Governing Infrastructure in the Age of the 'Art of the Deal': Logics of Governance and Scales of Visibility
(2018) PoLAR - Political and Legal Anthropology Review 41(S1): 118-132.
19 Pages Posted: 11 Oct 2018 Last revised: 12 Nov 2018
Date Written: September 18, 2018
Many different types of organizations provide public services or goods and build public works without being, strictly speaking, part of government. Such entities tend to be seen as more innovative than government proper, both because of their organizational autonomy and because they primarily use private-law techniques (contracts, mainly) and lay claim to private sector credentials. This article examines the presumed correlation between moves towards greater public-private hybridity in government and public sector innovation, using illustrative examples from Ontario and British Columbia, Canada. Combining interviews with professional infrastructure deal-makers, direct observation of public infrastructure workshops, and analyses of the documents that constitute infrastructure deals, we show that the quest to bring virtues and techniques associated with private enterprise to the delivery and governance of public goods and services often leads to a dialectical reversal. At first, bureaucratic rules do give way to the pursuit of more or less sui generis deals. But the entities that initiate deals and partnerships soon come to feel the need to standardize the process, which then leads to the return of standard templates and surprisingly rigid rules.
Keywords: governance, public-private partnerships, transparency, public sector innovation
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