The Practical, the Political and the Ethical seminar series

The Practical, the Political and the Ethical seminar series
25 June 2019, 5.30pm - 7.15pm
Room 102 (the Seminar Room) in 19 Gordon Square (UCL)

Who’s the Boss? Managerialism and Government Legitimacy


Amanda Greene (UCL)


Managerialism holds that organisations are more effective at achieving their objectives if their leaders apply modern techniques of business management. Managers normally coordinate and direct the activities of everyone else by setting targets, gathering data, using the data to measure performance, and basing decisions on the assessment of performance. As a paradigm for the operation of government, managerialism promises to improve efficiency through a value-neutral science of organisational performance. While managerialism has recently fallen out of favour, we lack an adequate philosophical account of exactly what is wrong with it. In this paper I consider and reject three possible critiques of managerialism: that it results in marketisation, that it subverts democracy, and that it has been implemented badly. Instead, I criticise managerialism on the grounds that it leads to a narrowing of the space for practical judgment by government agents, thereby dissolving the basis of political responsibility. The diminishment of practical judgment, and the corresponding personal accountability for political outcomes, is especially worrisome as government decision-making becomes more algorithmic. I argue that, in a number of cases, this trend threatens to make citizens experience the actions of their government as either manipulative or unintelligible. The result is a particularly difficult challenge, I argue, for maintaining public trust and confidence in government action – and thus, for maintaining the stability and legitimacy of government. 

The Institute of Philosophy hosts a regular workshop series entitled ‘The Practical, the Political, and the Ethical’. The series was created in 2015 by Véronique Munoz-Dardé (UCL) and Hallvard Lillehammer (Birkbeck) in order to discuss work in progress from visiting speakers. This year the series is convened by Robert Simpson (UCL) and Joe Horton (UCL). The seminar generally meets on alternate Tuesdays from 5.30 to 7.15pm in the spring and summer terms. Talks are normally 50 minutes (no pre-circulation of the paper), followed by discussion. All are welcome.  


Institute of Philsophy
020 7664 4865