How deep is incumbency? A ‘configuring fields’ approach to redistributing and reorienting power in socio-material change

Journal Article

This paper examines a variety of theories bearing on ‘socio-material incumbency’ and explores methodological implications. The aim is to develop a systematic general approach, which builds on strengths and mitigates weaknesses in prevailing analytical frameworks. A particular priority lies in avoidance of self-acknowledged tendencies in existing theory to ‘reify’ central notions like ‘the regime’. Such pictures may overstate the tractability of incumbency to conventional policy instruments and so inadvertently help reinforce it.

Based on detailed analysis of ways in which longstanding concepts of structuration apply to socio-material change, a novel ‘configuring fields’ approach is proposed. Contrasting ‘eagle-eye’ and ‘worm-eye’ views are each shown to yield distinctive possible ‘topologies of incumbency’. This results in testable hypotheses with potentially important practical implications. Attention can thus extend beyond narrow policy instruments and mixes, to fully embrace broader and deeper kinds of political collective action, culture change and democratic struggle.

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