Performing Westminster: discourse, dramaturgy and the enactment of administrative tradition

Stream: Panel 78 - Comparative Politics: Westminster Systems
Date: Wednesday, 28 September 2016
Time: 11.00 am – 12.30 pm


Westminster represents one of the major types of government in studies of comparative politics. In the field of public administration there is renewed interest in the meaning of the Westminster tradition as new public management era reforms wane and governments look to reassert more centralised and hierarchical control over public services. Recent influential studies take an interpretivist approach and suggest actors creatively reinterpret Westminster traditions to further their own agendas. Critics respond that the Westminster tradition has a structural basis that cannot simply be reinterpreted at will. This paper suggests a solution to this problem in the form of greater attention to the performative aspects of the Westminster tradition. Specifically, we hypothesise that Westminster is not only a web of meanings, but also a series of dramas acted out on specific stages. We test this empirically by looking at how quasi-autonomous actors in Canada and the UK negotiate their autonomy in the context of Westminster norms. We show that these actors must approach their autonomy through familiar Westminster “scripts”, but their performances continuously enact and reshape the Westminster tradition.


Cosmo Howard (Presenter), Griffith University