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 2: The comparative study of representative bureaucracy: an analytical framework

B. Guy Peters, Eckhard Schröter and Patrick von Maravić

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


This chapter will place the numerous empirical papers on representative bureaucracy in a broader context. Rather than describe in detail the different findings across countries (see von Maravić, Schröter and Peters, 2013), this chapter will instead attempt to understand the factors that may have generated those differences. The fundamental argument for the chapter is that representative bureaucracies do not arise just out of normative commitments or as a mere reflection of existing social conditions, although those factors will be significant. Rather, individual public bureaucracies are embedded in complex social, political, and administrative systems that place pressures on organizations to become more representative, but – at the same time – also place restrictions and limitations on the willingness and capacity to change in that direction. In sum, in the following we set out to discuss a frame of reference for the comparative analysis of representative bureaucracy across national borders. We will look at several factors that can explain the relevance of issues of representation, as well as those factors that might also explain the success or failure of representativeness. These factors typically are aspects of the social and political systems, rather than public administration per se, but administration itself will also influence the extent to which representativeness, and especially more active versions of representativeness, is likely to be effective. In all these explanations for representative bureaucracy, however, there should still be room for agency so that some individual administrators may be crucial in facilitating, or impeding, representative bureaucracy being implemented.

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