Politics of Representative Bureaucracy
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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.
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Chapter 5: Representative bureaucracy in a cross-national context: politics, identity, structure and discretion

Kenneth J. Meier and Tabitha S.M. Morton


Although representative bureaucracy has been studied in numerous countries, one aspect of that literature, the empirical linkage between passive representation and active representation has been based almost exclusively on examples from the United States. Because this passive to active linkage serves as a major normative justification for representative bureaucracy, whether the US findings can be generalized to other countries is an important policy and scholarly question. The purpose of this chapter is to elucidate the theory of representative bureaucracy to set up a template for how studies could be implemented in a variety of national contexts. The focus will be on the concept “identity”, a term that includes individual characteristics such as race, ethnicity, and gender; characteristics that are difficult for an individual to change in the short run and that are often highly visible. The current effort draws from two prior theoretical efforts (Meier, 1993c; Keiser et al., 2002) that attempted to specify the theoretical relationships precisely and extends this work to a cross-national context. The literature on representative bureaucracy distinguishes between passive and active representation. A bureaucracy is representative in the passive sense if the bureaucracy has the same characteristics as the population on the variables of interest (e.g. race, ethnicity, social class, gender, etc.; see Mosher, 1968). In fact, passive representation is sometimes called symbolic representation because it defines representation as “standing for” (Pitkin, 1967).

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