Discretion and Bureaucracy

Paul du Gay*, Kirstine Zinck Pedersen

*Corresponding author for this work

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This chapter argues that discretion should be seen not only as an inevitable but also a potentially highly beneficial feature of bureaucratic organization. Taking a Weberian view of bureaucracy, we make two case-based arguments. First, we suggest that discretion is an invaluable characteristic of administrative office-holding to such an extent that, for example, the senior civil servant’s instituted purpose can best be described as ‘administrative statecraft’. Second, we argue with reference to the clinical hospital that office-holding and classic bureaucratic capacities are not located in opposition to the exercise of professional discretion. Rather, the professional’s discretionary capabilities are inseparably linked to the establishment of clear lines of command, delineated and well-defined distribution of responsibilities and obligations through a system of offices, as well as a high degree of formalization and rule-based conduct. Hence bureaucratic discretion is seen as the exercise of casuistical, prudential judgement. We end the chapter by arguing that attempts to curtail bureaucratic discretion carry with them a number of significant risks to the ability of specific bureaucracies to fulfill their instituted purposes—in public, private and professional domains alike.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDiscretion and the Quest for Controlled Freedom
EditorsTony Evans, Peter Hupe
Number of pages16
Place of PublicationCham
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Publication date2020
ISBN (Print)9783030195656
ISBN (Electronic)9783030195663
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Cite this

du Gay, P., & Pedersen, K. Z. (2020). Discretion and Bureaucracy. In T. Evans, & P. Hupe (Eds.), Discretion and the Quest for Controlled Freedom (pp. 221-236). Cham: Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-19566-3_15