Unconscious Aesthetics in Financial Public Management: Political Science on a Ubiquitous, Deceivingly Uninteresting Topic

Pertti Ahonen

Abstract


Financial public management (FPM) is ubiquitous in modern governance, but tends to maintain some degree of invisibility because of its technical appearance and the analogous nature of much of the associated research. This study seeks to encourage intellectual interest in this topic from a political science perspective that incorporates the research traditions of the aesthetics of the unconscious, which in turn builds upon selected psychoanalytic ideas. First, FPM is considered in terms of its spatial aspects, including ‘accounting entities’ and ‘quasi-markets’, both of which reflect the fashionable forcing of public sector organisations to conform to idealised forms of business despite the fact that this has been questioned even by accounting scholars. Second, there is a focus on the sight and visibility aspects of FPM, including ‘accountability’, which is characteristically modelled according to business and economic ideals. It nevertheless engenders problematic side effects, including the psychological circulation of shame by political decision-makers and business companies towards public sector organisations and their professionals. Third, FPM is examined in the light of certain acts that take place in and through language, namely perlocutionary speech acts. This is addressed in the article with special reference to the frequent FPM substitution of the rhetorical economic root figure ‘oikos’ for the generic and venerable political root figure ‘polis’. This, in turn, entails simulated
rivalry for the sheer preference for competition to take place between newly designed public sector units and between the individuals working in them. Fourth, there are FPM procedures that are downright humiliating, such as forced ‘self-evaluations’ preceding the ruthless external imposition of accountability, although fortu-nately, this is not the whole truth about self-evaluation. One can also perceive the appearance of more auditable and evaluable subjectivities in public organisations with the support of a particular version of the aesthetic ‘sublime’, made up of progressive measurement indicators, and quantification. Finally, FPM in its present shape is best able to offer elements that support necessary collective defence against the psychic anxiety that abounds in public sector organisations in so far as they turn
out partially tailored mass services. Conversely, it risks being counterproductive when individual tailoring, let alone genuine creativity, is called for.

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