COLLECTION ÉTUDES THÉORIQUES
contributions from different disciplines. It is with this challenge in mind that we respond to the
Governance: An Analytical or a Normative Concept?
The notion of governance can be regarded as both analytical and normative. It is analytical
when it aims to identify social arrangements that, beyond state institutions, take part in and are
structured by the exercise of power. In these arrangements, various actors from civil society as
well as from private-sector organisations participate or can participate.
On the other hand, governance can also be normative. It is normative ex ante when
organisations establish in advance, as international financial organisations do, what is «good ”
or «bad ” governance based on criteria that are, moreover, not neutral. Governance can be
normative ex post when the analysis leads to more solidarity-based propositions, as is the case
with certain community or civil-society models. In the latter case, the analysis indirectly
results in normative governance. But, in fact, all normativity implies an analysis and all
analysis leads to normativity.
That being said, the main interest of the notion of governance lies in the analytical perspective
it points to. It allows us to broaden the analysis of power and decision-making. Governance
designates a field of research regarding power in contexts where states no longer hold
monopolies. Within the perspective of governance, while the state cannot be considered an
actor like the others, it does not hold a monopoly on the exercise of power. Moreover, in this
perspective, the state is not seen as a monolithic block and, even if its measures and
orientations converge on the main institutional orientations, the latter diverge on many
Naturally, the different levels of the problem demarcate different spaces of governance, which
indicates the existence of problems at various levels: micro-governance (organisations and
businesses), meso-governance (local and regional territories, clusters) and macro-governance
(nation state and international regions).
One may wonder if this question is properly posed or if it should be stated the other way
around. In fact, our interest in governance lies less in evaluating the effects of liberal
governance than in investigating how a democratic and participative model of governance for
a new, solidarity-based citizenship is built.
Governance concerns the distribution of power. Restructuring governance activates processes
for reviewing relations between the forms of market and public regulation and initiates active
citizen participation. Market and public regulations are relatively univocal: In market
regulations, prices based on market mechanisms dictate the governance. In public governance,
mandates and programmes are defined by public authorities with the help of experts within a
hierarchical and centralised framework. Once participation is offered to other stakeholders, in
particular civil society, the need for other forms of regulation promoting citizen involvement,
solidarity, and reciprocity arises.
The development of regulation modalities that complement state regulation creates room for
experimentation and highlights the importance of social actors who, until then, had not or had
hardly been heard or taken into consideration: civil society in general, citizens' expression of
democracy through direct democracy, and social economy in particular. These new ways have
become possible because modern liberalism, with its tolerance for certain political
innovations, generates room to manoeuvre. This room may allow for pockets of participative
and solidarity-based governance that strive for individual, collective, sectoral, and territorial
empowerment. The erosion of old institutions opens the path to new actors, thereby expanding
the space for social innovation. Naturally, this does not happen on its own. It requires a
context of social reorganisation, thus of social arrangements as well as new action rules, where
roles are redistributed on the basis of power relations between the stakeholders of the society.
It represents empowerment for some and disempowerment for others, the whole taking place in
context of conflict and struggle. Empowerment is here the fruit of collective action, social
struggle, and social compromise between actors.
Restructuring governance can unleash potential for building a more just society.
Contemporary neoliberal capitalism creates room to manoeuvre up to a certain level of
transformation, depending on a determined level of tolerance for social change. The
implementation of solidarity-based modes of governance lowers the tolerance thresholds and
broadens the scope for solidarity. This calls for forums to discuss, debate, and negotiate, to
create approaches to mediation that allow for the establishment of new forms of coordination
between the market sphere, the public sector, and civil society. In order to arrive at a more
democratic, more solidarity-based whole, mediation must be brought to the meta-
governmental sphere of decision-making, and thus, to a higher level where the social values
likely to dictate the direction we want to pursue as a global society enter into play.
We are thus thinking of a governance that is more in line with the general interest and the
needs of the collectivity. This reflection essentially concerns two levels:
Governments of nation states. These are prompted to rethink their functions (regalian
due to the complexity of their problems. Unlike “corporate governance”, governance applied
to public administration can be regarded as a search for alternative modes of public action for
the public good without reverting to coercive instruments. Also referred to as “partner state”,
“facilitator state”, or “subsidiary state”, these modes promote the autonomy of
actors/partners. The resulting practices aim to redefine the relations between the state and
society as well as the modes of public intervention. The new governance thus seeks to surpass
the limits of the hierarchy and of the market by calling on a plurality of public and private
actors, including those from civil society, the mobilisation of which is based on reciprocity
The territory, in particular the decisions concerning development and planning at the global,
the only representatives of the general interest. While the former pursue electoral goals, the
latter tend to defend corporate interests and individual interests. This explains the
shortcomings of representative democracy, which should be complemented by a range of
institutional means and mechanisms developed by, among others, participative and social
democracy. Similarly, this entails bringing decision-making closer to those that are directly
concerned. Moreover, as the general interest is shaped socially and historically along
solidarity-based lines, this leads to a plurality of general interests. This in turn allows for a
“geography of constituted general interests”, namely, sub-groups of a whole, the geographical
boundaries (national, regional, local) of which are only one form among others.
With each discipline developing its own approach to democracy, the concept often tends to be
regarded as cut off from social reality. An analysis therefore must be more comprehensive and
transgress disciplinary boundaries, even if the disciplines imply instituted corporations. This
calls for the identification of modes of governance that allow to expand democracy.