Institutional autonomy and democratic government

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Series Details No.20, 2008
Publication Date 20/10/2008
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Over the last three decades many public sector reforms have aimed at giving administrative agencies and non-majoritarian institutions more autonomy from majority-based institutions and common sets of rules. The detachment-from-politics trend has implications for the public sector’s core principles of organization and governance and for the role of the territorial state in society, and this essay asks how we can make sense of New Public Management (NPM) inspired autonomy reforms.

First, an institutional framework is presented as a supplement to the frames currently most popular. Then, competing conceptions of “autonomy” are discussed and it is argued that current reforms propagate a selective conception of autonomy that hides as much as it reveals. In the following parts the analytical framework is applied to two different institutional settings: “the bureaucracy” and the public university. Finally, two hypotheses are presented regarding the shifting balance between autonomous agencies and non-majority institutions and democratic government.

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