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Ways of Governing: A Current History Virtual Issue 

Quantum leaps in information technology have changed the way business is done in many industries, yet some traditional practices have been retained in modified form. The same goes for government. New capabilities for harvesting and processing vast quantities of data are being adopted by states to monitor and control their citizens.

But computers have hardly taken over the governance of human affairs. Impoverished sections of the population still often remain invisible to governments, in unmapped, unrecognized informal economies and housing. Undocumented migrant workers slip through the gaps in safety nets. And traditional ways of governing coexist with the new, or spawn informal hybrid models. One constant in the new ways of governing is the old art of politics.

Taking advantage of the rotating geographic focus of its monthly issues, Current History commissioned a series of articles looking into how governance has changed in each part of the world. The articles collected in this virtual issue first appeared in the journal in 2019–20.

China’s social credit system may appear to be on the Orwellian frontier of data-driven governance: a hugely ambitious attempt to surveil every aspect of citizens’ lives and rank their performance as citizens, turning old notions of accountability on their head. Yet this cutting-edge algorithmic vision is meant to serve the party-state’s revival of creaking Marxist-Leninist doctrine. In Russia, the image of an omnipotent Kremlin conceals a local government structure rotted by corruption, leaving citizens to navigate through loopholes to survive. In parts of Latin America, criminal groups have taken over governmental functions and even won elections.

India has sought to build a modern welfare system based on rights to essential services, yet a new national identification database sometimes excludes the neediest. In Africa, development planners frequently depend on traditional chiefs, the ultimate local political brokers, for help with implementation.

Around the world, new forms of data-driven governance have the potential to reshape relations between states and citizens. These technologies may be used for oppression, but they can also make governing a more flexible, participative process, better prepared for adapting to unpredictable forces like climate change. In any case, old-fashioned political bargaining, in all its unique local variations, will always be part of the governing equation.

China’s Social Credit System: Data-Driven Governance for a ‘New Era’
Volume 118, Number 809, September 2019
Larry Catá Backer

Russia’s Incoherent State
Volume 118, Number 810, October 2019
Jeremy Morris

Capitalizing on Cosmopolitanism in the Gulf
Volume 118, Number 812, December 2019
Natalie Koch

The Rise of Data-Driven Governance
Volume 119, Number 813, January 2020
David Chandler

How Criminals Govern in Latin America and the Caribbean
Volume 119, Number 814, February 2020
Enrique Desmond Arias

Politics Shakes Up EU Governance
Volume 119, Number 815, March 2020
Vivien A. Schmidt

India’s Welfare State: A Halting Shift from Benevolence to Rights
Volume 119, Number 816, April 2020
Reetika Khera

Chiefs, Democracy, and Development in Contemporary Africa
Volume 119, Number 817, May 2020
Kate Baldwin
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