Thursday, July 19, 2012

Jonathan S. Davies - Why Hierarchy Won't Go Away: Understanding the Limits of 'Horizontalism'

When people reach the communal stage of development, which values consensus and human bonds (the Green Stage in SDi and AQAL), there tends to be an allergy to hierarchies of any kind, but especially those that include power differentials. We see this most recently in the various iterations of the Occupy Movement - a rejection of structure and hierarchy, which likely explains their lack of success in making any substantive change.

But as Jonathan Davies argues in this article, hierarchies won't go away, no matter how much people try to impose horizontal structures, which seems particularly true in the business world. Davies believes, working from Gramsci's theory of the integral state, that an "element of hierarchy is the pre-condition of effective solidarity and democratic accountability."

May 25, 2012

This short paper was produced as a Research Briefing for Leicester Business School in May 2012. It explores the rise of 'horizontalism' as a hegemonic world view and then discusses its limits, applying Gramsci's theory of the integral state. The paper suggests that the concept of a 'governance genome' maybe helpful for understanding how governing institutions embody multiple modes of coordination in many variable configurations, simultaneously hierarchy, market and network. It concludes that the resistance movements influenced by horizontalism should not feel threatened by hierarchy. The concept can be wrongly conflated with domination, and an element of hierarchy is the pre-condition of effective solidarity and democratic accountability. 
Full Citation:
Davies, JS. (May 25, 2012). Why Hierarchy Won't Go Away: Understanding the Limits of 'Horizontalism'  Social Science Research Network: or

Here is a short section of the paper that describes the rise of horizontalism in Western Culture - a movement that began in earnest in the 1960s but has roots all the way back to the 1800s and groups like the Transcendentalists, the poet Walt Whitman, and the efforts to free the slaves and give women the vote.
The Rise of Horizontalism
Horizontalist ideology began its rise to prominence in the 1960s, when capitalists, riding the wave of the technological revolution, started re-describing their activities in the language of networks. Contemporary capitalism celebrates qualities such as autonomy, spontaneity, multi-tasking, conviviality, team-working, openness to others and sensitivity to difference – all characteristics associated with the good networker. For major international organisations including the World Bank, the IMF, the OECD, the United Nations and European Union, networking has also become one of the cardinal principles of ‘good governance’.

Recognizing public disaffection with representative democracy and the ‘dead hand’ of bureaucracy in public services, governments too have sought to become more flexible and responsive through networking. As David Wilson highlighted in a previous Research Briefing, the idea of networks has been especially influential in local governance, where officials across much of the world, and not only in democracies, seek to build collaborative institutions; state-civil society partnerships inspired by the idea that on-going direct cooperation with citizens is both more democratic and more efficient than a representative system where councillors or mayors simply receive a mandate (of sorts) every few years and then assume they have sufficient power and legitimacy to govern. Governments today believe they must network with citizens, businesses and civil society groups, if they are to get anything done.

If the network is a crucial medium of political and economic power, it is also the central organising principle for many of those resisting cuts and austerity. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri depict a world where networked power, ‘Empire’, confronts its nemesis in the form of networked resistance, the ‘Multitude’. The Economics Editor of BBC Newsnight, Paul Mason, has written movingly and evocatively of how the ideas and technologies of networking inspire and organise protestors, from the scenes in Tahrir Square during the Arab Spring to the anti-capitalist protests of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. OWS is passionate in its commitment to horizontalism. Its antipathy to hierarchy is certainly well-grounded, deriving from both the experience of neoliberal authoritarianism today and the historical errors of the left: from the lumbering bureaucracies of the Labour Party and trade unions to the unspeakable dictatorships of Stalin and Mao. OWS therefore prides itself on transcending hierarchy, maximising democratic participation and perhaps even exemplifying or ‘prefiguring’ the way we might run a post-neoliberal, or even post-capitalist society. For OWS, networking is the most democratic and effective medium of resistance and also the raison d’etre of a new society transformed from the bottom-up.
The network is thus claimed by natural and social scientists, corporations, governments and citizens, by those wielding power and those opposing them. It is used variously to diagnose, analyse, prescribe and envision the world in the 21st century. In the social sciences, its influence extends throughout the core disciplines of economics, politics, sociology and geography and well beyond. Yet, despite overwhelming consensus about the reality and virtues of the network society, my research has been dedicated to critiquing it and, in essence, trying to prove it wrong. There is now a growing body of academic work coming round to the idea that, despite the immense power of the ideology of networks it neither describes the world adequately, nor serves as a blueprint for transforming it.
 You can download the PDF at the SSRN page.
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