Specialists and generalists in British central government: a political debate

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The debate over the position of the generalist in British central government has been long-running and reassuring in its conformity to set lines of thought. Traditionally, the spotlight has focused on the higher civil servant whilst the generalist politician has been left in the penumbra of the discussion. The intention of this article is to take an overview of the generalist-specialist controversy in order to examine the political framework which makes the continued pre-eminence of the generalist in Whitehall and Westminster unusual in terms of organization theory while at the same time predictable in terms of the British constitutional and political environment. An examination of the contradictions between the requirements of organization theory on the one hand and those of political convention on the other may help to explain the continued pre-eminence of the generalist in central government.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages15
JournalPublic Administration
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 1981


  • British government
  • British politics
  • Whitehall
  • Westminister

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