1st Edition

The Myth of Bureaucratic Neutrality An Examination of Merit and Representation

    122 Pages
    by Routledge

    122 Pages
    by Routledge

    In a system discredited by political corruption, the notion of ‘bureaucratic neutrality’ was presented during the Progressive era as strategy to restore legitimacy in government. However, bureaucratic neutrality also served as a barrier to equity in government. This book argues that neutrality is a myth that has been used as a means to oppress marginalized communities, largely disconnected from its origins within the field of public administration. A historical perspective of how the field has understood race and gender demonstrates how it has centered whiteness, masculinity, and heteronormativity in research and administrative practices, mistaking them for neutrality in public service.

    Using a historically grounded positionality approach, the authors trace the myth of bureaucratic neutrality back to its origins and highlight how it has institutionalized inequity, both legally and culturally. Ultimately, the authors demonstrate that the only way to move toward equity is to understand how inequity has become institutionalized, and to constantly work to improve our systems and decision making.

    With constituents across the globe demanding institutional changes in government that will establish new practices and mediate generations of inequality, The Myth of Bureaucratic Neutrality is required reading for public administration scholars, practitioners, and students.

    1 Introduction, 2 Identity in Public Administration, 3 The Myth of Merit, 4 The Myth of Representation, 5 The Myth of Legal Remedies, 6 Moving from Myth to Reality, 7 Learning from the Myths of Our Past


    Shannon K. Portillo is associate dean for academic affairs for the KU Edwards Campus and School of Professional Studies and a professor in the School of Public Affairs and Administration at the University of Kansas. Her work explores how formal policies and informal social norms shape the work of public organizations. She is specifically interested in how racism and sexism impact organizations and workers’ experiences both historically and currently. Community service is a core value. Dr. Portillo served as Co-Chair of Governor Laura Kelly’s Commission on Racial Equity and Justice and Chair of the Douglas County Board of County Commissioners.

    Nicole M. Humphrey is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Miami. Her work utilizes organizational behavior concepts grounded in public management scholarship to gain insight into diversity and equity in public sector organizations.

    Domonic A. Bearfield is an associate professor in the School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers University-Newark. His work examines ideas related to race, gender, and public sector personnel. He also has a keen interest in issues that impact local governments, as well as the history of American public administration.

    "This book is already poised to be a modern, must-read classic. Portillo, Humphrey, and Bearfield tackle a pernicious myth of word and deed undergirding all aspects of the field—bureaucratic neutrality. As the authors note, rules may promote "neutrality" in order to eliminate prejudice and discrimination, but reinforcing and promoting greater inequality can be the result, indeed the goal, of some supposedly neutral systems. Using a comprehensive examination and analysis of numerous literatures, histories, and practices, the authors build a robust case clearly identifying the history, causes, effects, and reach of myths of bureaucratic neutrality concerning identity, merit, representation, and the law. They conclude by advancing clear, actionable considerations for anyone involved in public service. Read this book. Cite it. Assign it. Apply its lessons throughout governance. Get the messages out. The field and future will be better for it."
    Sean McCandless, University of Illinois at Springfield, USA

    "Talk about a timely text! The Myth of Bureaucratic Neutrality debunks the hegemonic narratives of how public administration operates. Objectivity, neutrality, and merit are all rooted within constructs that deny the racialized structure of our society and this book explicitly addresses these issues. Portillo, Humphrey, and Bearfield call on the field to upend ideologies, structures, and practices that support and sustain inequity. Evidence is provided and the call to learn from our past is clear. My hope is we can learn from this conversation and commit to doing and being better." 
    Brandi Blessett, University of Cincinnati, USA