Challenges and Prospects
New Horizons in Public Policy series
Edited by John Fenwick and Janice McMillan
Chapter 7: Still the Century of Bureaucracy? The Roles of Public Servants
B. Guy Peters The civil service, and public employment more generally, is often seen as stable, predictable, and frankly rather boring. The public bureaucrat has been, and continues to be, an object of scorn as well as an easy target for humorists, and the task of implementing public policy continues to be seen as largely the same as it has been for decades, or even centuries. Despite that apparent predictability, the job of the civil servant, as well as much of the environment within which he or she functions, has been transforming rapidly and the public sector is nothing like it was several decades ago. Intellectually, the consideration of public administration also has remained rather stable. Despite numerous changes in the public sector, Max Weber’s conceptions of bureaucracy still constitute the starting point for most discussions (Derlien, 1999). The above having been said, the changes within the public sector have not been consistent or uniform, and indeed some approaches to change have often been internally contradictory. Just as many aspects of the public sector have been largely immutable, then paradoxically change has been ubiquitous in government. Change and continuity have existed side by side for most of the history of governing. Therefore, we need to understand better what has happened with the world of the civil servant and with the job that these individuals now perform. One premise of this book is that the ‘post-modernizing’ of the public sector has been associated with decline in the certainties that we associated...
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