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Agencies Class Concepts, Fall 1999

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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: November 10, 1999
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Administrative Process

Black Letter Concept Definition

The normative perspective of administrative process assumes that the process is one we consensually share.

Administrative Process is the process through which we socially construct the bureaucracies that run our society.

The Normative Perspective of Concept of Administrative Process


Jerry Mashaw, "Explaining Administrative Process: Normative, Positive, and Critical Stories of Legal Development," p. 77, in Peter Schuck, Foundations of Administrative Law, Oxford University Press, 1994.

Jerry Mashaw provides illustrations of the administrative process from three perspectives that we use regularly in our discussions: normative, positive, and critical:

  • The "normative perspective"

    By the "normative perspective" Mashaw means the perspective which assumes that administrative processes are simply part of the whole network of processes that constitute our government, and that those processes are normative, meaning that they reflect our fundamental values and stated goals for "state action." This perspective is normative in the sense that we have shared expectations of a consensus among us that this is the best possible way to administer our agencies, and that is meets with our ideals of fairness and justice.

  • The Link to Critical vs. Apologetic, within the Normative Perspective

    We have often described theories that purport to show that "this is the best possible way to . . . " as apologetic theories. They build support for the dominant system as that most fitting for fairness and justice. On the opposite end of that continuum are critical theories, which express concern about the extent to which the system is not fair and just, and/or needs improvement.

  • The Link to Capture, within the Normative Perspective

    Mashaw also describes the extent to which those who are concerned about the need to make the system fairer and more just may still base their critique on a normative perception. They simply believe the wrong norm has been chosen. If one's concern is principally that of capture, of a dominant group having adapted the administrative process to suit a given approach or group, then correction or improvement would come through substituting the appropriate norms, which are not beholden to any specific approach or group. Thus, Mashaw emphasizes that arguments over normative consensus may just be over what that consensus really are, over which norms apply.

Questions to Help You Focus

  1. What is the normative perception of bureaucratic process?

    The normative perception of bureaucratic process assumes a consensual position based on normative social expectations for law and social behavior. That means that we see the process of bureaucracy as evolving naturally out of our growing needs for agency operations, and we see those processes as reflecting our expectations for the ways agencies do and should operate.

  2. How can two groups who disagree profoundly about what agencies should do both be operating on the normative perception? Isn't that contradictory?

    When both groups who disagree are assuming a normative perception, i.e, general consensus, and general reflection of our normative expectations, their disagreement is centered on the definition of the norms, and/or which norms in fact have the consensus.

  3. How does theoretical understanding of the process as seen by different professionals and interest groups help us to deal with actual administrative problems in the world of practice?

    Theoretical understanding provides some social distance from which we can address the real issues without the affect that attaches to actual practice. Sometimes that can help us negotiate between two agencies whose directors subscribe to different theoretical positions, making both our job, and the client service more effective.