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Assembling Calculative Infrastructures

Thinking Infrastructures

ISBN: 978-1-78769-558-0, eISBN: 978-1-78769-557-3

ISSN: 0733-558X

Publication date: 7 August 2019


Much has been made of economizing. Yet, social scientists have paid little attention to the moment of economic failure, the moments that precede it, and the calculative infrastructures and related processes through which both failing and failure are made operable. This chapter examines the shift from the economizing of the market economy, which took place across much of the nineteenth century, to the economizing and marketizing of the social sphere, which is still ongoing. The authors consider a specific case of the economizing of failure, namely the repeated attempts over more than a decade to create a failure regime for National Health Service (NHS) hospitals. These attempts commenced with the Health and Social Care Act 2003, which drew explicitly on the Insolvency Act 1986. This promised a “failure regime” for NHS Foundation Trusts modeled on the corporate sector. Shortly after the financial crash, and in the middle of one of the biggest scandals to face NHS hospitals, these proposals were abandoned in favor of a regime based initially on the notion of “de-authorization.” The notion of de-authorization was then itself abandoned, in favor of the notion of “unsustainable provider,” most recently also called the Trust Special Administrators regime. The authors suggest that these repeated attempts to devise a failure regime for NHS hospitals have lessons that go beyond the domain of health care, and that they highlight important issues concerning the role that “exit” models and associated calculative infrastructures may play in the economizing and regulating of public services and the social sphere more broadly.




This chapter is based on work conducted as part of the program of the ESRC Centre for Analysis of Risk and Regulation. The authors wish to thank Mike Power for his comments on an earlier version of this chapter, and his overall encouragement with this project. We also gratefully acknowledge the financial support provided by the Economic and Social Research Council (Grant Ref: ES/N018869/1) under the Open Research Area Scheme (Project Title: QUAD – Quantification, Administrative Capacity and Democracy). The QUAD project is an international project co-funded by the Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR, France), Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, Germany), Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC, UK) and the Nederlands Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (NWO, the Netherlands).


Kurunmäki, L., Mennicken, A. and Miller, P. (2019), "Assembling Calculative Infrastructures", Kornberger, M., Bowker, G.C., Elyachar, J., Mennicken, A., Miller, P., Nucho, J.R. and Pollock, N. (Ed.) Thinking Infrastructures (Research in the Sociology of Organizations, Vol. 62), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 17-42.



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