The Four Cultures of Administrative Justice

New article : A Cultural Analysis of Administrative Justice

This chapter from an upcoming book is a thoughtful take on the mismatch between contemporary concepts of public management and the theories of administrative justice that they intersect with.

It’s a good example of the usefulness of Grid-Group Cultural Theory to make sense of the social. The authors are specific: in their view Cultural Theory “promises two significant advances to the theory of administrative justice. First, it offers a richer understanding of the relationships between existing conceptions. Second, it reveals new conceptions of administrative justice which have not hitherto been discussed in the field.”

Regular readers of Fourcultures will know we’ve discussed previously the curious lack of focus on fatalism as an active organisation style, even among the grid-group cultural theorists who have identified it as significant. In this article the authors note:

“there has still been a general failure hitherto to engage with the existence of potential of fatalistic modes of administrative justice.”

They go a little way towards remedying this by:

  • Noting that the jury selection system is a key ‘fatalist’ approach. It’s generally regarded as fair precisely because it’s random. Likewise, to some extent with school place lotteries and immigration visa lotteries.

  • Making a useful distinction between this deliberate, designed fatalism on the one hand and fatalism as a perceived, but not deliberate feature of an administrative systemon the other: “Randomness only features as the basis for the justice of an administrative decision where it is deliberate. Accordingly, other metaphorical lotteries, such as the ‘postcode lottery’ in provision of healthcare in different regions, are not included within this discussion.”

Useful as these points are, I think there’s still a long way to go to expand on the ubiquity of institutional fatalism. Perhaps some readers of the article will take up the challenge. (As an aside, there’s a nice anecdote about fatalism at work in a 2007 paper by Anthony Evans entitled Towards a Corporate Cultural Theory.)

The authors choose to see the four cultures of Grid-Group Cultural theory as ‘normative ideal types’, rather than as descriptive, empirical aspects of reality:

“We should not approach the typology through the lens of empirical reality. Rather, we should observe, describe and compare empirical realities through the lens of this normative typology.”

This is a respectable theoretical position and it neatly avoids the need to make empirical observations regarding the typology itself. It uses Grid-Group Cultural Theory as an analytic tool and I have great sympathy with this approach. But it contrasts somewhat with the approach of, for instance, Yale Law School’s Cultural Cognition project, which claims to have found strong empirical evidence of cultural biases in observable reality (“In a study involving a diverse sample of Americans (N = 1,496), we found that…”, to cite just one example). I am very supportive of this latter approach, not least because it points out that cultural conflict produces not ‘moral disputes over the ends to be pursued by law’ but rather ‘empirical disagreements over the consequences of economic, crime-control, national security, and other policies designed to promote our common interests’. In other words the four cultures don’t cause us to argue about our values so much as about our observations, so that the investigative domain of Cultural Theory isn’t so much the normative as the descriptive (not ‘what we ought to do is…’, but ‘in reality…’; ‘the fact of the matter is…’; ‘the data shows’; ‘all the evidence suggests…’).

It looks as though there may be room for both approaches, ideal/normative and empirical/descriptive. (In parentheses I wonder to what extent the choice is shaped by the particular institutional context…)


Evans, Anthony J. (2007) Towards a Corporate Cultural Theory. Accessed at

Halliday, Simon; Scott, Colin — “A Cultural Analysis of Administrative Justice” [2009] UNSWLRS 3. Accessed at

Halliday, Simon and Colin Scott (2009) ‘A Cultural Analysis of Administrative Justice’. In Adler, M (ed) Administrative Justice in Context, (Oxford: Hart Publishing, forthcoming.)

Yale Law School Cultural Cognition Project (numerous papers)

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