Administrative Ethics (AE)

This AE research colloquium has three main objectives.

  1. O1: The first objective is to consolidate and further develop a recently emerging community of junior and senior scholars connected by a distinctive approach to administrative The distinctiveness of this approach resides in its combination of philosophical and practical ethics, on the one hand, and systematic engagement with or use of empirical research methods (e.g., survey experiments, ethnography, archival research, oral history), on the other. This scholarly community has gradually emerged as a result of the thematic panels that the chairs and/or targeted participants of this proposal have convened for the annual NIG Conference in the last five years.


  1. O2: The second objective is to capitalize on the distinctive approach and expertise of our scholarly community to more systematically ground administrative ethics as a sub-discipline of public Here, we aim to more clearly delineate the methodological and epistemological foundations of administrative ethics, which we broadly envisage as analytical and empirically informed.


  1. O3: The third objective is to increase the involvement and visibility of administrative ethics within the broader field of public administration, and within the NIG in

Administrative ethics has emerged as a distinctive and promising sub-field of study within public administration after World War II (for an anthological overview, see Bruce 2019), but has become increasingly dispersed in a variety of distinctive, and sometimes competing disciplines, such as public policy ethics, public service ethics, and, more recently, public ethics or the ethics of governance. Drawing on standard accounts of administrative ethics (Thompson 1985), the AE colloquium and its corresponding network members will develop research on three themes that we deem constitutive of administrative ethics:

The ethics of individual judgment and decision-making within public offices. Here, we are particularly interested in how public officials and civil servants respond to morally hard choices, trade-offs and normative ranking problems. Relatedly, we are interested in assessing the weight that public officials and civil servants give or ought to give to distinctive moral norms in their reasoning, decisions, and actions, as compared to other, substantively distinct norms (e.g., political, social, economic, epistemic, technical).

The ethics of public institutions and organizations that are part of or are closely connected to administrative practices and multi-level governance networks. Here, we are primarily interested in exploring the question of what a well-functioning institution is and what institutional mechanisms should be in place to protect and/or promote the integrity of (semi-)public institutions and their Relatedly, we are interested in how public moral values are impacted by the hierarchical structures within such institutions and organizations (e.g., moral issues experienced at the level of street- or screen-level bureaucracy, as part of their co-production practices, as well as a result of their interactions with mid-level managers).

The ethics of public policies that are standardly applied within democratic Here, we are particularly interested in the principles that are relevant or otherwise informative when it comes to guiding the content and manner in which specific public policies are designed and implemented. Relatedly, we are interested in how the morality of national or regional policies might be impacted by cross- cultural factors (e.g., in the context of the EU).

  1. 5 research seminar meetings: This is a series of 5 seminar meetings (September 2022, June 2023, September 2023, September 2024, January 2025) that will feature presentations of ongoing work by the members of the AE colloquium along the themes outlined above, and work on 3 special, co-authored papers that will be presented at the academic conference summarized in point (2) below. This activity item tracks O1.
    1. 1 academic conference: This conference (provisionally titled The Possibility of Administrative Ethics: 40 years later) aims to assess recent work on the theoretical and practical objections to administrative ethics as a distinctive sub-discipline of public administration four decades after the publication of Dennis Thompson’s foundational article (Thompson 1985). The event is meant to offer a systematic assessment of the field of administrative ethics at a key historical moment, and to also feature work on the history of administrative ethics internationally, as well as in the Dutch The event is provisionally scheduled for November 2025. This activity item tracks O2.
    1. 4 syllabus design workshops: This is a series of 4 workshops aimed to produce a modular Administrative Ethics course syllabus for NIG graduate students. The course will include both a historical account of administrative ethics, and an introduction to the main theoretical approaches in the field, accompanied by corresponding applied The course is, we think, a useful addition to the current NIG curriculum. This activity item tracks O1 and O3.
  1. 3 working papers that will provide the premise for a collective issue on The Possibility of Administrative Ethics (intended journal: Public Administration Review). One of the papers will focus on the history of administrative ethics in the Netherlands and Belgium. This is an output of Activity 1 and Activity 2
  2. Syllabus for an Administrative Ethics NIG This is an output of Activity 3 above.

Andrei Poama (Leiden University)

Toon Kerkhoff (Leiden University)

Hesther Paanakker (Radboud University)

Maarjolijn Heerings (Erasmus University Rotterdam)

Jan-Pieter Beetz (Utrecht University)