Colm O'Doherty: While I have previously argued that the active citizenship agenda of the Cowen and Ahern governments has lacked policymaking substance and commitment to positive social change, I take issue with the recommendation in the McCarthy Report that the Active Citizenship Office be wound up and its work halted. The paltry savings to be gained from this cutback – the 2009 allocation for this programme is just €56,000 – suggests that the sub text here is the removal of the symbolic threat which the Active Citizenship agenda poses to the pivotal role of money in our society.
As Ingham (Ingham, I. (2008) Capitalism, Cambridge: Polity Press) makes clear “It is the money-capital of capitalism that drives the endless pursuit of profit and gives the system its dynamism and flexibility; in short, the creation and control of money-capital is the locus of power in capitalism. It is here that the decisions about when and where the material provisioning for human wants are taken” (p. 206).
Despite its limitations, the State’s Active Citizenship project has affirmed social value as a counterbalance to individual utility maximisation. As Bauman (Bauman, Z. (2008) The Art of Life, Cambridge ; Polity Press) suggests, “pretending that the volume of and depth of human happiness can be taken care of and properly served by fixing attention on just one index –GNP – is grossly misleading. When it is made into a principle of governance, such a pretence may become harmful as well , bringing consequences opposite to those intended and allegedly pursued”(p. 8). The Active Citizenship Agenda recognises that social capital theory does point towards the need for a different approach to governance when markets and the apparatus of the state fail to renew civic involvement and produce those “collective goods which enable beneficial cooperation and restrain self-defeating hedonism and opportunism in social exchanges” (Jordan, B. (2008) Welfare and Well-being –Social Value in Public Policy, Bristol, Policy Press, p.89).
Active citizenship is synonymous with community governance. Community governance is manifested as – voluntary effort, community participation, community development, educational /training initiatives. These collective goods which underpin the interpersonal economy are needed more than ever to reduce the damage to our society brought about by the subordination of social to economic value under the flawed governance structures of the financial and speculative property markets. The retention of the Active Citizenship Office and the continuation of its work will provide a “space” for articulating and dispensing coherent collective systems of meaning , purpose and integrity, capable of creating cultures of social, rather than purely individualistic monetary, value.
Dr. Colm O’Doherty lectures in Applied Social Studies at the Institute of Technology, Tralee