call for a new anthropology of bureaucracy focused on 'the public good'. We aim to recapture this concept from its classic setting within the discipline of economics. We argue that such a move is particularly important now because new public goods – of transparency, fiscal discipline and decentralization – are being pressed into the service of states and transnational organizations: it has therefore become critical to focus on their techniques, effects and affects through fine-grained ethnography that challenges the economization of the political. We demonstrate our approach through some ethnographic findings from different parts of India. These show how fiscal austerity leads to new limited social contracts and precarious intimacies with the post-liberalization Indian state. This relationship between new public goods and forms of precarious citizenship is then further illuminated by the six articles that follow in this special issue.
Remaking the Public Good
Laura Bear and Nayanika Mathur
The purpose of this article is to analyze environmental public participation in the UK from the perspective of the polluting organization. Public participation, or an organization's stakeholder management, describes various channels available for the public to engage with and influence decision-making processes. Over the lifetime of an organization, the public seeks to engage with the organization or with specific goods or services offered. Such concerns and requests are made, and the organization responds to them, according to how salient members of the public are as stakeholders at a given time and place. Using case study examples from the UK, I illustrate the channels of engagement, the public interest groups that do engage and how effective these procedures are. It follows from this that early, inclusive and open engagement with the objective of participation in decision-making processes are the most effective public participation models and have the greatest social quality potential.
Hindu Mobilization beyond the Bourgeois Public Sphere
This article develops the notion of interconnected publics as a means to understand better both the escalation of Hindu political activism in the 1990s in India and its subsequent waning in the new millennium. I argue that the prime visibility of Hindu fundamentalism in the 1990s was a result of the effective—yet tenuous—connection between various spaces for public communication. The emerging 'inter-public' effectively imbricated the private viewing of religious soap operas with public ritual and political debate to produce, for a short historical moment, the image of a vibrant, forceful, and dominant Hindu nation. The aim of this article is to contribute to Indian studies by discussing the essential, yet in the literature mostly neglected, connections between devotional practices, media Hinduism, and political mobilization. At the broader conceptual level, I argue for a theory of inter-publics that interrogates how multiple 'micropublics' link up to create tangible political effects.
Maria Ferretti and Enzo Rossi
Agonist theorists have argued against deliberative democrats that democratic institutions should not seek to establish a rational consensus, but rather allow political disagreements to be expressed in an adversarial form. But democratic agonism is not antagonism: some restriction of the plurality of admissible expressions is not incompatible with a legitimate public sphere. However, is it generally possible to grant this distinction between antagonism and agonism without accepting normative standards in public discourse that saliently resemble those advocated by (some) deliberative democrats? In this paper we provide an analysis of one important aspect of political communication, the use of slippery-slope arguments, and show that the fact of pluralism weakens the agonists' case for contestation as a sufficient ingredient for appropriately democratic public discourse. We illustrate that contention by identifying two specific kinds of what we call pluralism slippery slopes, that is, mechanisms whereby pluralism reinforces the efficacy of slippery-slope arguments.
New Challenges in the U.S. Academy
This essay examines changing practices of public anthropology in terms of their relationship to the political economic processes of global capitalism and neoliberalism as well as changes in the position of anthropology within a hierarchy of knowledge-producing disciplines. Examining my own experiences in different historic regimes, I argue that today's call for a public or engaged anthropology partially conflates two contradictory processes: the drive to raise the value of disciplinary expertise and stake a claim to authority in the world of policy elites located in the state, media and academy; and the drive to use contemporary theories and methods to offer cogent critiques of the very institutions which are gatekeepers for public knowledge. We often find ourselves examining actors in the same professionalized settings in which we ourselves are situated and within which we seek more authority. I argue that we should continue to work on two tracks simultaneously with serious analysis of their contradictions. While we conform to dominant public questions, producing knowledge in ways that fit mainstream formats of communication, we must also invest significant effort in finding ways to help audiences reframe urgent issues by working to better convey contextualized understandings of how power and politics work through sociocultural processes. As a result, we will become more mindful of the specific structural constraints and cultural processes which work against broadening and reframing popular understandings.
The Private, the Public and the Political
This article investigates the connection between the phenomenon of moral conflict and the concepts of the private, the public and the political. In the first part of the article, as a way of locating my pluralistic position within the tradition of authors such as Isaiah Berlin and Steven Lukes, I develop a brief overview of modern meta-ethics and argue that monistic and relativistic explanations of morality are the cause of many of the antinomies that trouble human conduct. In the second part of the article, I make the central contention that moral pluralism is particularly useful in clarifying the concepts of the private, the public and the political as distinct domains of activity. I argue that we should treat moral conflict differently in each of these three domains and conclude that the moral significance and peculiarity of politics has been undeservedly underestimated in contemporary times.
Hilary Callan and Brian Street
The article addresses the position of anthropology in new educational contexts, considering anthropology in education and the anthropological study of education. While some transatlantic comparisons are drawn, the emphasis is on developments within the U.K. These are treated historically, using the Royal Anthropological Institute's experience in working for an anthropological presence in pre-university education from the 1980s to the present as an extended case-study. The work done by the RAI's Education Committee to design and introduce a new GCE A-level in anthropology, culminating in its successful accreditation by the national regulator, is recounted in the style of 'rich ethnography'. A case is made for the potential of academic associations to create the alliances across sectors that are needed in this context; and conclusions are tentatively drawn regarding the implications of these initiatives for the future of the discipline and its public engagement.
Research Findings and Questions on a Modern Public Health Perspective
Ota de Leonardis
This article aims at contributing to the discussion on the features of public health systems consistent with the broader definition of health – broader than the strictly bio-medical one – which is currently accepted in the related literature. The questions it raises are on how social capital influences well-being, and on whether and how it can be recognized and cultivated as a basic resource for health, and integrated into the health systems. In the first part, research literature on the ways health conditions are correlated with both poverty and social capital is briefly discussed. In the second part, several cases on health prevention and rehabilitation programs are analysed in some detail, as they appear to improve the health conditions of a community by investing in its 'social capital'. The main insights are on how to combine social protection with individual agency.
Fabrizio Di Mascio and Alessandro Natalini
The modernization of the public administration has been one of the main objectives pursued by the Renzi government. What distinguishes the reform cycle launched in 2015 is the emphasis on centralization, unification, and the reduction of institutional fragmentation in the public sector after a long period in which autonomy and the organizational pluralism of administrations and government levels were enhanced. This reform strategy is consistent with the underlying trends of transformation in the political and institutional systems, in which the power of the prime minister has gradually increased. The actual impact of these reform measures, however, depends on concrete organizational instruments of subsequent implementing legislation in a context characterized by persistent spending cuts, which are necessary to maintain financial stability.
History Writing as a Public Calling
This introductory article raises questions about history's work in the contemporary public sphere and sets the stage for the issues addressed in the special issue as a whole. Drawing on my experience at a public university in fiscal crisis, I argue that historians can and should contribute to debates about the future of higher education, the role of the humanities in the twenty-first-century liberal arts curriculum, and the fate of intellectual work in a global world.