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date: 07 December 2019

(p. xvii) Preface

(p. xvii) Preface

When approached three years ago by the general editor of the Oxford Handbooks of American Politics Series, George Edwards, to edit this Oxford Handbook of American Bureaucracy, I was not only honored for the invitation (wondering, of course, how many others had turned it down!) but also wary of producing a traditional handbook for the series. Nor did I wish to produce a handbook of public administration, public management, public policy, political institutions, or political development; many excellent handbooks on these topics already existed. I had long thought, however, that several schisms existed in the study of American bureaucracy that were constraining the cumulative knowledge building necessary to effective practice and theory building. In fact, the existence of separate handbooks in these areas reinforced my concern, and I wondered what research lines, theoretical prospects, and methodological approaches had been advanced, ignored, or even foreclosed by the schisms they reflected.

While I elaborate extensively on the details of these schisms in the introduction to this handbook, it suffices presently to note them as sources for my interest in editing a handbook on American bureaucracy that tries to broach these divides and lets readers have a more complete sense of where this research enterprise stands at the end of the first decade of the twenty‐first century. The first schism I saw in doing my own work was a lack of cross‐referencing of relevant research on American bureaucracy across cognate fields of study in public administration, public management, political science, and public policy. The second was a broader, more substantive tendency to decouple the study of politics, bureaucracy, and public policy; to fragment the stages of the policy process when they were considered; and to treat the interstices of agency behavior as a “black box” operationalized by measures that sometimes hit the mark and other times were the equivalent of convenience sampling. Third, while I understand the reasons for the increasingly ahistorical, decontextualized, and insufficiently diachronic focus of much contemporary research (and, frankly, of many job talks I have witnessed over the past decade), I remain deeply troubled by it.

The celebrated composer, pianist, and mordant wit, Oscar Levant, once said of the squeaky clean image of legendary actress Doris Day: “I knew [her] before she was a virgin.” I hope to avoid becoming the target of similar jibes. In identifying these schisms, I do not wish to convey some sense of superiority that I have seen things others have not, am more widely read or know more than others, or have some special or unique capability to redress them. In fact, much of my own work (p. xviii) exemplifies these schisms. My own limitations notwithstanding, I still hope that raising awareness of these schisms and making an effort at synthesis (no matter how modest and imperfect) in a single volume might help attenuate these tendencies. Moreover, even if it does not, I feel that a handbook like this should offer future scholars interested in the study of American bureaucracy a portrait of what the research terrain looked like at the end of the first decade of the twenty‐first century. In that way, they will more effectively serve, as the poet John Donne put it in “The Annunciation and Passion” (1608), as “at once receiver and the [next] legacy” of this eclectic research tradition.

To my delight and gratitude, both George Edwards and Dominic Byatt, chief editor of the Oxford Political Science Series, agreed to the proposal. The chapters in the remainder of this handbook are fruits of the labors of a set of leading researchers who represent a variety of disciplines, fields, subfields, perspectives, and methodologies and who have advanced the study of American bureaucracy appreciably over the past three decades. Collectively, they take stock and ponder the research future of this academic enterprise.

Contributors were asked to eschew traditional literature reviews in their chapters but rather to write a chapter “with attitude.” This meant taking a definite position on their topic, marshaling evidence from noteworthy examples of prior research, and offering what they feel are promising approaches to advancing practice and theory building in future research. For the readers' convenience, I asked each of the contributors to follow the same format in their chapters. Each chapter thus affords an introduction summarizing the arguments of the contributor(s) and previewing what follows in the chapter. A review of research illustrating, supporting, or even countering those arguments follows. Each chapter then concludes with either a set of general principles for conducting future research and/or specific suggestions regarding what the authors see as the most promising avenues of future research. I also commissioned essays identifying the strengths and weaknesses of several methodologies or perspectives on research. While I placed these chapters in different sections of the handbook that seem to offer the most topical relevance to me, these methodologies might actually be applied to suitable topics in any of the sections of the volume. The diversity of opinions that emerged is reflected in the question marks placed after the titles of the major headings in this handbook.

I hope this common format will encourage a broader reading of the chapters; help readers see overlapping interests, opportunities, and divergence of findings and arguments among researchers that have remained stovepiped to date; and aid them in pursuing their interests across the chapters (e.g., in identifying suggestions for future research). I also sought to advance these aims in two other, rather unconventional, ways. First, I did frequent cross‐referencing of topics within the texts of the chapters. Second, I included references to related arguments and counterarguments offered by scholars from other perspectives. Permitting me to do these things required great trust, forbearance, and graciousness by the contributors, as well as great confidence in the power of their own arguments and perspectives. For allowing me to take this heavy editorial license with their work, I am deeply indebted to each (p. xix) of the contributors. My hope is that when they read this volume, they will feel their generosity has been rewarded.

In addition to the contributors to this volume, I am also indebted to a number of persons who were instrumental in bringing this book from idea to fruition. I must start with George Edwards, who offered me this opportunity. George has been a source of support for my professional development since my brief stint at Texas A&M University in the late 1990s, and this opportunity is just the latest installment of his generosity to me over the years. Sincere thanks as well to Dominic Byatt and his staff for their encouragement, flexibility, and editorial guidance. Also noteworthy of acknowledgment for various services they performed in the editing of this book are David Rosenbloom, Alison Jacknowitz, Anna Amirkhanyan, David Pitts, Camilla Stivers, William Resh, John Marvel, and students in various doctoral seminars at American University. Thanks also to David Rosenbloom, James Perry, Laurence Lynn, and Bert Rockman for sharing some of their experiences in editing excellent handbooks of their own and thus preparing me for the joys, dramas, and traumas I have encountered along the way.

As author Stephen Dubner recently opined in explaining what authors and editors go through: “A book is like a child who never naps, never goes to camp, always needs care and feeding, and whose presence gnaws on you if you dare neglect it.” Those close to the process, I am sure, saw and heard the “childishness” in me as well. This was especially true when authors who had committed to write chapters disappeared from my radar screen without a note, explanation, or apparent remorse. Fortunately, and as in all my earlier book projects, I have had my wife, Jennifer, to help shoulder these and other frustrations. She has really been co‐editor of this handbook but refuses to be formally listed as such. No words can ever thank her enough.

Robert Durant

Washington, DC

September 2010 (p. xx)