Representative Bureaucracy: Rethinking Substantive Effects and Active Representation


Hong-Hai Lim is an associate professor in the School of Social Sciences at the Universiti Sains Malaysia. He holds a doctorate from the University of Malaya. His interests include the politics of plural societies, the politics of public administration, and management theory and practices in the public sector. He has published mainly on Malaysian politics and public administration.


This article addresses perceived deficiencies in the study of representative bureaucracy by explaining and classifying the sources of passive representation's substantive effects. This classification is used to clarify existing empirical research and normative thinking on active representation. Doing so produces a more modest but more accurate interpretation of existing research findings and helps to indicate future research needs. It also reduces normative disagreement to a single source of substantive effects, namely bureaucratic partiality. Minority bureaucratic partiality is of dubious value for helping minorities, and bureaucratic partiality should generally be rejected. However, a passively representative bureaucracy increases in importance because of its other sources of substantive effects. This demonstrates the need to go beyond the passive–active distinction: It is more adequate and accurate to speak of representative bureaucracy and the sources of its substantive effects.