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

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

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

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


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. In The 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 Game proves how a better understanding of blame avoidance can improve the quality of modern governance, management, and organizational design.


Talk about “blame games” has become pervasive in modern organizations and politics. Type the term or its variants such as “blame culture” and “teflon politics” into a search engine and you will get tens of millions of hits. This book aims to describe, dissect, and explain the blame game, showing how blame avoidance shapes politics and organizational life and what strategies the various players in “blameworld” from top-level leaders to front-line workers, can use to limit or deflect it. But while the tone of most commentary on the “blame game” and “blame culture” is unequivocally disapproving, I argue that blame is not all bad in social and institutional life. A world without blame would have some major shortcomings, however much we might be jaded by adversarial legalism or by the petty point-scoring of political life. So I go beyond an account of how blame games and blame avoidance work by identifying what is “good” and “bad” blame avoidance and by offering some ideas about how to achieve the right balance between the two.

Any book on the subject of blame avoidance in government and public services should of course begin with an excuse. To explain why it took me nearly a decade to write this book since the inaugural lecture I gave on the subject in Oxford 2001, I could plead the usual academic excuse of administrative distraction, and I’ve certainly had plenty of that in the 2000s. Or, since they say justification is often a better way of avoiding blame than making excuses, I might perhaps try to argue that leaving the argument to ferment and mature was calculated to produce a better book than one that was written more quickly. But it is the reader who has to be the judge of that.

So just what is so fascinating about blame avoidance? Perhaps three things. One is that having become alerted to blame avoidance as a phenomenon, you start to see it everywhere. For instance, where I live the traditional concept of twenty-four-hour policing has been repackaged into something with the warm and cuddly title of “safer neighborhoods” (and who could possibly be against those?). But when you inquire further into what lies behind this unexceptionable slogan, it turns out to mean that the concept of twenty-four-hour policing has been replaced mostly by answering machines that explain that no one’s available to take your call just now. So who exactly do we blame when we’re trying to alert an official someone to (for example) the rampant drug dealing in our local neighborhoods?

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