What price evidence? The ethics of office and the ethics of social science in British cultural policy

O'Brien, David. 2016. What price evidence? The ethics of office and the ethics of social science in British cultural policy. Journal of Cultural Economy, 9(2), pp. 127-140. ISSN 1753-0350 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

This paper considers the use of evidence for government decision-making using ethnographically informed data from the lived experiences of those involved in British cultural policy. It does this in order to engage and extend work that has sought to defend bureaucratic forms of activity. The paper offers an empirical case study of how the civil servants’ ethic of office [DuGay, P. (2008) ‘Max weber and the moral economy of office’, Journal of Cultural Economy, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 129–144] is reinforced by the identity of the social scientist. The use of social science in policy advice is a moment where the bureaucrats are able to distance themselves from political decision-making, thus reasserting an important aspect of civil service practice and identity. However, as the latter part of the article illustrates, the dynamics of cultural policy-making, in particular the use of economics, situate the role of social science as paradoxical. It is both supportive and corrosive of the bureaucratic ethic. This paradox is the basis for a critical perspective on the ethic of office as deployed in contemporary government.

Item Type:


Identification Number (DOI):



Bureaucracy, culture, civil service, government, cultural policy

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Institute for Cultural and Creative Entrepreneurship (ICCE)


22 September 2015Accepted
23 February 2016Published Online

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Date Deposited:

04 Aug 2015 10:25

Last Modified:

25 Jun 2020 15:52

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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