Doing Public Management the Fatalist Way?

Christopher Hood

in The Art of the State

Published in print February 2000 | ISBN: 9780198297659
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191599484 | DOI:
Doing Public Management the Fatalist Way?

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In the four chapters of Part II, public management ideas that loosely correspond to each of the four polar world views identified by cultural theory are discussed; here the cultural‐theory framework is mixed with a historical perspective to survey recurring approaches to public management that can be loosely characterized as hierarchist (Ch.. 4), individualist (Ch. 5), egalitarian (Ch. 6), and fatalist (this chapter). Starts by asking whether there can be a fatalist approach to public management—cultural theorists have identified fatalism as a viable way of life, but it does not figure prominently in conventional accounts on the provision of public services; Banfield has stated that in fatalist societies (such as Montegrano) public management will be (only) narrowly bureaucratic and statist because only paid officials will be concerned with public affairs, and the citizenry at large will be cynical about the motives of public officials; in spite of this widespread belief, however, there are likely to be few effective checks on public officials in a fatalist society, and Banfield sees fatalism as a social pathology bound to produce social backwardness and stagnation. Cultural theory is ambiguous on whether fatalism can be a viable basis of organization in the sense that a Montegrano‐type society could survive and reproduce itself over time, nor is it clear from the work of cultural theorists exactly what fatalists’ focus on karma amounts to. The last possibility—that fatalism might link to how‐to‐do‐it ideas about organizational design, as distinct from a view of the world as ineluctably ruled by the fickle goddess of fortune—has had little attention: from conventional cultural‐theory accounts, it would seem the most appropriate role, for fatalist social science in public management would be like that of the chorus in classical Greek theatre—and the second section of the chapter examines such a perspective on public management, looking particularly at one influential strain of ‘new institutionalist’ literature, which portrays the functioning of organizations as a highly unpredictable process, involving eclectic decision‐making unavoidably dependent on chance connections. It then moves on to build on the recipe for contrived randomness, and argues that a fatalist perspective can at least in some sense be taken beyond commentary and criticism into a positive prescription for conducting management and designing organizations to operate on the basis of chance.

Keywords: chance; chance connections; contrived randomness; criticism; cultural theory; cynicism; decision‐making; eclectic decision‐making; fatalism; fatalist public management; fickle goddess of fortune; goddess of fortune; institutionalism; karma; organizational design; public management; unpredictability

Chapter.  8440 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Comparative Politics

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