Context-Specific Images of the Archetypical Bureaucrat: Persistence and Diffusion of the Bureaucracy Stereotype
Van de Walle, Steven (2004). “Context-specific images of the archetypical bureaucrat: persistence and diffusion of the bureaucracy stereotype”, Public Voices, vol. 7 (1): 3-12.
15 Pages Posted: 4 Jun 2014
Date Written: June 2, 2004
When the word ‘bureaucrat’ is used, it often bears no relation to the concept of ‘bureaucracy’ as an efficient way of organizing an administration, as it does in Max Weber’s writings (Weber, 1922). Even ‘civil servant’ carries a negative connotation. Civil servants are lazy and risk avoiding (Merton, 1940). If a civil servant takes initiative, this is considered as being engendered by the wish to protect one’s own or one’s administration’s interests, as the public choice approach would state (Niskanen, 1971; Dunleavy, 1992). These connotations pervade all uses of the words. There are many jokes about civil servants. Most officials in TV-series are corrupt. The alienation between the administration and citizens is also a common theme in literature. Beck-Jørgensen analyzed novels in which government-citizen relations took a central place (e.g. Kafka’s ‘The Castle’). His analysis showed that when dealing with the alienation between the citizen and government, novels or the characters in them never refer to concrete activities, facts, or events, but to perceived aims, consequences and contexts of the administration in question (Beck Jorgensen, 1994).
Evaluations of government are not only based on ‘objective’ facts, but also on pre-established images. Context determines when these pre-established images (stereotypes) surface, and when an ‘honest’ evaluation of government is made. Even though we find similar processes throughout the entire government, we will focus on the image of ‘civil servants’ and ‘bureaucrats’. Part of the image of the administration is generated by stereotypes. We will not only focus on the content of these stereotypes, but also on the factors that determine their persistence and diffusion despite observations to the contrary. Governments worldwide are making efforts to modernize their administrations in order to give them a more positive image. The existence of negative stereotypes of the administration suggests that any modernizing efforts by governments are bound to fail.
In this article we want to do two things: first, we want to show how stereotyping theory can help to explain citizens’ image of government, and second, we’d like to show how, by approaching the stereotype of civil servants as a social norm, the image of civil servants is diffused and preserved.
Keywords: bureaucracy, stereotype
JEL Classification: D73
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation