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Big Society as Big Government: Cameron's Governmentality Agenda


  • Dan Bulley,

  • Bal Sokhi-Bulley

Research Highlights and Abstract

The article seeks to make a contribution in the following areas:

  • Demonstrate that the ‘Big Society’ agenda, while based on a dichotomy with ‘Big Government’, in fact produces a diffusion of bigger, better government throughout British society.
  • Illustrate that despite claims of the Big Society being a matter of empowerment, its diverse tactics and techniques of what Foucault calls ‘governmentality’, or the ‘conduct of conduct’, shows the opposite: management and control.
  • Outline the logic of the Big Society and how it has played out in two important policies of the Coalition Government: National Citizen Service and Community Resilience.
  • Suggest that while the ‘Big Society’ targets widespread behavioural change, the ultimate aim is to produce a population of efficient, responsible, productive and self-governing individuals and communities.

Cameron's flagship policy of the ‘Big Society’ rests on a society/government dichotomy, diagnosing a ‘broken society’ caused by ‘big government’ having assumed the role communities once played. The remedy is greater social responsibility and the ‘Big Society’. This article argues that the dichotomy is deceptive. We aim to show that the Big Society is big government, as it employs techniques for managing the conduct of individuals and communities such that the mentality of government, far from being removed or reduced, is bettered and made more efficient. To illustrate this, we explore two major initiatives: the National Citizen Service and the Community Resilience programme. These projects demonstrate how practices of informing and guiding the conduct of individuals both produce agents and normalise certain values, resulting in the population being better known and controlled. Thus, far from lessening government and empowering people, the Big Society extends governmentality throughout the social body.