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The Limits of Ratio: An Analysis of NPM in Sweden Using Nicholas of Cusa’s Understanding of Reason

Metric Culture

ISBN: 978-1-78743-290-1, eISBN: 978-1-78743-289-5

Publication date: 24 September 2018


What happens when we limit our understanding of reason to a calculating competence? In this chapter, I will approach the contemporary introduction of New Public Management (NPM) in the Swedish public sector from the point of view of the fifteenth century philosopher Nicholas of Cusa and his critical analysis of reason and not-knowing. Cusa emphasises not-knowing as something which we cannot and should not avoid. As such it is central to every creation of knowledge. Reason, as the process to gaining knowledge also includes the capacity to relate to not-knowing. In modernity, the understanding of not-knowing has decreased and accordingly changed our understanding of reason. Reason became a calculating capacity, what Cusa calls ratio, rather than a reflecting capacity, what Cusa calls intellectus. The introduction of NPM in the Swedish public sector can, from this point of view, be seen as a kind of ratio-organisation, and I will point out three characteristics of this ratiofication: First, it includes a ‘concept imperialism’, as concepts from outside of the public service-activities displaces concepts that come from within. In this displacement, easily measurable concepts and concepts that frame a measurement-culture displace concepts that belong to the intellect. Second, we can see an ‘empaperment’ when every act has to be documented in order to be counted as complete, and where the empapered world of ratio becomes more central than the lived world with its constant presence of not-knowing. Third, this also results in a ‘remote controlling’ of activities when the acts of the staff are governed from the outside, and the competence to listen to the not-knowing of each situation is not valued.



Bornemark, J. (2018), "The Limits of Ratio: An Analysis of NPM in Sweden Using Nicholas of Cusa’s Understanding of Reason", Ajana, B. (Ed.) Metric Culture, Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 235-253.



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