RECENT EVENTS we have participated in:

“Emotional Governance: New Geographies of Social Policy and State Intervention” sessions convened by Jessica Pykett, Eleanor Jupp and Fiona Smith at the 4th International and Interdisciplinary Conference on Emotional Geographies, Groningen, July 2013

‘Neuroliberal Climatic Governmentalities’ Keynote Given at the European Cooperation in Science and Technology Conference – Governing the Global Climate Polity. Lund, Sweden, June 2011

The brain and behaviour in public policy’ Welsh Council for Voluntary Action, All Wales Residential Network Event. Llandrindod Wells, 9 June 2011

‘It’s the Brain Stupid’ – Presented to Environmental Policy Seminar, Welsh Assembly Government, May 2011

Geographies of the Psychological State’ Association of American Geographers Annual Conference, Seattle, April 2011

 ‘Vulnerable Subjects. Constructing the feminized subjects of soft paternalismPolitics of the Brain conference, University of Westminster, 3rd May 2011

Invited participant at the House of Lords Science and Technology Sub-Committee Inquiry on Behaviour Change. Seminar on “Ethics and Behaviour Change”, Westminster, 10th February 2011

 At the Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting, Washington DC, 14-18 April 2010, Jessica will be presenting a paper: “Governing Behaviour and the re-scientisation of decision-making”.

This paper will look at the way in which new insights from behavioural economics, psychology, neurosciences , neuroeconomics, and (in the field of ‘pro-environmental behaviour’) research from the discipline of geography are used in the justification of libertarian paternalist modes of governing.

These insights pertaining to the systematic mistakes, ‘predictable irrationality’ (Ariely, 2008), emotional determinants (Le Doux, 1994; Damasio, 1996) and instinctive bodily aspects (Gladwell, 2006) of human action are integral to developing the policies and programmes of behavioural and cultural change which characterise contemporary government practice in the UK (e.g. Cabinet Office 2004; 2008).

Drawing on documentary analysis, in-depth interviews with policy strategists and case study research, this paper considers how decision-making is conceptualised by protagonists of libertarian paternalism, the mechanisms used within libertarian paternalist initiatives to shape the time-spaces in which we make decisions, and the political implications of a post-enlightenment culture of governing in which the sciences of decision-making are king.

Jessica is also organising 2 sessions on “Cultures of governing, governing culture, governing by culture” which explores changes and trends in contemporary/historical cultures of governing, the application of new techniques of governing and attempts to govern culture, for instance, through arts initiatives, public spaces such as museums, galleries and libraries, the creative industries, fahion, media, literature, sports, religion, consumption and so on.

UPDATE: My AAG conference plans were scuppered by some volcanic dust


* Jessica presented a paper entitled “Changing Behaviour through Personalisation and Re-education” at the Political Studies Association annual conference, Edinburgh, March 2010

* We organised a conference session at the Royal Geographical Society-Institute of British Geographers (RGS-IBG) conference, Manchester, 26-28 August 2009 on the theme of ‘Governing Temptation: the emerging geographies of soft paternalism’.  Speakers included: Professor Janet Newman, The Open University; Dr Margo Huxley, The University of Sheffieild; and Dr Nick Gill, Lancaster University.

We discussed some of the following questions:
– How are soft paternalist policies currently being implemented and narrated, and by what kind of institutions?
– What are the political motivations for and implications of the rise of soft paternalist polices?
– What historical precedents demonstrate the principal characteristics of soft paternalism, and how do these differ in different countries/regions?
– How do these ‘behaviour changing’ policies reconfigure (or indeed rely on) the spatial and temporal nature of state-citizen relations in terms of responsibility and action?
– How do notions of soft paternalism challenge our conceptions about the character of governmentality and the negotiation of different kinds of citizen identities in the contemporary liberal state?
– How do citizens respond to such policies? To what extent to citizens seek to regulate themselves with regard to these policies, and how are alternative citizen identities produced in resistance to soft paternalism?

Speakers, conference participants and others are invited to respond to the following short statement. The aim is to give others an opportunity to shape questions for discussion, identify keywords and concepts, and draw out some common themes and divergent positions on the role of libertarian paternalism in the UK today.

Libertarian paternalism is a new form of governing in the UK. It denotes the shaping of the contexts in which people make decisions. It is novel in the sense that it seeks to govern both through the irrationality of the human subject and by developing more reflexive, competent and independent citizens able to make better choices towards their own wealth, health and happiness. It operates through sometimes contradictory mechanisms rather than by pursuing an overarching political rationality.


2 responses to “Events

  1. Dr Graham Gardner

    Casting my eye over some of the burgeoning literature on libertarian / soft paternalism, I was instantly reminded of comparable governmental impulses going as far back as the 1950s. Vance Packard’s The People Shapers is one of several fascinating social critques from that era that has considerable resonance with many of the critiques emerging today. The re-invention of government? Or more a case of old wine in new bottles?

  2. It’s pretty hard to be 100% clear on what soft-paternalism is in relation to other key concepts of governance. But soft paternalism appears to appeal to our ‘more sensible side’. It is a statement that says ‘come on, don’t disappoint me, I know you are better/cleverer/wiser/more responsible than this’. It is about the state making us feel as if we have acted immaturely. It is the state ‘reminding’ us. We are at risk of being disappointing to the state and, by extension, to ourselves. This is distinct from a more coercive form of paternalism – under soft paternalism we can choose to be ‘silly’, but we’d really be letting ourselves down.

    The starting point of Foucault’s infamous essay on governmentality is also about paternity, about the skills of a good father to inculcate within his children the disposition to act in calculated ways, thereby allowing him to dispense with the requirement for sticks and carrots. For Foucault, the ‘good’ father (the state) can create a child (the subject) that is capable not only of attempting to live up to the image of the good child independently, but also one that is active in seeking out and constructing for themselves what that image looks like. From some very broad principles, it seems to me, that are often not articulated very clearly at all (which is why governmentality analyses often have great trouble identifying ‘who’ is exerting governmental power), the individual subject that experiences governmentality does a great deal of translation work to carve out and interpret what they, personally, ‘should’ be doing in order to be ‘good’.

    It’s different with soft-paternalism. It is as if the shift to governmentality has not worked in some cases, because the individual has failed to tranlate, failed to determine what it is they should desire in a desirable way. Consequently, the state has had to re-engage in some situations, not in order to dictate, but in order to dictate what one chooses and desires. The risk for soft-paternalism is that it takes on the image of the father but in a different way to governmentality, and this might need to be made more explicit.

    For me, the most striking empirical evidence of the state constructing for the subject –citizen what the subject citizen should choose to strive towards is on telly. Sandwiched into four short minutes between episodes of big brother (ironically enough) we get injunctions to eat healthily, check our fire alarms, drive more slowly, cook our chicken properly, wear our seatbelts and learn how to administer first aid in the event of a stroke. The majority of these injunctions are disguising, graphic and disturbing – as if the state is trying to burst our bubble, make us grow up and see things ‘realistically’. As if the state is trying to tell me that I’m wrapped in cotton wool, that I’m naive about these issues and that I need to be shown how the world really works. As if the state has suddenly decided that we have all come of age and the protection from the ills and nastiness of the world that it provided for us until now is no longer a game it is willing to play. As if we have somehow incurred the state’s wrath by pushing our naivity too far, so that the state turns and says ‘okay, if you’re not going to be responsible without this prompting, I’ll have to show you what it’s really like’.

    The two most disturbing elements of this state-attitude are i) that the state appears to think it has the right to subject me, without warning, to images that no corporate agency would get away with broadcasting and ii) that the fact I am not familiar with the gruesome images the state likes to bandy around is down to the state itself, and not to my own carefulness for which the state can and should take no credit.

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