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Prospectus

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Pen-pushers or servants of state? Bureaucrats in the eye of the beholder

Course
2014-2015

Description

The most prominent actors in the political arena are the politicians, but in this seminar we will take a look at important figures that often stay behind the screen: the civil servants.

During the twentieth century, civil servants have often had a bad name in Western democracies. At best, they were seen as pen-pushers, who wasted the tax-payers’ money with their useless and timeconsuming activities. They have also been accused of hindering the citizens they should serve, by following rigid rules. This ‘red tape’ has also been regarded as an obstacle to an efficient government. Some observers have implied that bureaucrats are selfserving, or even corrupt. At the same time, other commentators saw bureaucrats as commendable servants of state, loyally working in the public interest.

In this research seminar we will examine the development of the perceptions of the bureaucracy, in the eyes of the public, politicians and the civil servants themselves. Where does the negative image come from? When did civil servants enjoy more prestige? Can we find and explain national differences? These questions are relevant, because they are related to the functioning of and public trust in government. Geographically, we will focus on the Western nation-states. However, the reactions to municipal bureaucracy, supranational (European) institutions will also receive attention. We will analyse several subthemes, ranging from popular TV-series (Yes Minister, for instance) to legislation regarding the civil service. The reactions to corruption and whistleblowers are other possible themes, because they show how deviant behavior is denounced. Students will explore one of these subthemes in their presentation and paper.

Our historical exploration of the contemporary perceptions of the civil servants will take place against the background of the current theoretical literature about the relationship between bureaucracy and democracy. Political Science, Administrative Science and Law adopt different approaches from our political-cultural perspective, but they can nevertheless provide useful insights. Students will gain knowledge and understanding of this literature. Research Master students will go one step further, by critically using this theory in their historical research.

Course objectives

  • Knowledge and comprehension of the specialization Political Culture and National Identities and its historiography. Specifically:

    • from a political cultural point of view (practices, symbols and perceptions) and
    • from a transnational point of view (understanding of differences in national identities and training in comparison and transfer between localities, countries and supranational institutions).
  • Knowledge and comprehension of the historiographical, theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of the specialization Political Culture and National Identities. Specifically:

    • international comparison and transfer;
    • a cultural-historical approach of politics;
    • a political-historical approach of culture
    • the analysis of specific perspectives of secondary studies (theoretical approaches of Political Science, Administrative Science and Law)
  • The ability to independently formulate a clear and well-argued research question.

  • The ability to independently identify and select literature and sources.

  • The ability to analyze and evaluate literature and sources for the purpose of producing an original scholarly argument.

  • The ability to interpret a corpus of sources.

  • The ability to give a clear oral report on the research results in English.

  • The ability to write an argued, structured paper on the research results in English.

  • The ability to provide and engage with constructive academic feedback. Students should be able to discuss and assess their own work and the work of their fellow-student (both on a methodological and on an historiographical level).

Course specific objectives:

  • Knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical literature about the relationship between democracy and bureaucracy.

  • Comprehension of the historical perception of the bureaucracy in the 20th century, including national differences in trust in the bureaucracy on a local, national and supranational level.

Extra course objectives for Res Master Students:

  • The ability to interpret a potentially complex corpus of sources.

  • The ability to identify new approaches within existing academic debates.

  • The ability to assess the approaches of History, Political Science, Administrative Science and Law. Therefore, knowledge and comprehension of these interdisciplinary aspects of Political Culture and National Identities is required.

  • Ability to use theoretical insights as a guideline for historical research.

Timetable

View Timetable History

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

A total of 280 hours :

  • 28 hours spent on attending lectures and seminars

  • 72 hours for studying the compulsory literature and for completing assingments

  • 180 hours for writing a paper.

Assessment method

Participiation in class discussions, demonstrating the following skills (10%):

  • The ability to provide constructive academic feedback.

  • Knowledge and comprehension of the specialization Political Culture and National Identities and its historiography.

  • Knowledge and comprehension of the historiographical, theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of the specialization Political Culture and National Identities.

An oral presentation, demonstrating the following skills (20%):

  • The ability to give a clear oral report on the research results in English.

A paper (max 7500 words), demonstrating the following skills (70%):

  • The ability to analyse the history of the perceptions of bureaucracy, following a transnational and cultural-historical approach of politics and governance.

  • The ability to understand the relevant historiography (including political history and theoretical studies), and to use this as a framework for the own research.

  • The ability to independently formulate a clear and well-argued research question.

  • The ability to independently identify and select literature and sources.

  • The ability to analyze and evaluate literature and sources for the purpose of producing an original scholarly argument.

  • The ability to interpret a corpus of sources.

  • The ability to write an argued, structured paper on the research results in English.

  • The ability to engage with constructive academic feedback.

For the ResMa students:
A more challenging and longer paper (max 8500 words) demonstrating the additional skills (70%):

  • The paper should possess an extra historiographical paragraph (max. 1000 words), which demonstrates the ability to critically compare the approaches of History, Political Science, Administrative Science and Law. ResMa students should give their view on the advantages and disadvantages of interdisciplinary research.

  • The paper should demonstrate the ability to connect the research question with new approaches within existing academic debates and with theoretical insights.

  • The paper should demonstrate the ability to interpret complex sources.

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average – 70% for the paper – 20% for the presentation – 10% for the participation

Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the paper is to be revised after consultation with the teacher. A resit can only be done for the paper.

Blackboard

Blackboard is used for this course:

  • Regulations and appointments

  • Dissemination of information

  • Sharing research results

  • Giving and receiving feedback on each others’ work

Reading list

  • to be announced

Contact

dhr. J. Gijsenbergh MA