Governing Failure book jacket

Governing Failure

Provisional Expertise and the Transformation of Global Finance for Development

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This book argues that the shift in the policies of the IMF, World Bank and donors that occurred in the 1990s, towards what some have called the “Post-Washington Consensus,” was driven by an erosion of expert authority and an increasing preoccupation with policy failure. Twenty years after these changes first began we can now begin see the full implications of the shift underway: in contrast to the structural adjustment era when policymakers were generally confident that they had all the answers, we are now in an era of provisional governance, in which key actors are aware of the possibility of failure even as they seek to inoculate themselves against it.

Drawing on interviews, archival material and documents, I seek to understand the dynamics that drove this shift in how development is financed. Drawing on actor-network theory and Michel Foucault's concept of problematization, I suggest that these changes were precipitated by certain contested failures, like the Asian financial crisis and the "failure" of development in sub-Saharan Africa: failures that ultimately resulted in what Michel Callon calls "hot negotiations" in which the very metrics for judging success and failure are themselves called into question.

The product of these various processes of problematization was a series of new governance strategies including the new effort to foster country ownership, the focus on measuring results, the increased emphasis on risk and vulnerability and the concern with developing global standards of good practice.

Although the goals of these policies may not be that different from those of the structural adjustment era, how these new strategies do the work of governance is quite novel. Each of these policies seeks to achieve its ends in a way that is provisional: proactive, indirect, symbolic and cautious in the face of the ever-present possibility of failure.

This book has been published by Cambridge University Press. I have included below an overview of the book's contents, and have made available a pre-publication draft of the introduction.


Table of contents

I. Understanding How Global Governance Works

Ch. 1 Introduction

Ch. 2 A Meso-level Analysis


II. History

Ch. 3 What Came Before

Ch. 4 Transformations


III. New Strategies

Ch. 5 Fostering Ownership

Ch. 6 Developing Global Standards

Ch. 7 Managing Risk and Vulnerability

Ch. 8 Measuring Results


IV. Conclusion

Ch. 9 The Politics of Failure and the Future of Provisional Governance