Research Project: The Time-Spaces of Soft-Paternalism: state, citizenship, governmentality

The time-spaces of soft paternalism Jones, Rhys, Dr Mark Whitehead and Dr Jessica Pykett

Project Summary

This project considers how and why the notion of soft paternalism has emerged as an important mechanism of government in the UK. In contrast to harder kinds of new paternalism, soft paternalism refers to the efforts made by both states and private institutions to promote individuals’ welfare in a less coercive manner, where subjects are afforded an element of choice. It indicates a more overt process through which subjects are encouraged to actively buy in to particular kinds of behaviour to improve their own welfare.

The research analyses contemporary actions of state authorities in the government of different human affairs, particularly through ‘behaviour changing’ policies in the spheres of personal finance, health and the environment. We are particularly interested in the wider significance of soft paternalism for understanding the cultivation of state and self, the notions of governmental reach, interference, influence, welfare, freedom and choice, and the development of new modes of governing reflexive citizen-subjectivities. The research will also provide an opportunity to think through the geographical implications of soft paternalism in a range of policy sectors.

Visit our blog: Governing Temptation



In October 2010 we submitted evidence to the House of Lords Science and Technology Sub-Committee on Behaviour Change. Read our evidence from time-spaces of Soft Paternalism

We have written a short article for the magazine of the Political Studies Association, Political Insight, edited byPeter Geoghegan. This will be published in December, and is entitled: “Big Society’s Little Nudges: The Changing Politics of Health Care in an Age of Austerity”

Research Publications and Outputs

Soft Paternalism Research Briefing 2

Soft Paternalism Research Briefing 1 (PDF) 

Information Leaflet on the Time-Spaces of Soft Paternalism

"Governing Temptation. Changing behaviour in an age of libertarian paternalism"

“The Geographies of Soft Paternalism: the rise of the avuncular state and changing behaviour after neoliberalism” Geography Compass DRAFT

“The New Maternal State: the Gendered Politics of Governing through Behaviour Change” Antipode DRAFT

“Governing Irrationality, or a More Than Rational Government? Reflections on the Re-Scientisation of Decision-Making in British Public Policy” DRAFT

Conference sessions

Jessica presented “Governing behaviour and the re-scientisation of decision-making” at the Policy and Politics conference, Bristol, September 2010. The conference theme was “Politics of Austerity or the Austerity of Politics?" Policy and Politics Abstract (PDF) (PDF) [attached]

Mark presented a paper on the "Time-spaces of irrationality" at the RGS-IBG annual conference, London, September 2010 as part of a session on Geographies of Rationality. IBG Abstract (PDF) [see attached]

Jessica presented a paper at the Political Studies Association 60th anniversary conference, Edinburgh , March 2010, entitled "Personalised governing through behaviour change and re-education" Personalised Governing Abstract (Pdf)

We organised a conference session at the RGS-IBG Annual Conference, Manchester, 26-28 August 2009 on 'Governing Temptation: the emerging geographies of soft paternalism' with papers from Professor Janet Newman, Dr Margo Huxley and Dr Nick Gill. We are currently preparing a joint-authored intervention article on the political geographies of ‘supple states’, with contributions on the history of the ‘nudge’, pensions policy, climate change, government advertising, New Zealand health policy, and public space.

Funded by theLeverhulme Trust, November 2008 - October 2011