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Bringing Politics Back In: the Trajectory of the Regulatory State of the South

Bronwen Morgan

Notions of the regulatory State have come to stand, in the North, for leaching politics out of public administration, particularly from the influential policy literature supporting the diffusion of independent regulatory agencies. In my address, I will challenge this contention, drawing on recent empirical work on the regulatory State in developing and emerging economies. I begin by arguing that the governance problems that regulation is meant to address should be understood along a spectrum from rules to deals. This argument, grounded in empirical work carried out in the context of infrastructure and essential services, holds that politics is an important and constitutive dimension of the story of the rise of the regulatory State. It should be embraced, via a conception of regulators as facilitating legitimate forms of negotiation, rather than as neutral rule makers, monitors and enforcers.

In the second part of the document, I explore the relevance of this argument for social rather than economic regulatory issues, and suggest that a particularly fruitful direction for regulatory studies would focus on contextualized, interpretive studies of the enforcement and compliance dynamics of social regulation, where the centre of analytical gravity is the South and its variabilities (rather than using the experience of the industrialized North as a universalizing comparative benchmark).

In the third and final part, I engage more directly with the substance of political vision often elided in accounts of regulatory governance dynamics, and consider the implications of recent developments in Chile and Ecuador for the relationship between the regulatory State and the “post-neoliberal” turn in Latin America. This closing section exposes some tensions at the heart of “bringing politics back in” to debates about the regulatory State, but suggests that these are productive tensions that are worth embracing.

Key words: Function of the State; Regulation Process; Technology Transfer; Developing Countries; Developed Countries

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