Bringing the State Back in: The Prospects and Challenges of the Administrative State in the 21st Century

Call for papers for: International Journal of Public Sector Management

Since the financial crisis of the late 2000s, the political crisis that has engulfed the European Union as a result of Brexit, and the self-regulatory failures in different countries, including the recent Boeing crisis, environment disasters, and the devastating effects of COVID 19, citizens have to depend on the administrative state to address what may be described as “very wicked problems”. Taking COVID-19 as a point of reference, for example, we see the role of the administrative state in the health, education, economic, and social sectors.

The continuous reliance on the state and the call to develop new strategies to reinvent the administrative state has therefore led to the following questions:

  1. Has the administrative state really been out of fashion and what are the signs that it’s back in fashion?
  2. Is what happening now a temporal revival of the administrative state?
  3. What sort of administrative state should we expect in the future, especially in the post-COVID 19 world?
  4. What sort of accountability regime could the ‘new’ administrative state develop?
  5. What could be the relationship between political and administrative leaders in the ‘new’ administrative state?

This special issue of the International Journal of Public Sector Management (IJPSM) invites papers from scholars to answer the stated questions with the view of obtaining a greater understanding of whether the administrative state will now return to its previous position and an examination of its prospects and challenges. The papers can be theoretical. At the same time, different methodological approaches may be adopted to answer the stated questions. Empirical studies from different countries and sectors are welcomed.


Submission procedure and important dates


The issue is expected to publish in the Fall of 2022, based on the following timelines:

Deadline for proposals (abstract of not more than 500 words): November 30, 2020

Decision on proposal: December 31, 2020

Deadline to submit final papers: June 30, 2021

First round of review: September 30, 2021

Final version of papers: November 30, 2021

Final Decision (Notification of Final Acceptance): January 31, 2022

Expected Publication: Vol.35, No 6


Articles should be between 6000 and 8000 words in length. This includes all text, for example, the structured abstract, references, all text in tables, and figures and appendices. Please allow 280 words for each figure or table

To view the author guidelines for this journal, please visit:


Please submit your abstract to:

Emeritus Professor Tom Christensen [email protected] 


Frank Ohemeng [email protected] / [email protected]




The emergence of the Thatcher and Reagan revolutions from the early 1980s culminated in severe attacks on the administrative state. In fact, the administrative state, defined as the public bureaucracy that works for the political executive (Roberts 2020a), became the objective of hatred, especially from the political right and some scholars went so far as to advocate its banishing (Osborne and Plastrik, 1997). The assault on the administrative state has continued unabated (Beermann, 2018; Wallach, 2016).

In the middle of the 1980s, some sociologists and political economists responded to this resentment by explaining why society needs the state more than ever (Evans et al. 1985). Unfortunately, this call was not about the administrative state. However, it underlined the need to reexamine the state in its entirety, including its administrative aspect. Rather than calling directly for the need to bring back the administrative state, which had been ‘hollowed out’, public administration and management scholars became rather obsessed with what sort of reforms must take place to address the problems of the administrative state. Their quest for answers led to the idea of governance, which led Fredrickson (2007) to rhetorically ask: Whatever happened to public administration? Governance, governance everywhere (see Hill, 2004). A wave of recent crises has, however, generated renewed interest in the importance of the administrative state, although many believe that the fierce repulsion of bureaucracy that emerged in the 1970s and the early 1980s and the call for its banishment never materialized. Thus, there are doubts about whether the reforms from the 1980s did in fact lead to a fundamental change in how the administrative state functions (Du Gay, 2005; Hales, 2003; Hood and Peters, 2004).

In the literature on governance, the administrative state is projected as the facilitator for the market and civil society to function in a triad system for society (Peters 2017). This notion has led to the development of what has been described as “co” (Needham, 2007; Sicilia et al. 2016), signifying collaboration in “governance”, “service delivery” “production” and “management,” etc. (Bovaird and Loeffler 2013; Trischer and Scott, 2016). This “co” thus depicts the collaborative efforts of what may be described as the “three amigos” (Brandsen et al. 2018; Blomkamp, 2018). This has been described as the new public governance (Osborne, 2010; see Torfing et al. 2020).

New forms of discussing about the administrative state such as the digital era governance (Dunleavy et al. 2006; Margetts and Dunleavy, 2013), Whole-of-Government (Christensen and Lægreid, 2007), and post-NPM, or Neo-Weberian state (NWS) (Pollitt and Bouckaert, 2011), have emerged (Christensen and Lægreid, forthcoming). Thus, what is characterizing the modern administrative state is that many different principles of government and governance are living side by side in more or less complex and hybrid mixes, often layered over time. Hence, making it difficult for one to know the sort of administrative state that needs to be developed to address societal wicked problems (Christensen and Lægreid, forthcoming; Roberts, 2020b).

The NWS, which is a variant of the Weberian model, and is opposed to the NPM, for example, continues to enjoy significant discussion in the public administration literature. In this perspective, it looks at issues such as rehierarchization, recentralization, recoordination, reregulation, etc., drawing on the Weberian bureaucratic model. The model calls for different ways in building the administrative state’s capacity, for example (Lodge and Wegrich, 2014), to address the needs of society. Thus, the importance of the bureaucracy continues to be emphasized (Byrkjeflot and Du Gay, 2012; Fukuyama, 2014; Olsen, 2005) as a way to enhance the quality of governance (Holmberg and Rothstein, 2014).



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Bovaird, T. and E. Loeffler (2013), “We’re all in this together: harnessing user and community co-production of public outcomes”, in C. Staite (ed.), Making Sense of the Future: Do We Need a Model of Public Services, Birmingham: University of Birmingham

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Roberts, A. (2020), Strategies for Governing: Reinventing Public Administration for a Dangerous Century, Cornell, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.

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