Tom Karlsson defended his doctoral thesis "Manager and Civil Servant: Exploring actors’ taken-for-granted assumptions in public administration" June 3rd. Below he tells you a little about himself and his research.
When I began my PhD at the School of Economics and Management in February 2009, I did so with a wide experience from different areas: restaurants, telemarketing, and electric utility. My university education involves a Master’s degree in business administration from Lund University.
In my dissertation “Manager and Civil Servant: Exploring actors’ taken-for-granted assumptions in public administration” I problematize and scrutinise dilemmas that actors engaged in organising and control within the public sector continuously faces. These dilemmas can partly be connected to the continuous attempts of reforming the public sector callously referred to as New Public Management. An economification of the public sector and impositions of management techniques within public administration have come to change the idealised picture often portrayed in this context: that of the civil servant. I have studied “middle managers” within the Swedish Social Insurance Agency (Försäkringskassan) with the purpose of exploring how the on going demands for increasing efficiency whilst maintaining instances of rule-of-law are made sense of. In the dissertation I present instances wherein that which should be perceived to be dilemmas are made sense of by actors through separating between that which happens within outside the governmental agency.
The dissertation is an important contribution concerning our understanding of the discourses, symbols, and tacit rules that e.g. New Public Management have brought to public administration. A consequence of these new practices is that they more and more come to be essential when organising and controlling the public sector. The portrait of law abiding and bureaucratised civil servants that have been prevalent within literature as well as politics during the majority of the 20th century needs to complemented with portraits of managers as central for good administration.
Politicians as well as public officials can use the dissertation as a tool for understanding agencies. By identifying the discourses and symbols that dominate activities within the agency, it becomes possible to frame potential problem areas that may hinder the aim of increasing efficiency and rule-of-law.
It is urged that we need to begin thinking differently when scrutinising public administration. Which potentials emerge when actors engaged in public administration assumes roles of being managers as well as civil servants? These are questions for the future.