Reputation-Sourced Authority and the Prospect of Unchecked Bureaucratic Power

Presenter
Madalina Busuioc
Departments of Political Science and Public Administration, Universiteit Leiden
Authors
Anthony Bertelli
New York University
Madalina Busuioc
Departments of Political Science and Public Administration, Universiteit Leiden

Abstract
We explore the implications of a reputational account of bureaucratic authority for democratic accountability. While in recent years influential literature has documented and theorized about the relevance of reputation for bureaucratic power (Carpenter 2001; 2010) and more generally, about the transactional nature of authority in organizations (Carpenter and Krause 2015), the normative implications of these insights for a political control of the bureaucracy remain largely unexplored. The paper discusses how reputation-building impacts principals' ability and motivation to oversee agent action and the consequences of this for maintaining democratic accountability. We argue that reputation-sourced authority eschews ex ante incentives through the successful claims-making and maneuvering of bureaucrats as they develop reputations with audiences, while at the same time, it de-legitimizes ex post oversight because that checking action must compete with reputational authority and resistance from the audiences that are its sources of authority. From a perspective where reputation is synonymous with organisational power, this reveals problematic insights for scholars concerned with democratic accountability: it is the most "powerful" bureaucratic actors that risk being exempt from monitoring and oversight and overriding the democratic checks placed on their power. In other words, it is precisely "great power" that will bypass responsibility.
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"In all forms of Government the people is the true Legislator" - Edmund Burke


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