#5PAPERS – Week 4 Day 4

by Nivek K Thompson

  1. Reference to the Article 

Hendriks, C. M. (2009). The Democratic Soup: Mixed Meanings of Political Representation in Governance Networks. Governance: An International Journal of Policy, Administration, and Institutions, 22(4), 689-715.

  1. What attracted me to this Article?

Firstly it’s written by one of my supervisors and secondly it goes to an issue of interest to me: how governance networks relate to democracy, in this case the meaning of political representation.

  1. What is it about? (Problem / Purpose / Research Questions)

Hendriks notes, as Warren did in the paper I reviewed yesterday, that there has been a growth in ‘new’ forms of representation (often self-styled) without a commensurate growth in our understanding of them and ‘their implications for democratic practice and theory.’ p.690 This paper addresses this gap in the context of governance networks.

  1. Where does this come from? (Literature / Theoretical Framework)

This paper ‘speaks’ to both theoretical debates regarding the concept of representation and the practice of governance networks.

  1. What did they do? (Methodology & Method)

Hendriks adopts an interpretative approach applying a combination of dramaturgical and discourse analysis, looking at Dutch energy reforms.

She reviews the democratic literature related to representation and identifies both formal and informal meanings for this term

  • Formal – representatives are authorized via elections and are expected to be responsive to their electors who can hold them to account at subsequent elections
  • Informal – with two sub-types: substantive where the representative acts for the interests of the people they represent; and descriptive where the representative is from the same group as the people they represent.

Hendriks notes that representation is rarely dealt with explicitly in the literature on governance. And that most of the empirical literature considers governance arrangements against democratic norms such as legitimacy and accountability. However this approach doesn’t address the evolving nature of the concept of representation hence her approach of looking at what it means and how it works in practice. In particular her ‘dramaturgical analysis concentrates on the way representation is staged and scripted by the state, [and] the discourse analysis offers additional insights into how a variety of actors (including the state) construct representation.’ p.694

Hendriks empirical work includes 27 semi-structured interviews with a range of policy actors involved in the network arrangements facilitating energy reforms in the Netherlands. In addition she undertook a review of official documents and media articles.

  1. What did they learn? (Results / Discussion)

Hendriks identified a number of stages that the energy reform processes moved through, each with their own approach to representation. The initial stage involved the establishment of working groups where membership was focused on technical skills. This was followed by committees whose purpose was improved co-ordination across working groups and participants were explicitly selected to not be representative, rather to be ‘creative and freethinking.’ p.696 The next stage Hendriks identifies as focused on providing leadership to the process, other stakeholders and the public. Representation at this stage was descriptive and highly symbolic i.e. involving people who could support the program politically and publicly and through attracting investment from other actors. The taskforce evolved over time into an energy think tank. The next stage focused on implementation, with the establishment of an ‘independent’ group to support this work. The membership of this group was based on people from each of the energy sectors and specialists in finance and environmental policy. Hendriks suggests that this approach to membership of the implementation group aims to demonstrate that this stage ‘requires a rational and apolitical approach.’ p.697 Her conclusion from this dramaturgical analysis is that the choice of people to participate in the various stages was related more to their knowledge and status than to any conception of democratic legitimacy.

Moving onto her discourse analysis Hendriks notes that whilst some of the discourses overlap with the stages identified above the use of discourse analysis in addition to the dramaturgical analysis brings ‘a more nuanced understanding… [and] also identifies other meanings of representation, especially those articulated by nonstate actors.’ P.698

She identifies five different discourses:

  1. Representation is problematic for governance networks – based on the idea that creativity and a long-term perspective are more important for these type of processes. This discourse effectively pits ‘good’ governance against democracy.
  2. Representation is unnecessary for governance networks – this view was held primarily by elected representatives and public servants because the various groups were only ‘advisory’ and final decision-making rested with the government.
  3. Political representation in networks is about knowledge – this view was strongly held by people on the various governance groups who saw that technical knowledge and transition skills were of utmost importance with some participants enjoying the knowledge they gained from participating.
  4. Representation in networks is about displaying symbols – this symbolic representation related to involving ‘important’ people to give legitimacy to the energy reform process although there were also some claims made that the process engaged ‘society’ despite the fact that there were no civil society of citizens and consumers on these groups (other than a few selected environmental groups).
  5. Representation in networks involves collective problem solving – many participants saw their role as policy problem solvers, suggesting a focus on the common good rather than particular sectoral interests.
  6. Representation as pursuing particular interests – some NGO participants did see their role as being to represent particular interests and ideas, ignoring the organizers directions to be independent thinkers. In addition this view of pursuing particular interests was held by actors outside of the process who identified with actors inside the process as holding similar views to their own.

Hendriks identifies ‘multiple meanings of representation… [from which] paradoxes and tensions can be generated.’ p.706 She notes that the principal form of representation where it did exist was, a very shallow form of, descriptive representation with participants were encouraged not to act as representatives, even when they acted as such outside of formal reform processes. She also notes the importance of context when looking at how the various groups were designed and operated.

She suggests that in the governance networks representation has a different meaning to it’s democratic ones, i.e. it is ‘less about electoral accountability, authorization, and responsiveness, and more about fulfilling particular epistemic and symbolic functions.’ p.708 She suggests that for governance networks representation may reconceptualised as being about inclusion of those affected by decisions and new approaches to accountability may be used.

Finally, she concludes that the type of descriptive representation used in the governance networks she studied has the potential to be manipulative and give the impression of diversity and inclusion where none exists. And that if governance networks can’t deliver democratic outcomes such as legitimacy and accountability then they need to be found elsewhere.

  1. What did I learn?

This paper has provided me with more from a methods perspective than a substantive one. As virtually all of the groups established to progress energy reform in the Netherlands did not intend to engage citizen representatives these governance networks are a long way from the democratic innovations that are the focus of my research.

In terms of her conclusion that in governance networks legitimacy and accountability need to be ‘secured through other means’, the politicians and public servants that she interviewed identified their view of how this is done and that is through advising the elected government. And whilst that might perhaps be what happened in the case of energy reform in the Netherlands, many of the new governance arrangements have significantly more ‘self determination’ and so by-pass the government in making and implementing decisions.