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Is Latour’s due process feasible?

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Is Latour’s due process feasible?

Due to a change in regulations in the 1990s, Dutch housing associations have become much more independent from government policies. As a result they have to formulate their own strategic goals on how to deal with their properties. The aim of this paper is to investigate whether Bruno Latour’s due process model can be of help to housing associations implementing their strategies. In his Political Ecology, Latour (2004) has presented the due process model as a model through which new plans or ideas can be realised in society. In the case of housing management, measures from the management strategy should be implemented. Following McMaster, Vidgen & Wastell (1998), I will apply the due process retrospectively. To this end, a case study was conducted at a Dutch housing association.

In the next section, the due process model will be introduced. I will then explain the research method and the projects at Groenveld Wonen (fictitious name) that were selected for the case study. I will then progress to compare the due process model with the actual strategy implementation at the housing association before finally, drawing some conclusions from this comparison.

Actor network theory and the due process model

Following actor network theory (ANT), all human and non-human entities can be reformulated in terms of a network of actants that together make up the final result of such an entity (Latour, 2005; Law, 1992). For example, a building is a result of the actants (e.g. the project manager, financial resources, contractor, building materials, etc.) that together form a network. In terms of ANT this network is called an actant-network. If a housing association wants to establish a building, it has to translate other actants in order to make them part of the actant-network of the building. Callon & Latour (1981, p.279) define translation as: “all the negotiations, intrigues, calculations, acts of persuasion and violence, thanks to which an actor or force takes, or causes to be conferred on itself, authority to speak or act on behalf of another actor or force; ‘Our interests are the same’, ‘do what I want’, ‘you cannot succeed without me’.” Through translation, actants are displaced and thus changed, in order to become part of the actant-network (Callon, 1986).

The due process model of Latour (2004) may be of help for housing associations to guide their translation efforts building the actant-network. Latour (2004) uses the term ‘due process’ to indicate the normative program of actor network theory. The due process model consists of four general rules. The first general rule of Latour (2004) is about perplexity, “You shall not simplify the number of [potential actant-networks] to be taken into account in the discussion.” This rule is about the need to give a new candidate for existence some space to introduce itself. A new potential actant-network should not be instituted or neglected too soon. Perplexity is able to set legitimacy for a new candidate for existence. The second general rule deals with consultation about the characteristics of the new actant-network (Latour, 2004). Consultation is merely about explicating the different viewpoints. Discussion about how different viewpoints can live together is not important yet. Latour (2004) formulates this general rule as follows, “You shall make clear that the number of voices that participate in the articulation of [potential actant-networks] is not arbitrarily short-circuited.” (Latour 2004:109). Hierarchy, the third rule, is about fitting the new actant-network into existing structures. Latour (2004) formulates this again in the form of a general rule, “You shall discuss the compatibility of new [potential actant-networks] with [the existing structures], in such a way as to maintain them all in the same common world that will give them their legitimate place.” (Latour 2004:109). Finally, the fourth general rule of Latour is about the institution of agreements, “Once the [actant-networks] have been instituted, you shall no longer question their legitimate presence at the heart of collective life.”(Latour, 2004, 109) The implication of this is that agreements that have been made during the phase of hierarchy have to be fulfilled.

Research design

To see how the due process model can be useful in relation to the everyday practice of housing associations implementing their strategies, a case study was conducted at Groenveld Wonen, a housing association in the Netherlands. Four projects that were implemented during the period 1999 – 2007 were studied. Groenveld Wonen owns about 2000 dwellings. The organization had a formal housing management strategy that had been established in 1999. Three of the projects in this study emerged from the 1999 strategy. Another project was initiated by the local government.

The first phase of the case study focused on the documents; from the archives of the housing association all kinds of documents were retrieved. The second phase of the case study dealt with in-depth interviews with respondents from different organizations involved. The third phase of the research focused on the analysis of the data from the previous phases. The analysis consists of two steps. First, the information from the documents and the interviews was organized in a chronological order and confirmed by the respondents (Dankert, 2007). In the second section of this paper I will compare these results with the due process model.

The case of Groenveld Wonen

Groenveld Wonen set up a housing management strategy in 1999. The most important goal on the strategic level was the focus on the construction of elderly housing. Another important statement in the policy document was on the status of the document ― the housing management strategy was considered a dynamic policy. In the 1999 strategy, the position was adopted that discussions with stakeholders and new developments could lead to a change in plans. In the case study, four concrete projects were taken into account. The first project was the renovation of three blocks of apartments for the elderly. (This project will be referred to as the ‘renovation project.’) The second project was the plan to build new apartments for the elderly in a district that did not have much decent housing for the elderly. (This project will be referred to as the ‘new built dwellings project.’) The third project was about measures implemented through void repairs. The last project was the building of thirty new apartments, fifteen of which were designed especially for disabled people. (This project will be referred to as the ‘specially adapted apartments project’).

Testing the due process model retrospectively

In this section the general rules extracted from the work of Latour will be confronted with the implementation of the housing management strategy at Groenveld Wonen through the four projects introduced in the last section.

Perplexity

At the ‘renovation project’, the legitimacy for the project was established in the housing management strategy plan by a number of figures on the characteristics of the building and its popularity among people looking for a house. It was also supported by the trend of greater demand for elderly housing. Among the employees of the housing association, the housing management strategy plan in itself was enough to establish legitimacy. However, legitimacy had to be established not only within the organization of the housing association, but also among other parts of the actant-network. This was more problematic: with the municipality there was no agreement on basic ideas about housing policy, whereas the tenants at the renovation project first had to choose delegates to speak for them.

From the first general rule of the due process model, it can be concluded that the housing association had a number of instruments to establish legitimacy for a plan from the housing management strategy. Putting the housing management strategy on paper was a good start: embedding the plans inside the organization. However, to establish legitimacy outside the housing associations, agreements had to be reached. In this case, not many such agreements could be found; a potential cause of trouble as the project progressed, weakening the connection of one or more actants to the housing association. If such a connection broke down, it might not have been possible to implement the project in the way it was intended.

Consultation

None of the projects allow the general rule of consultation to be easily addressed. The actants involved in the projects were not explicitly asked to explicate their views on the projects. However, in a more subtle way, their views were made evident. The architect, for example, made drawings of the floor plan; in that way he made very clear what he wanted to achieve with the projects. However, in most cases views were not this explicit; something which caused trouble in later phases of the projects. During the ‘renovation project’ and the ‘specially adapted apartments’ project, the Projects and Services Departments did not have the same expectations about the completion of the projects and a lack of communication between the two departments meant that problems were not solved promptly. Also in other phases of the project communication problems arose. For example at the ‘renovation project’, expectations about the amount of daylight in the apartments were not made clear. This was important as the municipality had to test the plan against the rules about levels of daylight. Only after unsuccessful trials of hierarchy, did the municipality and the housing association get back to consultation to make their views more explicit.

From the second general rule of the due process model it becomes clear that the housing association should connect to a range of different organizations. Sometimes explicating the views on the project was done ‘automatically’, through mechanisms that were taken for granted by the actants involved. The explicit application of the general rule of consultation was not found in this case.

Hierarchy

The general rule of hierarchy is inevitable when a project is implemented. Evidence from the projects in this study, shows that skipping consultation and going directly into hierarchy made it hard to meet the rule of hierarchy in a way that was acceptable for all actants involved. The interpretation of the rules of law was a problem in this phase of the projects. The interpretation of the municipality was very strict, largely due to the vision of the most important local political party. The housing association and its advisors at the other hand took the interpretation of most other municipalities for granted, in the sense that they projected this interpretation onto the local situation. In several projects the municipality did not make clear from the outset what they wanted. The housing association did only ask after the first floor plans were rejected. In the case of the new built dwellings, project hierarchy was practiced in different ways by the municipality and the housing associations. As Latour (1997) would call it, they had different action programs. The action programme of the housing association was aiming for the building of apartments for the elderly; an assertion based on my own demographic research, the imbalanced structure of the existing housing stock in the district and the need for the elderly to move from a family house to an apartment. However, the municipality practiced another action programme. They based their aim: to build family houses, on the idea of the need for people with higher incomes from the district to find more suitable housing in the neighborhood, the opinion of the residents’ association and the politicians in the local council.

It can be concluded, that going too fast or even directly into hierarchy can create difficulties. The problems in this case go back to missing links from the general rules on perplexity and consultation. On most occasions, it should be possible to establish more legitimacy and to practice more consultation before the rule of hierarchy is addressed. However, in other instances, it is difficult to set legitimacy and to consult other actants beforehand. In the case of new laws established during the process, it is clear that none of the actants involved could foresee the impact of such changes. In such cases, establishing legitimacy and consultation should be continued when the process is already concerned with the rule of hierarchy. A third possibility is that the housing association and one or more of the other actants practice incommensurable definitions of a certain project: something that could be established in the consultation phase. In such cases, it is likely that hierarchy cannot be done, unless one of the definitions has been eliminated ― as is the case with the ‘new built dwellings’ project.

Institution

Institution is about keeping commitments. From the case study, it appears that this was not always properly carried out. In some cases, agreements that had been reached in an early stage of the project had to be rearranged due to new insights. From the case study, it appears that the establishing and formalisation of procedures had a positive effect on the way new buildings were handed over by the Projects Department to the Services Department after completion. However, as I have already established, this was not enough to solve all problems. As the case study shows, the formalized procedures were not always adequately followed up and procedures were given less priority than would have been desirable. Due to this lack of priority the requirement of institution was not adequately met.

The most important conclusion from the last general rule is that agreements have to be fulfilled to close the discussion. If agreements are not adequately followed up, the work of hierarchy turns out to be worthless. To make sure that agreements are going to be fulfilled, it is necessary to make them concrete, so that there can be no misunderstanding on the exact requirements. Organisational agreements have to be translated into agreements that can be fulfilled by individual employees. In itself this is not difficult: however, the actants making the agreements must have confidence in them if they are to be judged on them.

Conclusions and discussion

The first observation to be drawn from this study is that the general rules were not consequently followed, causing serious problems with the implementation of the projects. From this it can be concluded that Latour is right when he claims that the due process model enables both humans and nonhumans to establish their legitimate place either inside or outside the collective. Thus, the findings of this paper suggest that the due process model is a useful guide of implementation. However, if we take a closer look at the data, we can also see two major problems.

In the first place, the due process model is not only targeted at housing associations. If other actants do not agree on the need to use a due process model and jump from questions to conclusions instead, the due process model becomes worthless. In such cases, housing associations have to translate the other actants in order to join the due process. This might look like a detour, however, if the due process model is followed, it increases the likelihood that management strategies will get a fair trial before either becoming part of the collective or being excluded from it. The four moments of translation (Callon, 1986) can be used by housing associations to translate other actants in each stage of the due process model. Callon (1986), states that new issues popping up should be problematised in order to get them on the agenda. Without proper problematisation it is not clear why efforts have to be made to enroll the potential actant-network into the system of existing structures. Secondly, to consult actants also means to engage them. Callon shows how engagement is about negotiating the role of each actant involved in the implementation process. Through engagement, it thus becomes clear why an actant is consulted in the first place. For hierarchy, Callon’s work on enrollment is helpful, focusing as it does on the role that each actant has to play in the implementation process. This makes the implementation more concrete to the actants needed by the housing association. Finally to the general rule of institution we can add the fourth moment of translation: mobilization. In order to institute the plan as it was formed during hierarchy, the spokespersons involved have to mobilize the humans and nonhumans they represent. Agreements are mostly made or confirmed at the management level of a housing association. However, managers at all the organizations involved, need their employees to carry out what was agreed. They have to ‘mobilize’ their employees to do the job (Callon 1986). If we add the four moments of translation as introduced by Callon (1986) to the due process model, we endow housing associations with more concrete terms that can be used to translate other actants in order to get their support in following the due process model.

A second problem that has to be solved is that the due process model does not provide any substantive knowledge about the implementation of housing management strategies. Therefore, it is not easy for housing associations to translate the rather abstract rules of Latour into concrete instructions about what to do in daily situations. Housing associations do make use of much more concrete models as guidance for their actions (e.g. Eskinasi, 2006; Van den Broeke, 1998; Van Os, 2007). Through case studies like the one presented in this paper, more substantive knowledge about the implementation of housing management strategies can be gathered.

If we succeed to have actants accept the due process model, and we also succeed in making it concrete enough for the daily practice of professionals at housing associations, the due process model becomes feasible.

References

  • Callon, M. en B. Latour (1981). Unscrewing the Big Leviathan: How Actors Macrostructure Reality and Sociologists help them to do so. In Knorr-Cetina and Cicourel (Eds.), Advances in Social Theory and Methodology: Towards an Integration of Micro- and Macro-Sociologies (pp. 227-303). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  • Callon, M. (1986). Some elements of a sociology of translation: Domestication of the scallops and the fishermen of St Brieuc Bay. In J. Law (Ed.), Power, action and belief: A new sociology of knowledge. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  • Dankert, R. (2007). De verbindingen van Groenveld Wonen. Implementatie van strategisch voorraadbeleid vanuit een actor netwerk perspectief. Gouda: Habiforum.
  • Eskinasi, M. (2006). Corporaties & vastgoedsturing. Almere: Nestas communicatie.
  • Latour, B. (1997). De Berlijnse Sleutel, en andere lessen van een liefhebber van wetenschap en techniek. Amsterdam: Van Gennip.
  • Latour, B. (2004). Politics of nature. How to bring the sciences into democracy. Cambridge, Mass. and London: Harvard University Press.
  • Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social. An introduction to actor network theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Law, J. (1992). Notes on the Theory of the Actor Network: ordering, Strategy and Heterogeneity. Lancaster: Centre for Science Studies, Lancaster University.
  • McMaster, Vidgen & Wastell (1998) Networks of Association and Due Process in IS Development, in Proc. of the IFIP Conference on Information Systems: Current Issues and Future Changes, Helsinki.
  • Van den Broeke, R. (1998). Strategisch voorraadbeleid van woningcorporaties: informatievoorziening en instrumenten. Delft: DUP.
  • Van Os, P. (2007). Mensen, stenen, geld. Het beleidsproces bij woningcorporaties. Amsterdam: RIGO.
Ritske Dankert schreef dit paper in 2008.
Ritske Dankert
Ritske Dankert is oprichter van De Beleidsexpert en De Corporatiestrateeg. Hij helpt beleidsmakers en corporatiestrategen met tips voor meer impact en draagvlak. Ritske heeft 14 jaar ervaring met het maken en uitvoeren van beleid voor meer dan 30 overheden, corporaties en andere maatschappelijke organisaties. Hij vindt het leuk wanneer je reageert op zijn blogs :-)

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