Neoliberal capitalism’s bureaucracies of 'governance'


The account of bureaucracy under neoliberal capitalism which I present in this article under the innocuous heading it prefers to use to describe itself (‘governance’) draws together recent critical work by David Graeber, Wendy Brown, William Davies and Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval, which it repositions in relation to Jacques Rancière’s conception of the ‘police order’. The key claims of the new critique of bureaucracy thus delineated are: (i) that neoliberal capitalism’s ‘stealth revolution’ (Brown) is primarily effected by way of a proliferation of bureaucracies; (ii) that these bureaucracies reconstruct the world as an array of ‘overlapping competitions’ (Davies); (iii) that competitive hierarchisation (‘ranking’) is the key bureaucratic form, or process, in each of these administrative fiefdoms. To this new critique I add a Derridean reflection on the longstanding mystical or metaphysical appeal of hierarchy and also argue that bureaucratic organisation is the mundane way in which an anti-democratic commitment to hierarchy becomes naturalised. To understand the continuity between the administrative and coercive dimensions of the police order of governance I draw on work in critical criminology on ‘the new punitiveness’ and scholarship from critical security studies which views security professionals as experts in the governmental management of ‘(in)security’. I suggest that the massive production of insecurity by proliferating bureaucracies which structure neoliberalism’s project of competitive hierarchisation creates the ideal conditions for a vicious circle of securitarian inflation.

100 - 101: Bureaucracy