Bureaucracy and Society in Transition: Volume 33

Cover of Bureaucracy and Society in Transition

Comparative Perspectives

Subject:

Table of contents

(15 chapters)

Prelims

Pages i-xv
click here to view access options
Abstract

It is doubtful whether Max Weber would have been appreciative of his current status as the father of organisation theory. Weber did not develop the concept of bureaucracy as part of a quest to advance a science of organisations, or in order to do a microanalysis of the internal structure of particular organisational units. The concept of bureaucracy was an ideal-typical concept developed as a point of departure for comparisons across historical periods and geographic settings. Weber’s research was motivated by macroscopic and historical questions such as ‘why did capitalism develop in the West’ and, ‘how do persons in the West and other civilizations attach meaning to their activities?’ Unlike consultants and organisation theorists that make use of him today, it was not a major concern for Weber to develop criteria for the most efficient kinds of organisations. Rather, his concern was to identify variations in administrative and bureaucratic cultures and patterns by the means of the bureaucratic ideal type. It is maintained in modern textbooks in organisation theory that there has been a development from a closed and rationalistic paradigm towards an understanding of organisations as open and natural systems, and Max Weber’s theory of bureaucracy is taken as a point of departure for this kind of narrative. This classification of Weber as an example of a rational and closed approach is highly questionable. The cross-societal and historical approach used so effectively by Weber, is put on a sidetrack in such mainstream narratives. It would be more in the spirit of Weber to focus on organising as an activity, bureaucracy as an ethos and to study organisations within their particular political and cultural contexts.

Part I Comparative Perspectives

Abstract

Transition into modernity takes very different roads, depending on the sequencing of bureaucracy and democratic regime. This is demonstrated by comparing Sweden and Greece. At an early stage of the long-term modernisation of Swedish society, due to early penetration of the internal territory and before the extension of suffrage and political modernisation, a number of state organisations were established at the interstices between state and society, creating direct relations between the state and society. The impressive Lantmäteriet, the organisation of tax authorities, the establishment of authorities for registering the population and the Tabellverket are typical illustrations of such organisational structures. Such organisations functioned as social mechanisms that elucidated society making it legible and thus strengthened the infrastructural capacity of the state. In Greece, where the state was built after political modernisation, the establishment of similar organisations proved to be more difficult. Although there is evidence that similar Swedish practices were known in Greece to be possible paths, they were not chosen. The establishment of a land registry system, for instance, was discussed in the decades prior to the 1871 land reform. On other issues, such choices could not be materialised given opposition or political counter-mobilisation to abolish the reforms after they were approved by parliament. These reform efforts were rather short-lived or countered by new reforms and exemptions, creating an ambiguous labyrinth of regulations of state–society relations and a state without the capacity to intervene in society and implement logistically political decisions throughout the realm. On the whole, the state remained a distant entity, mostly a distrusted one, and relations between the state and society were mediated by parties and by social and kinship-based networks.

Abstract

Neutrality has traditionally been considered a key trait of the civil service in Western democracies. The conception of the neutral bureaucracy is closely linked to the notion of the prominent politics–administration dichotomy of the two spheres of politics and administration, as advocated by Max Weber (1980) and Woodrow Wilson (1887). According to conventional wisdom, the firm and encompassing implementation of the merit principle realises the idea of a neutral bureaucracy. In that respect, neutrality and merit-based recruitments are often considered the opposite of politicisation. Conventionally, a neutral bureaucracy is considered to assure competence and immunity against opportunistic ideas brought in by volatile, sometimes erratic political leadership. Because elected politicians come and go with elections, they cannot ensure that political decisions are carried out based on the ‘best’ available knowledge. In that sense, bureaucrats are conceived as neutral, obedient servants that subordinate their behaviour to the will of political masters, to the law and the common good. However, there is no strict politics–administration dichotomy in contemporary politico-administrative systems. Empirical findings from the late 1970s onwards demonstrated that bureaucrats are by no means as neutral and ‘apolitical’ as assumed, but rather remarkably involved in political processes. This chapter discusses the literature on neutral competence and presents an empirical analysis of Danish and British civil servants’ accounts of neutrality. This chapter concludes by suggesting the concept of competent neutrality and discussing implications for our understanding of bureaucratic neutrality.

Abstract

This chapter focuses on the use of outcome-based performance management systems within public administration. It reports two qualitative case studies from respectively the Danish Tax and Customs Administration and the Swedish Tax Agency. Both of these administrations use outcome-based performance management systems to steer subsets of their administrative work. The chapter shows that the systems respond to broader demands for accounting for outcomes, yet, the systems also operate in very different ways. The Danish case shows a quantitative system which measures on a daily basis, the Swedish case shows a qualitative system which measures on a four to five-year basis. What is striking about both cases is that they balance meeting the demands for accounting for diffuse outcomes, with developing measurements that ‘fit’ local contingent concerns. While much of the current research on performance management systems in public administration is critical and stresses the downsides of such systems, this chapter shows that these systems should not always be assumed to be connected to gaming, strategic behaviour and/or reductionism. Instead, the performance management systems can be seen as attempts to reconcile and make ends meet in ‘post-bureaucratic’ organisations that are increasingly expected to account for rather diffuse and abstract outcomes and expected at the same time to steer and prioritise daily administrative work.

Abstract

How do top bureaucrats define, in their own words, their professional identity and the norms they work by? Do they define them in line with a Weberian ideal type of the bureaucrat and bureaucratic norms? Or rather by a modernised entrepreneurial ideal type, often associated with New Public Management reforms? Further, what can such self-presentations tell us about professional norms operating in top bureaucrats’ daily work, and about institutional or wider societal logics guiding the non-elected, administrative side of contemporary government? The top officials, the senior civil servants in central ministries, who take part in policy-making and serve the political leadership, have a specific role distinct from that of the politicians and are guided by professional norms. Scholars focusing on this level of top bureaucrats have described their professional norms as being about serving the elected politicians loyally, but also contributing technical and thematic expertise independent of political considerations and ensuring that policy is developed according to legal standards. This chapter investigates how top bureaucrats themselves define those norms and that role – is it in line with an ideal close to Weberian ideal type characteristics, or not?

click here to view access options
Abstract

Despite Max Weber’s assertion that bureaucracy is domination on the basis of knowledge, mainstream public administration literature has paid little attention to the role of experts and expertise in bureaucratic organisations. A particular blind spot concerns the academic professions or disciplines that supply the experts and expert knowledge used in government bureaucracies. It is well known that the educational composition of the civil service varies across countries and over time. However, knowledge about what explains the varying position of expert professions within state bureaucracies is scarce. The chapter examines this issue through a comparative-historical investigation of the role in government of a particular expert profession, namely economists. Focusing on a small set of countries – Norway, Denmark, New Zealand and Ireland – over the period from 1930 to 1990, it poses the question: How can we account for the variation in the position of economists within government bureaucracies across countries and over time? To answer this question, the chapter draws on theory from the sociological literature on professions and historical-institutionalist work on the influence of economic ideas.

Abstract

Public sector reforms of recent decades in Europe have promoted managerialism and aimed at introducing private sector thinking and practices. However, with regard to public sector executives’ self-understanding, managerial role identities have not replaced bureaucratic ones; rather, components from both paradigms were combined. In this chapter, we introduce a bi-dimensional identity approach (attitudes and practices) that allows for different combinations and forms of hybridity. Empirically, we explore the role identities of public sector executives across Europe, building on survey data from over 7,000 top public officials in 19 countries (COCOPS survey). We identify country-level profiles, as well as patterns across countries, and find that administrative traditions can account for these profiles and patterns only to a limited extent. Rather, they have to be complemented by factors such as stability of the institutional environment (indicating lower shares of hybrid combinations) or extent of reform pressures (indicating higher shares of hybrid combinations).

Part II Nordic Bureaucracy

Abstract

The Scandinavian states are universally seen as very well-functioning bureaucracies with some of the lowest levels of corruption in the world. In scholarly debates on state building, Francis Fukuyama has used the Scandinavian countries and the phrase ‘getting to Denmark’ as a metaphor for the apparent mystery of how states can come to be governed by well-developed bureaucracies and highly functioning state institutions. This chapter presents a study of state institutions and bureaucracy in Denmark–Norway and Sweden over a 250-year period from the mid-seventeenth to the end of the nineteenth century. The study demonstrates how bureaucracies conforming to Weber’s later model were gradually established in the Scandinavian monarchies in this period. The chapter also presents the results of three empirical studies of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, which indicate how the level of corruption in the state administration had been limited by the middle of the nineteenth century. In Denmark, the institutional framework set up after the establishment of the absolute monarchy in 1660, along with continuing reforms to improve the administration in the period of absolutism between 1660 and 1849, came to form an important basis for an administrative culture based on the rule of law. In Sweden the rule shifted between absolutism and constitutionalism, but both the Danish–Norwegian and the Swedish monarchies saw the establishment of strong and comprehensive state hierarchies with a king at the top level who set out to guarantee the rule of law and attempted to be merciful to his subjects. Lutheranism played a decisive and durable role as moral backbone in Scandinavian societies and in the establishment of a shared political culture. These elements, in combination with the establishment of Weberian-type bureaucracy, had, by the end of the nineteenth century, worked to limit corruption in the state administration of the Scandinavian countries.

Abstract

The chapter summarises findings from a study on administrative reforms covering all central government ministries and agencies in 19 countries, examining reform trajectories seen from the top of the central administrative apparatus. Core structural features of the central bureaucracy are described, along with role perceptions, values and motivation of administrative executives. Reform processes, trends, content and management tools are addressed, leading up to similarities and differences between the Nordic countries and between them and other European families of countries. A main finding is that the Nordic bureaucracy represents a layered, complex and hybrid system combining different reform trends and that there is a clear North–South divide in Europe when it comes to administrative reforms.

Abstract

Since the 1970s the Supreme Audit Institutions (SAI) have gradually expanded their role as external controllers of the public administration. Instead of merely controlling whether accounts are according to standards they have taken on a role as evaluators with a mandate to assess whether the public administration works economically, efficiently and effectively. With this new regime of external control, the question arises whether the SAIs’ control, in practice, contributes to a more efficient and effective public sector. Whether this external control will be effective depends, in the end, on the extent to which the organisations learn from the control they are subjected to and make actual changes. The chapter uses theories of cultural differences and theories on control within public administration to understand civil servant perceptions of SAI results. Data on civil servants’ reactions to the SAIs’ performance audit in four countries are analysed to see whether performance audits have any impact on the audited entities. The research is based on 696 responses to questionnaires sent out to civil servants in three different Nordic countries plus one new democracy in northern Europe, Estonia.

Abstract

In Michael Lipsky’s intriguing analysis of the performance of public bureaucracy – in his classic Street-level Bureaucracy (1980) – he shows, for example, the professional discretion they apply may not only involve adapting policy to the individual case, meet real needs in the population, prevent patients, clients, students or users from getting access, etc., but at the same time both have profound policy implications and take very ‘political’ forms. In this chapter, I argue that it is regrettable that Lipsky did not establish a comparative framework for his study. Based on my own ethnographic research in local politics and bureaucratic practice in the municipal world in Norway, I look more closely at the relative autonomy of street-level bureaucracy within the context of universalism – a hallmark of the Nordic welfare state model (Esping-Andersen 1998, 2009) – and explore how it is utilised. The Nordic welfare states are among the most ‘service intense’ states in the Western world, and the personnel working directly with patients, students, clients, etc., play a major role in linking ‘the state’ to the population (Papakostas, 2001, Vike et al., 2002). Thus, the role of the Nordic welfare state’s street-level bureaucracy as a key interface between the state and the population is hard to overestimate (Leira & Sainsbury, 1994). Moreover, as universalism also tends to stimulate what we may call a culture of strong claims (to services) among the population at large, street-level bureaucrats may be able to form strong alliances with other actors, and thus play an important part of the dynamics of power in local politics – where fundamental policy principles such as universalism is at stake.

Abstract

In this chapter, we contextualise an ethical codex introduced in the Danish Central Administration. As a management tool, the codex is intended to curb a mounting distrust induced by a number of political-administrative scandals. This is attempted via a revitalisation of classical bureaucratic duties. At the same time, the codex’s attempt at restoring trust is challenged by a number of obstacles. Launching our exploration from an ethos of office-perspective, we contextualise the codex in three dimensions: an organisational dimension, a semantic dimension and a training dimension. From this three-pronged analysis, we show how a number of historical and contemporary obstacles work counter to the codex’s stated attempt to revitalise the ethos of the civil servants. Building on these analyses, we discuss the tensions between official and private selves in particular ethical training exercises as well as the implications the codex brings with it, including a possible obscuring of political-administrative responsibility.

Index

Pages 287-298
click here to view access options
Cover of Bureaucracy and Society in Transition
DOI
10.1108/S0195-6310201833
Publication date
2018-10-08
Book series
Comparative Social Research
Editors
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
ISBN
978-1-78743-283-3
eISBN
978-1-78743-283-3
Book series ISSN
0195-6310