Reconfiguration as the new framework in the anthropological research of contemporary local-level politics

Research on contemporary national political processes, that is, those not restricted to local communities, leads to the conclusion that fundamental changes in power structures, induced by globalization, are under way. The main point of reference in research on the local level has been the concept of the reconfiguration of power and state responsibility, introduced by Banaszak, Beckwith and Rucht (2003). These authors have constructed a typology of independent power relocation forced by structural shifts within the state system in the EU[1]. Reconfigured power is subject to radical and diffused transformations of which the society is not aware. The process takes place through the multifaceted delegation of the traditional tasks of state power and of state responsibilities. The authors distinguish four directions of the reconfiguration:

  • (1) uploading - the transfer of certain entitlements of state power to the level of supra-state bodies and treaties;
  • (2) downloading - the transfer of certain entitlements of state power to the lower level of self-governance of the local entity;
  • (3) lateral loading - the transfer of certain entitlements of the elected power to unelected bodies (like courts, quasi-NGOs, etc.);
  • (4) off-loading - the transfer of responsibility for care and related services to NGOs or businesses.

Pursuant to this division, the scope of politics remains identical to that defined by Turner, Swartz and Tuden (2006), but reconfiguration brings on the empowerment of new subjects and relationships of power, and the legitimization of their political influence. In reference to the above, it is important to note that the scope of reconfigured power is dynamically staked out by various actors exerting different types of influence on public goals[2]. The empowerment of informal initiatives and the opening up of formal authorities to the influences exerted by “second-line” actors is an additional, presumed feature of local politics in a reconfigured state, where informal institutions that have a significant impact on the shaping of political objectives receive the possibility of legalization. Cooperation between the key realms - private and public - renders it possible to translate informality into formality, based on the process of informality encompassing formal structures.

In this article, I intend to focus on the downloading and off-loading directions of reconfiguration, as they are directly present and implemented in the political field of local communities. Quite unlike uploading and lateral loading, they rest on mobilisation and bottom-up political participation, and on the strengthening of self-governance of local authorities. In local communities we are dealing with the multiplexity of ties, a highly dynamic political field, a fluidity of delineations between the private and the public and, consequently, greater opportunities for influencing public goals by local actors. Therefore, in accordance with the main hypothesis, two factors lead to the broadening of the political field onto previously non-political areas: on the one hand, the formal and systemic reconfiguration of power, and on the other hand, the theoretically identified determinants of the local community. What is more, these new areas will not be pulled only into political processes (which is a well-known phenomenon); as a result of the tools available through the downloading and off-loading of power, even informal political influences will be integrated into the formal sphere through their being tied together with formal initiatives via legal solutions.

The noticeable liberalization of the EU “soft laws” contributes significantly to the strengthening of informal political mechanisms - it gives space for the temporary empowerment of so-called social initiatives, which may be used not only by grassroots movements striving to exert an influence on politics, but also by professional political actors in direct power struggles. However, the main idea behind such reinforcement of these initiatives is to support the grassroots informal organizations in making their activities more professional and to take a fuller presence on the power stage. This transposition, incidentally, fits right into the Polish conditions governing social participation presented in the next paragraph. However, the question remains whether this available mechanism is indeed employed.

  • [1] However, it is also possible to apply this concept to the analysis of state or politicalsystems of other countries or larger regions of the world.
  • [2] One characteristic example is the striving to influence power devoid of any intentionto take it over, which is a distinct feature of not only the so-called “new social movements” (della Porta and Diani Mario 2006, 36-37), but also of numerous local socialinitiatives.
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