Administrative Multinormativity is proposed as a concept for studying the logic of public administration. It adapts the concept of multinormativity, which has been developed within the intellectual ambit of the Max-Planck-Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory, for the specific challenges of studying public administration, where decision making has been informed but has not been completely determined by legal norms. Administrative multinormativity provides us with an analytical tool to tackle this complexity.

This volume takes up an analytical concern shared in many historical and ethnographic studies of public administration: tackling the complexity of decision making which cannot be simply reduced to the application of legal norms to specific circumstances. The Weberian ideal typical construction of bureaucratic processes belies this complexity, on which anthropological and micro-sociological studies of bureaucracy, however, focus.

See exemplarily Bruno Latour: La fabrique du droit. Une ethnographie des Conseil d’Etat, Paris 2004; Jean Marc Weller: Fabriquer des actes d’État. Une ethnographie du travail bureaucratique, Paris 2018; Robert Garot: »You’re Not a Stone«. Emotional Sensitivity in a Bureaucratic Setting, in: Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 33/6 (2004), pp. 735–766.

We are far from falling for the discrete charm of Weberian reductionism, but we still consider that legal norms have an important programming effect on public administration. At the same time, we share the concern with the increasing complexity of public administration and its functioning within a functionally differentiated society,

On the reception of Niklas Luhmann’s concept of functional differentiation cf. Benjamin Ziemann: The Theory of Functional Differentiation and the History of Modern Society. Reflections on the Reception of Systems Theory in Recent Historiography, in: Soziale Systeme 13 (2007), pp. 220–229.

resulting in the concurrence of different normativities on the desk of public servants.

We consider the concept of administrative multinormativity to be a well suited analytical tool for addressing the logic of modern public administration. The rule of law and the expectation of an equal application of legal norms obviously provide the general framework in which civil servants perform their tasks in different situations – ranging from marriage applications at the German registry office to the installation of Parish priests in 19th century Brazil. Decisions within public administrations are, nevertheless, informed by a broad range of factors and are thus more diverse than the Weberian model would allow for. They reflect local power relations and specific standards related to the use of new technologies, but also the organisation’s framework for managing decision making, the public servants’ self-perception and widely shared stereotypical assumptions about certain classes of people.

On the role of stereotypes cf. Robert Garot: Sprachspiele im Wohnungsamt, in: Peter Becker (ed.): Sprachvollzug im Amt. Kommunikation und Verwaltung im Europa des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts, Bielefeld 2011, pp. 157–184.

All these aspects have a normative character by themselves, albeit often on a different level than legal norms.

Administrative multinormativity provides the conceptual resources to understand the public servants’ negotiation between different normativities by way of the legacy of modern statecraft, which operates within the contradicting expectations of equality and specificity. The introduction of Peter Collins, positioned at the beginning of our volume, spells out its theoretical framing in more detail.

This volume would not have been possible without the generous support made available by many institutions and colleagues. We would like to use this opportunity to thank our authors, who joined us in the exploration of a new concept and provided fascinating insights into the logic and functioning of public administration in a broad range of settings. We are equally indebted to all institutions which opted for supporting the yearbook despite the fact that they operate within the multinormative figuration of budgetary discipline and support for academic excellence. Our special thanks go to the Max-Planck-Institute for Legal History and Legal Theory for providing support to organise a workshop on this theme. A long-term publication venture needs innovative ideas and the sacrifice of time and energy. We are privileged to have Stefan Nellen and Thomas Rohringer as part of our editorial team, as they provide both and keep us running.