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Public Private Partnerships And Globalization Sociology Essay

This assignment aims at analyzing how social constructivism, as described by Hacking in his work "Why Ask What", has envisaged PPP, present its contribution to the debate and outline its context and conceptual repertoire. While PPP studies have been increasingly approached by this school of thought with presenting ontological contributions, there is still need for further theoretical and empirical research. This report will not try to stand out as a complete review of the relevant literature; rather, its main objective will be an overview of this emerging concept.

1. Introduction

The dawn of the 21st century has found humanity traveling on a train towards a new globalized society. Globalization is a natural phenomenon and as such, one cannot agree or disagree with it -as one could not agree or disagree with the rain or the wind. However, there are always potentials to study and analyze the phenomenon itself as well as the outcomes that emerge from its concept. Globalization challenges governance the way we know it and at the same time, creates potential answers to governance dilemmas. It has expanded markets and the reach of international economic relations at the expense of other values such as environmental protection, equity and social justice. In the same time, the steady process of liberalization, increases competition, especially in public procurement and restrictions on state aids are combining to transform the public sector (Cowie, 1996).

The rapidly changing business environment of the last years has created uncertainty in the markets and high risk for future decisions. Such a political and economical environment has been ideal for a new model of Public-Private institutions to thrive. This inclusion of stakeholder is going to make governance more legitimate as well as more effective. The theoretical underpinning of this builds on notions of communicative action and discourse ethics (Habermas, 1992; Habermas, 1996), which are used to develop the concept of deliberative democracy.

However, a focus on communicative processes is needed in order to understand the micro-foundation of PPP. Social constructivism is a school of thought, which is likely to point out that PPP is a dominant discourse in politics and tends to reify existing power structures. Its concern is the demonstration of the structural homogeneity of corporate actors including states in the contemporary world system that it has little to offer about the degrees of decoupling. PPP studies have been increasingly approached by social constructivists with presenting ontological contributions. Such an approach can uncover the power-structures, provide a focus on the non-material forces at work, bring politics back into the discourse and demonstrate the structural homogeneity of corporate actors. Last but not least, a vital contribution of this school of thought to the study of PPP processes concerns their normative implications and particularly the question how these processes can be subjected to political steering.

To explore further the arguments set out above, this assignment is divided in four sections as follows: after a brief introduction to PPP (section 2), challenges for social constructivism are discussed (section 3), whereas the final section (section 4) concludes the assignment.

2. Public Private Partnerships

The reform of the public sector and the emergence of new concepts are always appealing for the social sciences. Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) constitute an important means of reform towards the construction of public infrastructure and the provision of services to citizens. An all-inclusive definition would be parted by three main points. First, PPPs involve at least one for-profit organization and at least one not-for-profit organization; second, these organisations have shared objectives for the creation of social value; third, the core partners agree to share both efforts and benefits (Reich, 2000). These ventures are funded and operated through a partnership of the public sector with one or more private sector companies. Being complex networks with diverse stakeholder interests and agendas that may entail accommodating co-operation, collaboration and competition, PPPs have inherited the characteristics of a network society and are based on the idea of mutual added value.

When actors consider a rule as legitimate, compliance is no longer motivated by the fear of retribution, or by a calculation of self-interest, but instead by an internal sense of moral obligation (Hurd, 1999). The involved actors are supposed to obey on rules that associate identities to situations (March & Olsen, 1998). However, the involved actors in PPP projects often foresee additional benefits and expect them to outweigh the cost of cooperation.

It is thereby overlooked, that PPP entail a lot more than economic forces and equally include cultural phenomena and the spread of consensual knowledge as well as principles and norms and a focus on the constitutive effects of the various PPP processes is needed. Therefore, the fundamental question is whether PPP are capable of operating in the public interest and eventually constitute a Win-Win-Win solution for the private sector, the public sector and the citizens. Furthermore, the dilemma whether PPP are a form of privatization in disguise or an honest attempt towards the transformation of public sector, seeks for an answer. Whilst the research topic will be refined over the following months, to answer these questions, an interpretive in-depth case study research will be followed. The case study will involve semi-structured interviews of selected stakeholder as well as non-participant observations. The context in which the research will take place is the UK National Health Service in order to address the issues and gaps highlighted up until now in the literature.

3. Social Constructivism

The concepts of social constructivism outlined by Ian Hacking in his core text "Why Ask What" that lies as first chapter in his book "The Social Construction of What" is going to be used to describe the ways in which the aforementioned research topic can be shaped. Discussing the contribution of social constructivism to the study of PPP represents a great challenge. Social constructivism is a meta-theory of the social world and our knowledge about it (Adler, 1997; Adler, 2002; Fearon & Wendt, 2002) and provides a critical view on many concepts often taken for granted (Hacking, 1999). Yet, it serves as a critical perspective that provides unconventional wisdom in the field and a political approach to the diffusion of international standards (Finnemore, 1996).

The main objective of a critical deconstruction of PPP is to uncover the power-structures as an ontology of domination and subordination that is established and reproduced by the discourse itself. A social constructivist view of PPP would focus on the non-material forces at work and would emphasize on the processes of meaning construction and interpretation as constitutive for PPP. Such a lens will also help to bring the politics back into the PPP discourse by emhpasizing the potential for change rather than the inevitability of processes. This school of thought is concerned on demonstrating the structural homogeneity of corporate actors including states in the contemporary world system that it has little to offer about the degrees of decoupling (Risse, 2007).

Social constructivism is among these concepts that mean many different things to many different group of people. Some scholars consider all people in the fields of social studies as social constructivists (Hacking, 1999). Although in general, scientists do not refute that most of the world is a social construction, many scholars have tried to refute that everything is socially constructed and it is not clear whether anyone has seriously claimed that everything is a social construct (Hacking, 1999). The term itself as Hacking says, "(h)as become code" (Hacking, 1999: p.7).

Social constructivism occupies ontological middle-ground between individualism and structuralism by claiming that there are properties of structures and of agents that cannot be collapsed into each other (Risse, 2007). Whilst the case study will involve semi-structured interviews of selected stakeholder as well as non-participant observations, one cannot even describe the properties of social agents without reference to the social structure in which they are embedded. Social constructivism concentrates on the social identities of factors in order to account for their interests (Wendt, 1999; Checkel, 2001a). People make social world that is meaningful in their minds (Karacasulu & Uzgören, 2007). However, agents do not exist independently from their social environment (Karacasulu & Uzgören, 2007). Thus, state interests emerge from an environment in which states operate and are endogenous to states’ interaction with their environment (Risse, 2005).

Hacking (1999) answers why one should ask whether or not things are socially constructed and defines the condition under which people begin to argue that things are socially constructed (Philosophy Journal, 2005). Moreover, he provides an answer to under what conditions, an understanding of something as constructed is going to make positive social change possible (Croissant, 2000). Baring in mind that social scientist are part of the social world, which they try to analyse (Giddens, 1982; Habermas, 1968) and the unifying characteristics of social constructivism as a meta-theoretical approach to the study of social phenomena (Adler, 2002; Ruggie, 1998) researchers can "understand certain problems in certain ways and pose question accordingly" (Diez, 2001:p.90). This is certainly valuable to take under concideration for the interpretive in-depth case study research that will be followed. While a dominant discourse establishes structural power in the sense that it defines how the world does and ought to look like, what are the relevant questions to be asked and who is considered a legitimate and authoritative voice it is always open to agency in the sense that communicative practices and justifications can be challenged (Risse, 2007).

Social reality is human-agent constructed and reproduced through their daily practice (Berger & Luckmann, 1966). Hacking (1999) suggests that the interaction between a category and included actors, is present in many analyses involving types of human beings. The arguments of social constructivists are opaque on what is not inevitable and what should be done away with (Hacking, 1999). After having examined many forms of social construction, Hacking (1999) argues that something is said to be socially constructed, when:

In the present state, it is taken for granted and appears to be inevitable (Hacking, 1999:p.12).

It is not determined by the very nature of things and it is not inevitable (Hacking,1999:p.6).

It is quite bad in its current state.

It needs transformation (Hacking, 1999: p.6)

4. Conclusion

This attempt aimed to expose the value of social constructivism for the research of PPP by presenting its social ontology under PPP discourse indicating how it is differentiated from the rational approach. Social constructivism provides a new way for debate within PPP studies. A social constructivist reading of PPP as the discursive of interpretations, challenges to these interpretations and to established meanings thus provide a better understanding of the contested nature of these processes than conventional readings that concentrate only on the material forces at play. Moreover a social constructivist understanding allows to bring politics back in scene. At the same time it helps us to avoid voluntarist accounts so as if global social and material structures can be altered at will. A final contribution of social constructivism to the study of PPP processes concerns their normative implications and particularly the question how these processes can be subjected to political steering.

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