Monstrous Rebirth: Re-instating the Ethos of Bureaucracy in Public Organization

Thomas Lopdrup-Hjorth, Anne Roelsgaard Obling

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This article explores the complexities encountered in attempts to strengthen the ethos of bureaucracy in public organization. It does so by stressing the ethical and organizational conflicts generated in the aspiration to revive this ethos. Empirically, this exploration is done by examining a code introduced in the Danish state-bureaucracy in the aftermath of a number of political-administrative scandals. We show how the ethos of bureaucracy on the one hand has been repressed and displaced and, on the other hand, in light of the scandals, now reappears as something indispensable. At the same time, the article exposes how the revitalization attempt encounters considerable obstacles. By situating the code in relation to changing bureaucratic structures, semantic ideals, and civil servants’ reflections, we show how the revived ethos takes on monstrous proportions. Despite this transfiguration, we argue that the failed attempt at revitalization is no cause to dispense with the ethos of bureaucracy. The article is distinctive in how it bridges hitherto uncoupled streams of literature that are mobilized in the investigation of a critical case. In so doing, it adds to these literatures and seeks to revive critical organizational theorizing in light of current neo-liberal and populist sources of power.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)830-852
Number of pages23
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019

Bibliographical note

Published online: 20. December 2018


  • Bureaucracy
  • Codes
  • Ethics
  • Ethos of office
  • Neo-bureaucracy
  • Organization
  • Organization theory

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