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Title: Politics, Ambiguity and Executive Discretion in Government: Processes of Revealing and Concealing
Author: Miller, Margaret Alter
ISNI:       0000 0001 3403 7125
Awarding Body: University of Hertfordshire
Current Institution: University of Hertfordshire
Date of Award: 2008
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I explore issues of communication among career civil servants and political appointees in the government of a large democracy, the United States. Influenced by the work of Cooks (2000) and Stacey (2007), I use narrative inquiry to explore micro-interactions of which I am a part. My inquiry shows that, in contrast to the mainstream 'sender receiver' model of communication, people use processes of ambiguity and revealing and concealing in their ordinary interactions. I claim that such processes are not 'errors' in the transmission of a signal, but are essential processes through which people of diverse interests reach agreement among themselves that enable them to get along with each other (Eisenberg, 2007). I assert that such processes are inevitable because messages cannot be 'sent' with fully predictable results due, in part, to processes of revealing and concealing. Influenced by Stacey (2007), I argue that governing occurs among people interacting with each other in ordinary ways in small groups. Such interactions include telephone calls, emails, face to face meetings, and hallway conversations as well as large group meetings and events. I also assert that g'overning occurs in minute, frequently ignored aspects of such interactions, such as pauses in conversations. I maintain that, in such activities, participants consider numerous factors before deciding their next steps, such as issues of influence, authority, organizational position, personal need, political preference, and issues of 'face,' image, and self-presentation. I argue that, although such activities are influenced by others, they are not fully controlled by others. Therefore, my thesis contrasts to 'mainstream' theories oforganizational behavior (Weber, 1947; Merton, 1949; Parsons, 1951; Simon, 1997), because I argue that patterns of interaction cannot be fully controlled or 'designed' in advance. The assertion is based on my research finding that processes of revealing and concealing pervade interactions and influence ongoing patterns that emerge. I address processes of governing and observe that, in the large democracy I have explored, they are influenced by patterns of interdependence in which government employees are paradoxically related to the head of government. For example, employees are voters who playa role in selecting the leader whose 'agendas' they are expected to implement. Therefore, such paradoxical relations have a 'flattening' effect on organizational relationships within the bureaucracy; the President is 'playing' to the civil servants as voters at the same time he is directing their work. I take the position that, in the U.S. government, processes of ambiguity are fostered by the country's Constitutional separation of powers, as a result of which no one, including the President, has ultimate power. As a result, ambiguity pervades interactions among officials including the President's own appointees, career civil servants, and elected officials. Due to the ambiguity and paradoxical power relations mentioned above, I show that, even in a large government headed by a visible, powerful elected official such as the President, no one is fully in control. I maintain that the exercise of discretion is critical to the successful development of employee influence, whether the employee is a political appointee, career civil servant, or elected official. I argue that the exercise of discretion by the government employee is critical to the navigation of ambiguous roles, responsibilities, and authorities and is related to influence, which is political. As a result, I assert that the exercise ofdiscretion, including processes of ambiguity, is critical to governing. My contributions include clarifying the importance of ambiguity in governing, and showing that processes of ambiguity and revealing and concealing are pervasive in human interaction. Therefore, my work contributes to the development of a theory ofcomplex responsive processes (Stacey, 2007) by showing that such processes are instrumental in choices people make and therefore, influence predictability, control, and the patterning of interactions.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available