Becoming Public Notes on Governance and Local Welfare in Italy

AuthorLavinia Bifulco
Published date01 April 2011
Date01 April 2011
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-18Pnqrljj4LstX/input Administration & Society
43(3) 301 –318
Becoming Public Notes
© 2011 SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/0095399711400044
on Governance and
Local Welfare in Italy
Lavinia Bifulco1
As the sectors of intervention traditional y assigned to the responsibility of the
State gradual y become spaces of mobilization for a plurality of actors, the notion
of “public” appears problematic: it is difficult to define what distinguishes the
structures of governance, the actors involved, and the problems and interests
treated, as being of a public nature. This article tackles these issues with par-
ticular attention given to governance of social policies in Italy. The aim is twofold:
to shed light on the ambivalence of the current transformations of the public
realm and to outline their implications with respect to public administration.
governance, publicness, local welfare, social policies, Italy
The interweaving of tendencies and prospects of change related to today’s
social policies in the majority of European countries raises many questions
regarding the relationship between governance and “the public.” At the heart
of this interweaving, there is a transformative line that has specifically affected
public administrations: the shift from a role of command and control, also
implying the dominance of a public regime in the provision of services, to a
role of enabling, enhancing the potential for social self-organization.
1University of Milano-Bicocca
Corresponding Author:
Lavinia Bifulco, Department of Sociology and Social Research, University of Milano-Bicocca,
Italy, via Bicocca degli Arcimboldi 8, 20126, Milano, Italy

Administration & Society 43(3)
This change affects an institutional European tradition that has gift prominence
to the State role and to a centralized architecture of power. Although national
characteristics are significant, this tradition in the whole is clearly different from
the American institutional system, centered on the Madisonian model and rooted
on the idea that individuals are the bases of political life and conflicts.
In the European context, the perspective of the so-called “enabling State”
entails two corollaries of equal significance with respect to the issues of gover-
nance and the public. The first corollary is that the definition of general interests
no longer rests on the public decision maker in a monolithic fashion. The hier-
archic model whereby general interests are fixed and acknowledged on the basis
of criteria of (legal–rational) legitimacy on the part of public authority thus loses
ground. There is now a demand to identify new frameworks of public action
capable of supporting the confrontation between a variety of actors (Mayntz,
2006; Rhodes, 1996). The second corollary relates to the structures of provision,
the changes of which are linked not only to the respective presence of public
and private organizations but more so to the regulative framework that the
dynamics of coordination and the criteria for the allocation of resources form
part of. We witness, for example, the public administrations’ convinced adhesion
to the market model (Crouch, Eder, & Tambini, 2001). But we also find the
setting up of public–private partnerships of a cooperative nature (Ascoli & Ranci,
2002). In both cases, the nature of the actors involved is not a suitable criterion
for elucidating the different degrees of publicness of governance frameworks.
The fact is that the equivalence between the public and the State no longer
works (Clarke, 2004; de Leonardis, 1998). The paths along which this equivalence
has acquired the characteristics and the strength of an assumption taken for
granted coincide with the development of the institutional architectures of welfare
that shaped the societies of Western Europe during much of the 20th century.
The pillar on which rests the solid and complex structure of meanings, values,
norms, and institutional and social practices bringing the public and the State to
coincide is the very central nature of State authority that has earmarked the
construction of these same architectures with both positive and negative conse-
quences. On the positive side, this pillar has enabled the unfolding of fundamental
processes for the organization of a public domain in social life, beyond the
political and administrative context: such processes include the institutionaliza-
tion of resources and of the rights to participate in “social heritage” (Marshall,
1950) and the democratization of politics and the strengthening of modern democ-
racy (Crouch, 1999). On the negative side, we witness the well-known baggage
of opaqueness, paternalism, and standardization, which together with other fac-
tors has contributed to delegitimizing this authority and to devaluing both the
concept of the public and the vocabulary used to discuss it (Clarke, 2004).

In this article, I will assume the understanding of the complex events and
reasons that have more generally led to the disarticulation of the relationship
between the public and the State, simultaneously opening the road to an entangled
mesh of transformations in meaning and in the experiences of what is public
(Newman, 2007). Instead, I will focus on some of the problems now raised by
these transformations, paying particular attention to the social policies within
the Italian context. My aim is to shed light on the ambivalences to be found in
the public realm and in the institutional and organizational forms of public
After having outlined the panorama of the policy approaches emerging in
Europe under the banner of governance, I will identify the basic coordinates of
a conceptual and analytical perspective centered on the processes of publiciza-
tion. I will then present the recent lines of change affecting the sector of social
services in Italy, and I will draw attention to certain conditions for processes of
governance to be qualified as processes of “becoming public.” After this, I will
discuss the dilemmas that governance has given rise to, particularly in relation
to the issues of participation and proximity. Finally, I will deal with the problem
concerning which forms and logics of administration are prepared and well
equipped to creating or reviving the public.
The perspective of governance developed today in many European countries
gives an evident emphasis to process-based policy approaches and instruments
(Lascoumes & Le Galès, 2007). The decisive recourse to negotiation reveals
the growing importance given to constitutive policies (Lowi, 1972), that is, to
policies looking to institute rules regarding the rules (Duran & Thoenig, 1996,
p. 601). The increasing adhesion to deliberative logics is proof of the trust placed
in the possibility of building cooperative understandings, based on dialogical
forms of rationality (Fisher, 2003). The urge for integration—among policies,
among actors, and among issues—requires one to deal with the institution of
spaces, instruments, and rules for coordination (Donolo, 2005). The tendency
for localization is driven by the need to identify a scale of action capable of
facilitating the triggering and development of these processes as a whole
(Geddes & Le Galès, 2001). Despite its self-evident ambiguities, the notion
of governance itself indicates a shift of the framework of public action from
structures for government to the processes of governing.
Obviously, it is always necessary to distinguish between emerging approaches
and their implementation and to consider the non-process-based elements that
the concrete configurations of governance contribute to producing: preestablished

Administration & Society 43(3)
interests and positions, differences in power and in access to opportunities,
and conservative and self-reproductive organization structures. Furthermore,
a number of empirical evidences contradict the thesis of “governance without
government” and show the interweaving of old and new forms of power (Burroni,
Crouch, & Keune, 2005).
However, there are sufficient reasons to agree with those who maintain that
policies, certainly more now than before, are continuous streams of action,
because there has been an increase in the interdependency among actors, among
sectors, among the central and local levels, and among the phases of decision
making, implementation, and assessment (Demortain, 2004).
Although they have set out in this direction following the steps of other
sectors of policy (i.e., local development), social policies can today boast there
a marked central character. We may bring to mind the significance that the idea
of activation acquired in the guiding lines and dynamics of transformation of
the European systems of social protection. The perspective of “active welfare,”
as ambiguous as it may be and thus applicable to even the most diverse situa-
tions, fixes with assuredly evocative power two converging axes of change of
public action in social policies, both of which are process-oriented: the promo-
tion of agency on the part of the recipients and the acknowledgement of the
capacity for self-organization on the part of citizens. Linked to the first axis is
the tendency for the individualization of measures, services, and interventions
in their various configurations (Borghi & van Berkel, 2007). Meanwhile, the
main articulations of the second axis are...

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