Governing through Value: Public Service and the Asset Rationale

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 17:30
Oral Presentation
Andrea MENNICKEN, London School of Economics and Political Science, United Kingdom
Fabian MUNIESA, Mines ParisTech, PSL Research University, France
The financial and managerial transformations that fall under the rubric of New Public Management do recurrently include the transition from standards of public ‘expenditure’ to principles of public ‘investment’, that is, to an emphasis on the ‘return’ of public money and on the assessment of its capacity to ‘create value’. The crucial part played by quantitative metrics and performance measures in the construction of these transformations has been highlighted and analysed. Yet, the ‘investment’ rationale that these transformations entail deserves further scrutiny. The fact that considering something in the terms of an ‘asset’, i.e. in its capacity to ‘create value’ from the perspective of an ‘investor’, involves not only a transformation of the thing/service under consideration. It redefines also the roles – the very ‘making up’ – of public service users and providers. This study provides an exploratory contribution to the examination of this hypothesis. We focus on three areas of public service that are highly exposed to these modernization policies: hospitals, universities and prisons. We concentrate on the cases of France and England, where particular styles of New Public Management have translated into particularly problematic processes of quantification and valuation. We study the extent and manner in which the resources these public services consist of (personnel, facilities, knowledge, management) are considered as ‘assets’, that is, as elements whose ‘value’ stems from being considered from an investor’s viewpoint. We also examine how the ‘user’ proper (the patient, the student, the inmate) is featured as an ‘asset’ in this ‘value creation’ machinery. We suggest that what we call the ‘asset rationale’ operates on a cultural level and carries profound political significance. It involves the development of a particular culture in the conduct of public administration and its assessment or, put differently, a new form of considering what the state consists of.