Reconsidering Fabricating the People: a reply to the symposium contributors.

Author:Catlaw, Thomas J.

I want to thank the contributors to this symposium for generously giving their time and insight to this discussion of the book, Fabricating the People: Politics and Administration in the Biopolitical State. Alexander Kouzmin, initiated this symposium several years ago. He died at his home in Australia as the symposium (among Alex's very many projects) was in process. This was a saddening, significant personal loss to those, like me, who knew Alex; to say nothing of the professional and intellectual loss his death has meant to public administration and critical management studies. In this context, I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the contributors for their thoughtful papers. I am indebted, most especially, to Kym Thorne, who was indefatigable in his commitment to carrying the symposium forward in Alex's memory. PAQ's editor, Aaron Wachhaus, has my sincere appreciation for his enthusiasm about the project and patience in waiting for the collection to be completed. The symposium also benefitted from the insight of an exceptional group of reviewers, and I thank them as well.

The papers in this symposium are provocative and raise compelling issues about the book. They reveal a close, sometimes intimate, familiarity with the text and have inspired me to read the book with fresh eyes and renewed enthusiasm. I cannot reply to all of the essays with the depth each warrants and so commend each to the reader's attention for closer study and to assess the quality of my own engagement with them. Here I address some of the major questions that the papers raise and areas that, I think, are most instructive in clarifying the book's aims. Before giving each essay focused-attention, I will briefly sketch the context within which the book was written and describe how this context shaped its purposes. In the process, I consider a couple of issues that cut across the contributions.


The book originated within the "Blacksburg tradition" as an inquiry into the legitimacy question in public administration (e.g, McSwite, 1997; Rohr, 1986; Stivers, 1993; Wamsley et al., 1990). Contra the Blacksburg tradition, my intent was not to attempt to legitimize the administrative state or offer a normative theory that would do so. Rather, I wanted to offer a critical, historical account of the emergence of the modern field and institutions of public administration and to show the eclipse of those conditions in order to demonstrate the limits of the field's practical and academic legitimation efforts. The book's analysis sought to offer a very different account of "public administration," one informed by reconsideration of the development of the practices of "government" (Foucault, 1979/1991), the relationship between society and state, the production of social order, and the field's problematic, unanalyzed relationship to popular sovereignty. Notwithstanding its limitations, I think the book largely succeeded.

We use the tools we have available to make things. For me, those intellectual tools at the time were the literatures of (post-)Structuralism, psychoanalytic theory, twentieth century Continental philosophy, and theoretically allied research from across the humanities and social sciences. More particularly, the book was in tacit conversation with another set of texts, most notably Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's (2000) Empire and Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe's (1985) Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. It was Hardt and Negri's critique of the People that prompted me to think about contemporary anti-governmental sentiment not in terms of normative or performative behavior but, as it were, as a "problem of the people" (Catlaw, 2009). However from my vantage in public administration, I did not feel that their book opened up clearly or easily enough into a truly alternative account of government and governing. Partly, I thought rightly or wrongly, this was because their Deleuzian approach lacked a useable theory of the human subject and basis for action and because their embrace of Deleuze's doctrine of the univocity of being baffled me (cf. Catlaw & Kim, 2012). I saw in Lacanian theory tools to deal with these issues (though this created its own problems, as Mark Bevir highlights). But it was Deleuze's (1964/1983, 1968/1994) critique of representation that really enabled and inspired me to build framework that could connect familiar critiques of positivist or objectivist epistemologies with issues of political representation (Catlaw, 2007, pp. 60-63).


This, then, sets up the major critique of public administration's legitimacy efforts. In essence, the book argues that public administration has attempted to solve its legitimacy woes epistemologically. Though usually mainstream, "positivist" approaches to the field are the usual target of this reproach, the book argues that even "critical" and postmodern discourses do this. That is, critiques of positivism basically use epistemological critique modes of knowledge generation and of micro-level administrative practice as a way to improve the overall representativeness or performance of government (Catlaw, 2007, pp. 43-45). Positivism "crowds out" knowledges, institutes certain power relations, and so excludes certain people and ways of knowing. Open this up and government becomes more representative. Here, public administration's "epistemological strategy" includes not only these critical discourses but also the family of practices, like representative bureaucracy and public participation, that seek to expand the knowledge and bodies that are included among "the People" (pp. 46-52). None of this argues categorically against any particular epistemology or administrative practice. Rather, the book interrogates what we think are doing when we use these practices and, generally, rejects the notion they will remedy the legitimacy issue for reasons I will elaborate at various points in this reply.

So basically public administration--both in terms of knowledge acquisition and government--is bound up with representation and myriad practices of representing. What does representing entail? The two major guideposts here are Frederick Thayer's general critique of hierarchy as a form of social relation (Catlaw, 2007, pp. 55-57) and Laclau and Mouffe's (1985) account of the processes of hegemony in Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (Catlaw, 2007, pp. 94-96). Thayer helped me to see the many relational forms that objectivism could take--though I do not accept his views on hierarchy (Catlaw, 2008). Laclau and Mouffe pushed me to explore how the situated hegemonic practices that concerned Thayer relate to macro-level political representations or articulations of "the People" as well as to seek an alternative to hegemony in both dimensions. Finally, Foucault, in addition to sharing Deleuze's antipathy towards representation (May, 1994), taught me to see government in usefully generic and micropolitical terms, to explore the status of the "bio-" in modern government, and, critically, to see in those micropolitical processes of government the "genesis of the sovereign" (Catlaw, 2007, pp. 85-86).

Together, this all became the political ontology of representation--the deployment and legitimation of hegemonic political relationships as representations (bios) of a biological ground (zoe). These relationships, model-copy relations, are deployed through political technologies (law, administration, control), which by virtue of the replication of a similar form of relationship fabricate a social order and subjectivities stable enough to enable the efficacy of political representations of a popular sovereign, the People. I attempt to account for contemporary anti-governmentalism in terms of a breakdown in the efficacy of political technologies and persistence of the symbolic architecture of the People.


In retrospect, I wish that I had chosen a verb other than fabricate. This seems to have somewhat muddied a core point of the book. I had not wanted to use "imagine" or "construct" because I had wanted a term that, I thought, would capture both the symbolic dimension of the process of representation as well as convey the sense in which raw materials are fabricated into finished industrial and commercial artifacts. (A major technology company, for example, calls its factories "fabs.") In this regard, I thought of fabrication in Nietzschean terms (Catlaw, 2007, p. 13), as a wrenching material and physical process through which symbolic and conceptual forms become inscribed into the flesh of the world and, in particular, onto human bodies, which push back, resist, and alter the shape of the models. My view is that all social ordering or human "world-making" probably involves fabrication in some way as humans grapple with the legacies of cultural and biological evolution. However the basic commitments that animate fabrication and the political technologies deployed vary historically, as does the relationship between the political (bios) and the biological (zoe). To this last point, in recent work I have traced changes in this relationship and, in particular, the contingent quality of the biological in the wake of advances in biotechnology (Catlaw & Treisman, 2013).


My view is not exactly that "the People" do not exist--though I can recognize the plausibility of this reading offered by some contributors to this symposium. I did not just want to say, as some did about the public interest (Schubert, 1960): the People don't have any content, the term is a useless metaphysical abstraction, let's forget about it (Catlaw, 2007, p, 13). Indeed I go out of my way to highlight some problems of this "the emperor has no clothes" type of critique (pp. 50-52). My concern was less, as deHaven-Smith and Witt suggest, to expose a "conceptual flaw" or an "ontological fallacy," as Bevir puts it, than to show how...

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