Civil Service Systems in Comparative Perspective series
Edited by John Halligan
Chapter 2: Administrative traditions and the Anglo-American democracies
B. Guy Peters INTRODUCTION Comparing administrative systems presents all the challenges and contradictions encountered when comparing any social or political phenomenon. On one hand, each administrative system is unique and must be understood as such. On the other hand, national administrative systems can be conceptualised as reflecting a number of underlying patterns or traditions, so that they fall into broad political ‘families’ (see Castles 1995). Phrased somewhat differently, each administrative system is unique but its nature is closely linked with those of administrative systems that share intellectual and historical roots. Further, these public bureaucracies1 will have in common some of the properties found in any aggregation of individuals and organisations responsible for implementing public policy, given the relatively common political and administrative demands being made of these systems. One can argue, in fact, that administration may be the most similar aspect of contemporary political systems, given the sharing of ideas about public management – especially the diffusion of new public management (Peters 1997) – and the common tasks being performed. This concurrent appearance of similarities and differences is vexing if the researcher is engaged simply in a descriptive exercise, characterising each case individually. The patterns are, however, all the more difficult to work with if we are attempting to explain differences between systems and to explain differences in the decisions and behaviour of national bureaucracies (and their employees). One strategy for explanation – as outlined by Prezworski and Teune (1970) – would be to select administrative systems that differ most and, from the research...
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