Politics of Representative Bureaucracy

Politics of Representative Bureaucracy

Power, Legitimacy and Performance

Edited by B. Guy Peters, Patrick von Maravić and Eckhard Schröter

What is the relationship between the composition of the public sector workforce and the nature of the society it serves? Taking a comparative and analytical perspective, the authoritative and accessible chapters illustrate the salience of representative politics in diverse societies. The book explores the wide variety of practice based on different political systems, administrative structures, and cultural settings, and discusses topical issues of public bureaucracies worldwide.

Chapter 1: Delivering public services in multi-ethnic societies: the challenge of representativeness

B. Guy Peters, Eckhard Schröter and Patrick von Maravić

Subjects: politics and public policy, international politics, public policy


The politics of representative bureaucracy highlight the procedural, political, and conflictual nature of representation in public organizations. In very general terms “representative bureaucracy” can be described as the “body of thought and research examining the potential for government agencies to act as representative political institutions if their personnel are drawn from all sectors of society” (Dolan and Rosenbloom, 2003, xi; see the chapter by Bas van Gool on the intellectual history of representative bureaucracy). Understanding the politics of representation prompts us to take a closer look at the conditions under which public organizations act as representative institutions and when they do not. Questions of representation, whether seen under the label of diversity management or representative bureaucracy, are per se political. Representation as seen through political lenses means viewing it in the light of manifest or latent social conflicts (Lipset and Rokkan, 1967: 5). Political considerations determine who is represented and who is not, who is included and who is excluded, and to what extent individuals or groups acquire and exercise power, status, or authority in order to act or stand for an idea or group in the public service. These issues are important in any society but are especially relevant in societies that are deeply divided along religious, ethnic or class lines. The clearly discernible trend towards greater cultural variety in what used to be more rigidly defined “nation states” emphasizes the need to understand the politics of representative bureaucracy (von Maravi_ et al., 2013; Joppke, 1998).