Paradoxes of Modernization: Unintended Consequences of Public Policy Reform

Aug 2010

Margetts, H., 6, P., Hood, C. (2010) Paradoxes of Modernization: Unintended Consequences of Public Policy Reform. Oxford University Press.

Paradoxes of Modernization Book Cover

This book explores the unintended and unanticipated effects associated with 'modernization' projects and tackles the key question that they provoke - why do policy-makers persist in such enterprises in the face of evidence that they tend to fail?

Paradoxes of Modernization first discusses what is meant by 'modernization' and 'unintended consequences', placing public policy reform within more general intellectual and social trends. It presents eight case study 'modernization' projects. Their architects promised faster trains, a more efficient and reactive health service, a more motivated public service, better performing local government, enhanced information for prospective US university students, reduced rates of child malnutrition in developing countries, and a free, open, safe, interconnected cyberspace for people to conduct their social and political life. Each case provides a neat story with a paradox that varies the modernization theme and tackles the question: why was the project pursued? The conclusion categorizes the cases in terms of their outcome, from success to disappointment, and suggests some strategies for a more balanced version of modernization for current and future policy-makers.

More details are available at the publisher's website.


  • Modernization is an implicit theme of much of public administration, yet is rarely considered
  • Contributors consider the themes of modernization and unintended consequences in the public policy arena
  • Detailed case studies across a range of public policy areas, including rail policy, nutrition policy, the Internet and the World Wide Web, local government performance assessment, health service information technology, university ranking systems, and performance-related pay.

Table of Contents

  • I. Understanding Modernization's Paradoxes
    1. 1. The Drive to Modernize
    2. 2. Modernization Dreams and Public Policy Reform
    3. 3. When Forethought and Outturn Part
  • II. Societal Innovations
    1. 4. Ranking US Public Affairs Educational Programmes
    2. 5. Et in Arcadia Ego
    3. 6. Happy Surprises?
  • III. State-Centred Reforms
    1. 7. Addressing Undernutrition in India
    2. 8. Integration at Any Price
    3. 9. Post-Second World War British Railways
  • IV. Modernization of the State
    1. 10. The Paradox of Performance-Related Pay Systems
    2. 11. What if Public Management Reform Actually Works?
  • V. Conclusion
    1. 12. Modernization, Balance, and Variety

About the Authors

Helen Margetts is Professor of Society and the Internet at the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) and Fellow of Mansfield College, University of Oxford, before which she was Director of the School of Public Policy at UCL. A political scientist specialising in politics and government on the Internet, she has authored and co-authored a wide range of books and articles as well as a series of policy reports for the National Audit Office, including (with Patrick Dunleavy and others) Digital-era Governance (Oxford University Press, 2006); (with Christopher Hood) Tools of Government in the Digital Age (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007); and Government on the Internet (a joint LSE-OII study for the NAO, 2007). She is editor of the new journal Policy and Internet (Berkeley Electronic Press) and is currently researching on-line collective action.

Perri 6 is Professor of Social Policy in the Graduate School of the College of Business, Law and Social Policy at Nottingham Trent University. His recent books include Institutional Dynamics of Culture (ed. with G Mars, Ashgate, 2008), Public Emotions (ed. with S Radstone, C Squire, and A Treacher, Palgrave, 2007), Beyond Delivery (with E Peck, Palgrave, 2006), Managing Networks of Twenty First Century Organisations (with N Goodwin, E Peck, and T Freeman, Palgrave, 2006) and E-governance (Palgrave, 2004). He has published widely on issues such as joined-up government, consumer choice in public services, privacy and data protection, and social networks in journals such as Political Studies, Public Administration, and the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory . He is currently researching how different styles of political judgment result in decisions that produce different types of unintended consequences.

Christopher Hood has been Gladstone Professor of Government and Fellow of All Souls College Oxford since 2001 and was Director of the UK Economic and Social Research Council Public Services Research Programme from 2004 to 2010. Before that he held chairs at the London School of Economics and the University of Sydney, New South Wales, and was a lecturer at the University of Glasgow for 14 years. His publications include The Limits of Administration (Wiley, 1976), The Tools of Government (Macmillan, 1983, updated as The Tools of Government in the Digital Age, 2007, with Helen Margetts), The Art of the State (OUP, 1998) and The Politics of Public Service Bargains (OUP, 2006, with Martin Lodge). He is currently working on a book on the politics of blame-avoidance.


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