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The University of Southampton
Centre for Political Ethnography


Published: 14 June 2019

This article may be of interest to all interested in elite ethnography: Van Dorp, Erik-Jan and ‘t Hart, Paul, ‘Navigating the Dichotomy' is online in Public Administration.

How in their day‐to‐day practices do top public servants straddle the politics–administration dichotomy (PAD), which tells them to serve and yet influence their ministers at the same time? To examine this, we discuss how three informal ‘rules of the game’ govern day‐to‐day political–administrative interactions in the Dutch core executive: mutual respect, discretionary space, and reciprocal loyalty. Drawing from 31 hours of elite‐interviews with one particular (authoritative) top public servant, who served multiple prime ministers, and supplementary interviews with his (former) ministers and co‐workers, we illustrate the top public servants’ craft of responsively and yet astutely straddling the ambiguous boundaries between ‘politics’ and ‘administration’. We argue that if PAD‐driven scholarship on elite administrative work is to remain relevant, it has to come to terms with the boundary‐blurring impacts of temporal interactions, the emergence of ‘hybrid’ ministerial advisers, and the ‘thickening’ of accountability regimes that affects both politicians and public servants.

Read the article.

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