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Metapolitical Sense

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So the elephant sits squarely in the room: Where is the locus of agency for democratic spaces?

Social transformations that shape political orders and, in a metapolitical sense, the creation of regimes that are based on general, inclusive, and public-oriented justifications, rather than particularistic and exclusionary logics are highly complex and contextualized both in space and time—and increasingly so in a world characterized by deterritorialization, in which globalized economic, social, political and cultural relationships cut across national and local topographies. As a critical reading of both the development discourse as well as the scholarly discourse on corruption and political order in the world shows, the imploration of a transformative deus ex machina is fraught with theoretical and empirical difficulties. Hence, the identification of such emancipatory struggles requires an analytical shift. A case will be made here for linking the macro-level of analysis, such as expounded both in the political-economic theories as well as in the more socio-culturally informed theories on corruption and political order, with a micro-and Meso-level perspective, analyzing the socio-cultural constraints and political spaces from the viewpoint of particular social actors. Taking articulations of ‘corruption’ as a pars pro toto, how and why are patterns of structuration and institutionalization of norms and practices shaped, which social struggles and social actors gain traction, which structural properties are iterated and solidified, and which are marginalized and vanish, shaping orders of inclusion and exclusion?

To understand how political orders emerge which allow for communities of interest to negotiate their differences, and, in a more normative twist, develop a fundamental readiness to moderate parochial or individual interests in consideration of some common good, a new dimension needs to be incorporated into the analysis that has only been alluded to hitherto: namely the emergence of public spheres. Here the normative precedence of politics comes into play when thinking about modes of inclusion that go beyond mere systems and structures to include values and symbolic orders. This brings us back to Leys’ emphasis on, in his terms, ‘public morality (Leys 1965) in his discussion. As Philp stresses in an essay, “politics is partly about the contestation and projection of conceptions of the public interest. Public office and public interest are, then, intimately connected” (Philp 1997). He fleshes out the distinctive feature of politics (as opposed to other exchange systems or social relations) as being “the type of general, the public orientated justification used to legitimate its claims” (Philp 1997). In other words, politics are necessarily tied to constitutions of legitimacy and representation. This has direct repercussions on the notion of what constitutes a public good. It also reframes the problem: Politics takes normative precedence because it orders otherwise irresolvable forms of social and interpersonal conflict. In each case, these activities will damage the capacity of the authority to secure a stable order of rule capable of resolving conflict. But political mismanagement is distinctive as a form of dereliction: if political authority is desirable because it orders fundamental conflicts between interests, the suborning of that authority to serve one particular set of interests covertly reinstitutes the domination which that authority is designed to avoid (Philp 1997).

What is outlined here are two sets of questions. The first set revolves around a political system that allows for the ordering and mediation of divergent and possibly antagonistic interests; a political system that orders difference without intolerable suppression or exclusion. The second set revolves around the mechanisms, deliberative or other, that define public interests. What is collectively desirable?

Precisely the discourses and articulations around such ethical notions, around desirable public goods, and the emergence of internalization of values that inform them are the hallmarks of the public sphere as understood here. With mismanagement subverting and appropriating procedures and values that characterize such a deliberative public sphere, post-colonial societies are, again, characterized by the absence of such a public sphere. And evidently, it would be a gross naïvety to transport notions of a deliberative and procedurally ‘pure’ public sphere to any reality, but in this case in particular to topographies characterized by exclusionary fields of power and a vast array of social imaginaries.

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