Governance by Labels
MaxPo Discussion Paper
Paris : Max Planck Sciences Po Center
MaxPo Discussion Paper : 14/2
public policies, labels, modes of governance, EPODE, sustainable consumption, eco-labeling
Many of today’s public policies aimed directly or indirectly at regulating the behaviors of individuals and organizations provide for the implementation of a certain type of instrument which can be qualified as a label. They share some features with what the literature tends to identify as proper standards (e.g., they aim at defining the best practices, they may represent – at least – a symbolic resource for those who adopt them), but they also have some peculiarities, which we will present here. In this paper, we propose to analyze the characteristics and dynamics underpinning this mode of governance as part of a study of two particular public policy domains chosen for their complementarity as well as their contrasts: the fight against obesity, and sustainable consumption. In both of these fields, labels have become a preferred mode of governance – and even, we might say, a kind of standard. Based on Foucault (2004), we emphasize the fact that the logics of distinction, which regulate utilities and sanctions in a particular social field, are instrumentalized by public policy as an incentive to the actors to deliberately take action whose value is endorsed by a label. Hence, the aim and outcome of this mode of governance are not the uniformity of a field, but the ongoing creation of increasingly demanding labels that only some of the participants can hope to obtain.