EPPA Pillar: Cultures

The ´EPPA Pillar: Cultures´ starts from the observation that diversity and cultures are an increasingly major feature of our European societies with a great impact on how to administer, govern our public policies and organisations. There is a concern that this diversity and these cultural features should be taken more into account.


EPPA Seminar “Cultures, Diversity, and Public Administration” (14-15 December 2017 in Leuven)

The overall aim of the seminar was to discuss and investigate if and how cultures and diversity in European Public Administration are becoming even more diverse and relevant - and how PA is reacting and/or should or could react? What are the defining characteristics and how and why do they change? The challenge is how to frame, how to discuss and how to map and understand the increase and relevance of different cultures and more diversity, defined as languages, religions, and ethnicities, and how this may and should/could affect the multidisciplinary field of PA in the future.

The seminar was organized around four thematic point of view, which covered, amongst others: First: “Setting the Scene: what is happening and going to happen? How can we map cultures and diversities, now and in the future, and show ‘Facts and figures’ on the shifts which are happening. Second: theories and models in PA taking (or not) culture and diversity into account: How and to what extent is PA-research positioning itself vis-à-vis Languages, Religions, Ethnicities, and (Legal) Traditions? Third: What about PA Country Clusters in research: Are clusters helpful, are they changing? What are research strategies to explain differences based on types of clusters. Fourth: What are the implications for a PA Research Agenda: What kind of new data, topics, and methods do we need? Which are promising new directions for teaching and research?

Again some preliminary and highly simplified first 'lessons learned':

  1. Cultural diversity is not and has traditionally not been an issue in PA in Europe, except in some very specialized areas. We have very little systematic empirical and theoretical knowledge about how for example language barriers and religious diversity have influenced PA in the past, and this in spite of the diverse historic and demographic variety of Europe, which is much more diverse than e.g. in the US. Maybe the strong US influence has also here prevented a more diverse, European view of PA.
  2. Migration will be one of the main challenges - also and especially to public administrations - of the coming decades: Migration is high on the political agenda and will stay there, but PA as academic teaching and research has until now widely ignored that. The diversity in Europe will increase because of migration and therefore also conflicts will increase: If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences. And there is a lot at stake. 

  3. Also Religion is one of the until now widely neglected areas of PA. PA pretends to be neutral and secular, but it is not, at least not always. It has strong implications for everyday issues like education, health and food, which are close to practical public administration. There is no clear distinction between culture and religion, but there should be one. PA is a political vehicle for state actions and is not neutral nor objective. Therefore, the inter-regional and inter-disciplinary dialogue on Religions and PA needs to be strengthened. This involves new research agendas and questions: How public policies deal/or not with issues linked to religions, diversity and contemporary problems? Contemporary crises management and religions: how to deal with crises and questions linked to religion and diversity in contemporary crises?
  4. Language shapes thought, debate and hence also research. A key feature of public administration in Europe is language diversity and the enduring significance of the manifold national languages beyond English both in the public and the academic debate. Language and language similarities reflect common historical roots and shape similarities but also differences and misunderstandings in governance and administration. This has also been widely ignored in research and teaching. We need to study the theoretical and practical significance of language diversity for PA in Europe. Examples would be linking language practices to classic PA topics: street- level bureaucracy and discretion, collaborative governance, innovation diffusion, political-administrative relations, public employee sorting and socialization, effective policy instruments, and so on.
  5. Country clusters (i.e. Nordic, Continental, southern European, Anglo-Saxon etc.) have until now very much influenced our (comparative) research and teaching of PA. But the question is how much they can explain and how much they help and are used in teaching PA. Country clusters may even become less relevant than intra-country differences in understanding and explaining behaviour and results.
  6. The influence and relevance of new forms of culture and diversity on Human Resources Management and Organisation is still not very well understood and certainly not well researched. What is the role and influence of diversity and representation in public organizations? Some traditional PA concepts and theories deal with these issues, i.e. Street level bureaucracy, Representative bureaucracy, Diversity management etc., but there is very little genuine European research in these areas. How can we theoretically link diversity and representation in public organizations with different dimensions of their performance? How can we address the ‘micro-macro’ problem in diversity and representation research as we deal with mechanisms and effects at individual and collective levels? And what contextual factors will affect those mechanisms and effects? 

  7. Finally, also PA research and teaching are not really reflecting even the traditional diversity of Europe, let alone new and enhanced diversities and challenges. Some parts of Europe are very often beyond the scope of the mainstream European PA scholarships, e.g. especially some larger countries in Southern and Eastern Europe. The 'European perspective' is therefore until now very much influenced by the studies of a few core EU countries which have great and established PA scholars and programmes. So again, the relevance of cultures and diversity in and of PA teaching and research is heavily dependent on the country capacity for institutionalization of programmes. We need more outside challenges of our established convictions and assumptions, and this needs more and more diverse centres of teaching and research.

see more EPPA: "Cultures, Diversity and PA"