Postmodernism, Bureaucracy, and Democracy

Ralph P. Hummel and Camilla Stivers

in The Oxford Handbook of American Bureaucracy

Published in print October 2010 | ISBN: 9780199238958
Published online January 2011 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks of American Politics

Postmodernism, Bureaucracy, and Democracy


This article first outlines the major postmodern perspectives on modernism and their implications for democracy and American bureaucracy. Modernism and postmodernism debate two visions. Postmodernism charts modern problems by looking from new vantage points at modernism's central impulse, reason, and mechanism — bureaucracy. The article also presents examples of postmodern views on bureaucracy within public administration and political science, with strategic contributions from organization theory, sociology, and industrial psychology. The criticisms of postmodernism which marshal a postmodern rejoinder are then covered. These include what we call the ‘dead babies’, ‘anything goes’, ‘backfire’, and ‘cui bono’ critiques. Furthermore, a brief argument for the importance of postmodern perspectives is provided in the way it is thought about and the article looks at studies of the relationships among American society, government, and bureaucracy. As the brief review of postmodernism reaches its limits, there are more questions than answers.

Keywords: postmodernism; democracy; American bureaucracy; modernism; public administration; organization theory; dead babies; anything goes; backfire; cui bono

Article.  10371 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; Public Policy ; US Politics

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