Into the Purple Zone: Deconstructing the Politics/Administration Distinction

Alford, John; Hartley, Jean; Yates, Sophie and Hughes, Owen (2017). Into the Purple Zone: Deconstructing the Politics/Administration Distinction. The American Review of Public Administration, 47(7) pp. 752–763.



We add new data to the long-standing debate about the interface between politics and administration, deploying theory and evidence indicating that it varies. It can be either a “purple zone” of interaction between the red of politics and the blue of administration, or a clear line. We use survey responses from 1,012 mostly senior public managers in the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, along with semi-structured interviews with 42 of them, to examine the extent to which public managers perceive that they “cross” the line or go into a zone, and the ways in which they do so. Our inclusion of a zone as well as a line recasts how roles and relationships between politicians and administrators can be conceived. Moreover, it raises questions about how particular contingencies affect whether public managers perceive and work with a line or a zone.

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