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Governance and society

A concise look at one of the most ubiquitous and elusive concepts of our time

 

To govern, to manage, to care, to pay attention. It’s something that applies to businesses, but also to territories, to communities, to individuals where governance is put into practice. The word “governance” is thrown around a lot these days, but it’s a tricky notion that hides several shades of meaning; in other words, it’s a concept to be handled with care. Which is exactly what Alfio Mastropaolo has done in a recent essay for Quaderni di Sociologia.

Mastropaolo, a professor in the department of Culture, Politics and Society at the University of Turin, wrote his article in response to a French book recently translated into Italian, but his words ring true irrespective of the context for which they were penned.

As the author explains: “The role we assign to words and concepts is always a difficult one. These are among the many inventions with which humans attempt to organise, simplify and control the world around them. But they are not self-evident. Words and concepts are imposed, in various ways, by someone onto something. There are professionals whose job is to deal with these matters, but this doesn’t make things any easier. Especially because words and concepts are not univocal. Many carry within them a multitude of meanings, often in contrast with each other. Furthermore, these meanings change frequently, and dictionaries seldom provide much help. First of all, because there are many. Secondly, because no dictionary has the authority to definitively steer meaning. And recently, there is one term that has been abused and stretched out like few others before it: “governance”.

Mastropaolo goes on to summarise the various contexts in which the notion of governance is used nowadays, adding that the concept itself “marks a shift: it reflects a movement aiming to dismiss the centuries-old tradition of State-based government, founded on principles of sovereignty and authority, and to replace it with an alternative method of presiding over societal forces”. What matters even more – he adds – is the “mixed” (public/private) nature of real-life operational dynamics which this notion engenders. Coming together for the care of a territory or a community requires the participation of all stakeholders involved, including companies (not only private ones), which are thus learning to reshape their corporate culture and to look beyond the gates of their production facility.

Alfio Mastropaolo’s article succeeds in the difficult task of clarifying, in just a few paragraphs, several complex and interconnected concepts, making this an interesting and valuable read.

“Significati, utilizzi e fortune del concetto di governance”

Alfio Mastropaolo

Quaderni di Sociologia, 76-2018