Purposeful Agency and Governance: A Bridgeable Gap

Organized by: International Urban Symposium – IUS,  Commission on Urban Anthropology (CUA), Centre for Social Anthropology and Computing (CSAC), Human Relations Area Files Advanced Research Centres [EU] School of Anthropology and Conservation, University of Kent

University of Kent, Canterbury, U.K. , 15–17 June 2016
Convenors: Giuliana B. Prato, Italo Pardo and Michael Fischer

With specific reference to urban settings and the dynamic interactions between cities and regions, this Conference aims to contribute to increasing our capacity to understand important processes of agency in a worldwide context marked by a growing gap between citizenship and governance.read more

The Conference will stimulate reflection on the interplay between personal morality and civic responsibility, and between value and action. Anthropologists, and ethnographers more generally, have demonstrated the moral and cultural complexity of individual action and the ways in which misplaced or instrumentally selective moralities in policy and in the production and enforcement of the law encourage exclusion and widen the gap between governance and the governed across the world. They have demonstrated the impact of rules and regulations inspired by concepts that are ambiguous, elusive, biased towards those in power, or badly defined or impossible to apply, thus compounding the perceived weak legitimacy of governance and the law in the broader society.

Ethnographic research has a unique contribution to make to our capacity to understand important processes of agency and the ways in which agency (individual and collective) is capable of influencing the system (Philip Abrams) and encouraging good governance that takes into account the needs and expectations of agency (Prato). Anthropological analysis of diverse ethnographies has brought to light the significance in people’s life and to society more broadly of a strong continuous interaction between the material and the non-material (Pardo). Parallel to this, new anthropological research over the past decade has focused on the properties of the ‘digital society’ with respect to how people experience external changes, how they organize themselves and, in turn, enact new change (Fischer). Governance, at various levels, is increasingly recognising the relevance of intangible resources.

We propose that it is important to document how governance is evolving and to understand the extent to which public policies might pose obstacles to agents’ full participation in society. Entrepreneurialism – intended in the broad sense of an agent’s capacity to evaluate and access available resources – makes one example of the many ways in which people may deal with these obstacles, motivating many simply to ‘work around’ them by becoming or remaining a part of ‘informal’ areas and relations; that is, identifying ‘gaps’ in policy and working within the gaps.

The conference welcomes ethnographically-based contributions that identify the main gaps and obstacles related to the development of purposeful agency and the normative changes needed to encourage, rather than frustrate, agency and good governance, intended as governance that promotes and makes the best of the local resources and styles of citizenship.

Selected papers will be considered for publication in a Special Volume of the Series Palgrave Studies in Urban Anthropology and in the peer-reviewed journal Urbanities (http://www.anthrojournal-urbanities.com/).

On the Legitimacy of the Italian Government

A Lecture by

Dr Francesca Russo

 Professor of History of Political Thought, University Suor Orsola Benincasa, Naples, Italy

Since the foundation of the Italian Republic, the Presidents of the Republic have usually chosen Prime Ministers among the members of Parliament. There have been four exceptions.read more

The first three were economists, chosen for their technical knowledge at times of economic and financial crisis to help cope with the situation. Across Italy, there were interesting debates about their appointment, correct from a Constitutional perspective, but from a political viewpoint there were reasons to argue that they did not represent a real political majority, and it was maintained that even if their reforms had been approved by Parliament they were not democratically ‘just’. The current Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, also not a member of Parliament, was select to inject youth and major reforms into Government. His Government has submitted to Parliament many important reforms, and is proposing substantial changes to the Constitution. Again, this is formally correct. However, there are corresponding arguments that the actions of this Government lack full legitimacy.

Sponsored by: School of Anthropology and Conservation, University of Kent; International Urban Symposium; Legal Innovation in PNG; Human Relations Area Files Advanced Research Centres [EU]