The Dispositive - Government

Looking at the dispositive ...... we can look at an overall system of knowledge comprising discourse, material objects, and decisions/events, and we can look at the role of the Government Discourse within this.
(in my food study, I have described the Government documentation, and in the context section of this Discourse Toolbox site, I have analysed some aspects of the contexts the Governement operates in - the map and the players)

Looking at these aspects of knowledge in turn, referring to the Government:-

1. Discourse. From the text itself, one can make the following notes about the role of the government, derived from the discourses they are using, and from the way they handle them:-

  • No-one will be unhappy about anything stated in the text - who could object to any of the aims or objectives stated here ?
  • The government is trying to please a range of lobbies and interest groups (and conversely, no group or interest will feel excluded)
  • Throughout there is a balancing of the tension between green and business interests
  • The impression is given that everything is in safe hands, and going in the right direction.
    The document:-
    places the Government as being in control
    it adopts entire discourses about economic, green and consumer issues,
    and recruits the lobbies to be on the Government's side.

To summarise, the government discourse gives the impression that everything is going well, and it generates a feeling of confidence

 

2. Material Objects. I have carried out a Context Analysis of the material on my website, which can serve as a reality check of the results from the Toolbox.

Looking at this wider context in terms of the role of government, I have suggested:

  1. we have a globalised and industrialised food and farming system,
  2. in global terms, the UK government can best be seen as one voice among many, as there are other Governments, International Organisations (such as the EU and WTO) and also International companies who operate beyond boundaries. The UK Government discourse seems to fit very comfortably with these.
  3. in the national context, all the organisations, from businesses to environmental and consumer groups, seem to have similar messages (and similar 'nice' pictures to brighten up their websites). From their websites, they all seem to be 'equal but different' agencies, engaged in a collective endeavour to improve amenities and all the areas of our lives.
  4. From these perspectives, our government does not seem to dominate in the way they do in their own publication - the picture that one gains from this is of a collective endeavour where the Government plays a major role.

This characterises the government discourse as 'inclusive', and looked at the way it 'places' the Government as a 'co-operator' both globally and nationally. But, what about the third aspect of the dispositive - events ?

3. Decisions and Events. So, from their discourse, the Governement shows that everything is going well, from the context everything is incluusive and co-operative, and the events and decisions mostly look good, but there is a problem ..... some events tell a very different story - the text itself was written at the height of the Foot and Mouth crisis, and several years after the height of the BSE problems. In both of these crises, the "all-is well, inclusive" line was dropped, and the Government took emergency powers and took dramatic action to cull animals and remove the risks from the consumers.

Discussion. The text has Objectives about animal welfare and about protecting of the public from animal diseases. The Government has established a system of regulations and regulatory agencies for the day-to-day implementation of these regulations, and these agencies, plus the market mechanisms, regulate the supply of all of the food to the consumer. The Government has a regulating, steering and organising role between the various interest groups. These seem to be the central roles of Government.

However, with the BSE and Foot and Mouth crises, it seems that the Government also had another, secret role - as an all-powerful Intervention Agency, which as a last resort can take massive action, if it is seen to be in the national interest. Obviously, this was a valid action to take, but the need for this action seems to indicate that there were major faults in the previous Government policies. I am not aware of any changes in policy.

Some 6 million animals were culled (4.9 million sheep, 0.7 million cattle and 0.4 million pigs). This is taken from a Government website http://footandmouth.csl.gov.uk/ which gathers all the information and reports on the crisis. I have also copied the first few pages of the recommendations of the Policy Commission on this crisis to create another page. This report can be downloaded from here, although it is now archived. I cannot see any change in policies following the crisis, and there is no response to industrialisation at the policy level either.

The Government 'Power to Intervene' is interesting. I am not sure how this is established, and a number of points can be made:-

  • In both of these crises, the Government intervention was expected and supported by nearly all concerned
  • There do not seem to be any guidelines for Government intervention in crises
  • There does not seem to be any basis for the decisions to intervene or not (one can point to similar crises, such as the economics of sheep hill-farmers where there has been no intervention)

So, there seems to be a 'normal operations' state, and a 'Special Powers' state of Government. It is possible that emergency laws were passed at the start of these crises, but, the core of this point is that this intervention was demanded and expected by most people, perhaps especially by those who would normally denounce any Government interference in the 'free market'.

The three aspects of the Dispositive give three different views of the Government :-

  1. a happy, confident, 'in control' Government
  2. a Government in a mesh of 'collective endeavours' in a wider perspective
  3. a Government confronted by major crises and having to use 'Special Powers'

There seems to be a fault line between these different pictures !

Theoretical Notes. van Dijk (2002) has done some work on political language which might be useful here. He states '…. part of such (political) context (such as a Parliamentary debate) is also the (mutual) knowledge speakers have. ….. participants have a device, which I call K-device, that regulates the way their knowledge is brought to bear in their discourse, for instance in the complex interplay of presuppositions and implications and their manifestation in various discourse structures.'
This implies that only politicians can correctly understand a political document such as this 'Aims and Objectives', and then only if they have the relevant knowledge. Outsiders looking at these political issues, even using academic tools, may not be able to reach this understanding.

Please contact me at george@whatever-will.be if you are interested in the above

(0044)(0) 1372-749803

A website from