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The Blame Game

The Blame Game: Spin, Bureaucracy, and Self-Preservation in Government

Christopher Hood
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 242
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  • Book Info
    The Blame Game
    Book Description:

    The blame game, with its finger-pointing and mutual buck-passing, is a familiar feature of politics and organizational life, and blame avoidance pervades government and public organizations at every level. Political and bureaucratic blame games and blame avoidance are more often condemned than analyzed. InThe Blame Game, Christopher Hood takes a different approach by showing how blame avoidance shapes the workings of government and public services. Arguing that the blaming phenomenon is not all bad, Hood demonstrates that it can actually help to pin down responsibility, and he examines different kinds of blame avoidance, both positive and negative.

    Hood traces how the main forms of blame avoidance manifest themselves in presentational and "spin" activity, the architecture of organizations, and the shaping of standard operating routines. He analyzes the scope and limits of blame avoidance, and he considers how it plays out in old and new areas, such as those offered by the digital age of websites and e-mail. Hood assesses the effects of this behavior, from high-level problems of democratic accountability trails going cold to the frustrations of dealing with organizations whose procedures seem to ensure that no one is responsible for anything.

    Delving into the inner workings of complex institutions,The Blame Gameproves how a better understanding of blame avoidance can improve the quality of modern governance, management, and organizational design.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3681-9
    Subjects: Political Science, Management & Organizational Behavior

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Christopher Hood
  5. Part One Blame, Credit, and Trust in Executive Government

    • CHAPTER ONE Credit Claiming, Blame Avoidance, and Negativity Bias
      (pp. 3-23)

      You’re riding on a city bus in the middle of a heat wave following a cold snap.² To everyone’s extreme discomfort, the bus has its heating turned full on. You go to the obvious point of contact-the bus driver-to express your anger at this absurd state of affairs and ask for the heating to be shut off immediately. But you find the bus driver claims not to be to blame and says many of the buses in the city still have their heating on, because only the company mechanics can alter the heat settings on the buses. If you have...

    • CHAPTER TWO Players in the Blame Game: Inside the World of Blame Avoidance
      (pp. 24-44)

      In the previous chapter, we looked at the basic idea of blame avoidance as a political and bureaucratic imperative, suggesting that blame avoidance can help us make sense of what otherwise seem to be baffling features of the way organizations and officeholders behave, contrary to the prevailing bromides about good governance and managerial reform. We explored the linked idea of negativity bias and identified three broad strategies that are available to would-be blame avoiders and are discussed in the scattered literature on this topic. In this chapter, we go inside blameworld, exploring blame avoidance from the perspectives of four types...

  6. Part Two Avoiding Blame:: Three Basic Strategies

    • CHAPTER THREE Presentational Strategies: Winning the Argument, Drawing a Line, Changing the Subject, and Keeping a Low Profile
      (pp. 47-66)

      The presentational approach to blame avoidance was briefly sketched out in the first chapter. It denotes attempts to affect the harm perception or agency dimensions of blame by spin, timing, stage management, and various forms of persuasion. The great philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote (albeit in unpublished notes) that “there are no facts, only interpretations.”¹ That statement is an expression of what is known as perspectivism and is itself (of course) philosophically contestable. But presentational strategies for warding off blame certainly operate on an assumption that is close to Nietzsche’s famous dictum, and the spin doctor’s art is to concentrate...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Agency Strategies: Direct or Delegate, Choose or Inherit?
      (pp. 67-89)

      While presentational strategy, as discussed in the previous chapter, is primarily concerned with shaping the perceived loss or harm component of blame, agency strategy is concerned with the perceived responsibility component, namely who or what caused those perceived harms. So we are dealing here with all the attempts officeholders and organizations make to deflect or limit blame by creative allocation of formal responsibility, competency, or jurisdiction among different units and individuals (see Hood 2002: 16). Welcome to the world of agency strategies for blame avoidance.

      As explained in the first chapter, agency strategies focus on the arrangement of the organizational...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Policy or Operational Strategies
      (pp. 90-111)

      If your mother tried to teach you that honesty is the best policy, she might have told you that the best way to avoid being blamed is not to do anything wrong in the first place.¹ After all, if you manage to live a life of spotless virtue, you are much less likely to have to resort to agency strategies to try to pin the odium of blameworthy actions onto someone else, or presentational strategies to try to make blame disappear by smoke and mirrors, or the other rhetorical arts.

      And indeed, a third main strategy that can be found...

    • CHAPTER SIX The Institutional Dynamics of Blameworld: A New Teflon Era?
      (pp. 112-132)

      The last three chapters delved into the three broad strategies for blame avoidance that were identified in chapter 1. If you believe, like the famous nuclear physicist Ernest Rutherford,² that “all science is either physics or stamp-collecting,” you can think of those chapters as a sort of stamp collection, since they catalogue an assortment of types of blame avoidance and some variants around each of the three basic strategies. And blame avoidance is after all a domain in which even the most basic kind of stamp collecting is hard enough, never mind anything approaching physics.

      Still, there are clearly questions...

  7. Part Three Living in a World of Blame Avoidance

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Mixing and Matching Blame-Avoidance Strategies
      (pp. 135-156)

      As explained in chapter 1, this book began by naming the parts of blame-avoidance strategy. Having named the parts, a next step (in chapter 6) was to look at broad developments and institutional changes over time in blameworld. The aim was to explore whether we should think of blame avoidance as a constant of political and institutional life or as something peculiar to our own times, and the conclusion was that both of those propositions—the arrow approach and the circle approach—seem to apply to some extent.

      This chapter looks at the dynamics and deployment of blame-avoidance approaches from...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Democracy, Good Governance, and Blame Avoidance
      (pp. 157-180)

      This book began with puzzles about why organizational responsibilities for the problems we all face in our daily lives in dealing with government and public services are so rarely clear and joined up (despite all that earnest rhetoric of customer-focused, joined-up government); why the regulation of risk is so rarely flexible, well-judged, and proportionate (despite an apparently never-ending succession of “better regulation” initiatives); and why it is often so difficult to pin down responsibility and find out exactly who knew what when after some major adverse event has happened (despite so many loudly trumpeted governance reforms ostensibly intended to clarify...

    • CHAPTER NINE The Last Word
      (pp. 181-186)

      This book has tried to show that blame avoidance is an important and central feature of political and institutional life. Of course blame avoidance is not everything. Sometimes the imperatives of credit-claiming will trump it, and sometimes, as we saw in chapter 5, defensiveness gets to a point where it moves away from blame avoidance altogether and turns into efforts to ensure the physical safety of officeholders and their families, irrespective of the blame they may attract from everyone else. But it is nevertheless a powerful force in shaping the architecture of organizations. It often dominates their standard operating routines....

  8. Notes
    (pp. 187-200)
  9. References
    (pp. 201-218)
  10. Index
    (pp. 219-226)