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 9: From plutocracy to diversity: the (de)construction of representative bureaucracy theory

Bas van Gool

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


This chapter traces the origin and evolution of a small body of argument, speculation and research in public administration and political science known as representative bureaucracy theory. It documents its transformation, over almost seven decades, from a descriptive Marxist theory of bureaucracy to an empirically grounded set of normative arguments that public organizations should be “diverse”, or look like the population they serve. Though scientists like to believe so, the development of a science, or a body of literature, is never the piecemeal process by which facts, theories and methods accumulate and add to an ever-growing stockpile of scientific knowledge. “An apparently arbitrary element”, as Thomas Kuhn observed almost 50 years ago, “compounded of personal and historical accident, is always a formative ingredient of the beliefs espoused by a given scientific community at a given time” (Kuhn, 1970). The parcours de route of representative bureaucracy theory amply illustrates his point. Kuhn stressed the arbitrariness produced by elements internal to the scientific enterprise – traditions of research, training, and evaluation. The evolution of representative bureaucracy theory, however, appears to have been largely influenced by political, economic and social developments outside it. In fact, many of the big “isms” of the past century – communism, fascism, Marxism, McCarthyism, racism – directly or indirectly fed into the initial formulation and subsequent directions of representative bureaucracy theory and research and helped define what was to be studied and why.

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