Research Centre in Public Ethics and Governance
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About the Centre

Founded in 1989 and intended as a study focused on the ethical stakes of technology in a pluralist society, the Research Centre in Public Ethics and Governance is now a field of interdisciplinary reflection focusing on contemporary problems found at the junction between ethics and politics. The Research Centre introduces students to research in ethics, philosophy and leadership, seeing that the work is broadcasted and promoted within the public and academic communities.

Context :

The Research Centre was founded in 1989 by a group of professors of the Faculty of Theology at ̫ӳ. It was then dedicated to promote a dialogue on the ethical questions raised by technology in a pluralist society. In September 2000, the Centre for Techno-Ethics received the mandate to enlarge its research and intervention span.

On June 13, 2001, the Research Centre changed its name to the Centre in Ethics of ̫ӳ. This decision had been confirmed by the Senate during its meeting of April 18, 2001. The Research Centre’s interests now included Work Ethics, Media Ethics, Bioethics, Public Ethics and other study foci, according to the topical ethical problem.

In April 2011, it was decided to review the Research Centre’s mandate and to adapt it to the trending research domains and the social issues in public ethics and governance. By doing this, SPU wishes to confirm the role of public ethics as a cluster of excellence.

In August 2018, an innovative research initiative was set in motion by three professors: Sophie Cloutier, Monique Lanoix and Julie Paquette from the School of Ethics, Social Justice and Public Service. This collaboration aims to promote research in ethics where the issue of marginalities is the focal point for understanding the future of our society. The research objectives includes several topics, such as refugees, dialogue, disability, environment, feminism, care, citizenship, populism, algorithms, vulnerability. This initiative aims to create a centre that is an area of collaboration and co-creation of knowledge, in a spirit of collaboration and inclusion.

The Research Centre in Public Ethics and Governance adheres to the directives concerning the creation and evaluation of research centres.

Terms of the mission:

Today’s world is distinguished by a detachment from politics and maintained by a form of cynicism towards it. It is hard to escape this cynicism when citizens are becoming helpless spectators of political scandals and ethical failures of their representatives, as well as becoming the victims of various crises – political, economic, financial and environmental. How to govern in a world overcome by uncertainty and emergencies? How to establish ethical principles in a world influenced by the pluralism of values and visions of the world? Our complex societies are calling for a renewal of political and ethical thought.

In the face of this ever so complex world, a world where private and public interests intertwine, the question of governance becomes more and more critical. But how to define this new concept of “governance”? One of the difficulties about this term is that it is used in various contexts, as much in situations of public administration as in business management. During the 13th century, the French were using this term as a synonym of government. It indicated more accurately the art and the way of governing. In the following century, the English adopted the word governance in the same way. The use of this expression then became obsolete, only to re-emerge in the 1980s in a speech from the World Bank. Several cooperation agencies, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), took up the expression, and within 20 years it was in common use. In an article from 2005, Daniel Kaufmann, the director of the global programme at the World Bank Institute, described governance in these terms:

We define as governance the whole of the traditions and institutions by which power is exercised in a country for the common good. It covers the procedures according to which the executives are chosen, monitored and replaced (political aspect); the capacity for a government to efficiently manage its resources and apply informed politics (economical aspect); and the respect of the citizen and the State towards the national institutions (institutional respect).[1] [free translation]

As the notion of governance is not only limited to the public administration level, but also touches the private domain, the civic organization, the regions, the continents, even at a global level, we can expand its definition. Gilles Paquet maintains that to study governance would mean to examine the distribution of rights, of obligations and powers that establishes the disposition of organizations; to understand how these organizations coordinate their parallel activities and maintain their consistency; to examine the means by which coordination between organizations proceeds as well as the prerequisites of their collaboration; to explore the sources of dysfunction and the problems of the organizational networks, and finally, to offer propositions and ways to redefine the architecture of the networks when some governance problems emerge[2].

The Research Centre in Public Ethics and Governance positions itself as a place for interdisciplinary reflexion on these various contemporary issues found at the confluence of ethics and politics. This requires particular attention to a double problematic:

1)    Is there a kind of ethic that is specific to the field of politics? Or to put it otherwise, can we and should we moralize politics? The modern State was designed by the process of secularization, understood as the separation of religion and State. Wouldn’t a thinker of modern politics as Machiavelli in fact advise the Prince to seek to be good? How then to establish a public ethic that is directed towards the political domain in this secular and pluralistic context? How to distinguish and judge between a good and wrong policy in the context of a liberal State that positions itself as neutral regarding values and conception of the good?

2)    We can see in our contemporary world many important social changes which influence the political domain. Amid these transformations, of which globalization is a prominent symbol, it is important to adopt a new perspective on politics. The expression “governance” marks this attempt to rethink the political field and its function. How to make of politics a “sphere of innovation” (Innerarity) which will be able to answer to the new challenges and problems? This second problematic, which is linked to the first, will also have to take into account the ethical issue, namely the matter of reliable governance – or does the idea of governance already imply some ethical aspect? The expression is not limited to the sphere of politics; it is then a matter of rethinking this concept in its various fields of application – civil society, private domain, health care…

In order to achieve this reflexion process, the Research Centre in Public Ethics and Governance will favour interdisciplinarity and research networks. As soon as it is created, the Research Centre will be able to count on members from various Canadian institutions, but will aim to enlarge its partnership. It will also aim to create a partnership with the Centre on Governance of the University of Ottawa, directed by Caroline Andrews. This centre works more precisely on the territorialization of governance and on its precise mechanisms. Our reflexion directed towards public ethics, philosophy and leadership will serve as complementary to their research.

The Research Centre in Public Ethics and Governance serves as a place of visibility and distribution for research, encouraging collaboration between SPU academics and researchers from other institutions and research centres. It will allow for the research training of students while contributing to their sense of belonging. The Centre’s activity will be directed towards common reflexion and intellectual exchanges of a higher level to promote the progression of knowledge in the field of ethics as well as the influence of our university, affirming in this way the domain of public ethics as a cluster of excellence at SPU.

[1]   Kaufmann, Daniel.  « 10 idées reçues sur la gouvernance et la corruption », Finances & Développement, Septembre 2005, p. 41.

[2]  See Gilles Paquet, « Introduction » in Mémoires de la Société royale du Canada, La gouvernance au 21e siècle, Sixième série, Tome X, 1999, pp. 14-15.