R. A. W. Rhodes

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R. A. W. Rhodes
Alma mater University of Essex, Oxford University
School Political Science
Main interests Public policy, Political institutions; Governance, Core executive, Policy networks, and Public Administration.
Notable ideas Governance; Policy Networks

R.A.W. Rhodes is a Professor of Political Science.

Rod Rhodes is Professor of Government (Research) at the University of Southampton (UK); Professor of Government at Griffith University (Brisbane, Australia); and Emeritus Professor of Politics at the University of Newcastle (UK). Previously, he was the Director of the UK Economic and Social Research Council’s ‘Whitehall Programme’ (1994-1999); Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the Australian National University (2006-11); and Director of the Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National University (2007-8). He is a life Vice-President and former Chair and President of the Political Studies Association of the United Kingdom; a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia; and an Academician of the Academy of Social Sciences (UK). He has also been a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, editor of 'Public Administration: an international quarterly' from 1986 to 2011, and Treasurer of the Australian Political Studies Association, 1994-2011.

He was born in Bradford in the West Riding of Yorkshire. He was educated at a Moravian church school before working as a clerk. After studying at night school, he took a bachelor's degree at Bradford University. He also holds a postgraduate BLitt from Oxford University and a doctorate from Essex University. He emigrated from the UK to Australia in 2003, returning to the UK in 2012.


Rhodes was influential in developing several ideas in present day political science.

Differentiated polity[edit]

The idea that British government should be seen as a fragmented or differentiated polity rather than a unitary state has been hugely influential and widely debated. The idea ‘may be becoming the new orthodoxy’.[1][2]

Core executive[edit]

With Patrick Dunleavy, Rhodes argued the conventional debate about the British executive, with its focus on the relative power of the prime minister and cabinet was too limited. The core functions of the British executive are to pull together and integrate central government policies and to act as final arbiters of conflicts between different elements of the government machine. These functions can be carried out by institutions other than prime minister and cabinet; for example, the Treasury and the Cabinet Office. By defining the core executive in functional terms, the key questions become: ‘who does what?’ and ‘who has what resources?’.[3]

Policy networks[edit]

Rhodes pioneered the analysis of policy networks in British government. The term refers to sets of formal and informal institutional linkages between governmental and other actors structured around shared interests in public policymaking and implementation. These institutions are interdependent. Policies emerge from the bargaining between the networks’ members. The other actors commonly include the professions, trade unions and big business. Central departments need their co-operation because British government rarely delivers services itself. It uses other bodies. Also, there are too many groups to consult so government must aggregate interests. It needs the ‘legitimated’ spokespeople for that policy area. The groups need the money and legislative authority that only government can provide.[4]


The term refers to: a new process of governing; or a changed condition of ordered rule; or the new method by which society is governed. Rhodes applied the idea to public administration and public policy to refer the changing boundaries between public, private and voluntary sectors. For many policy arenas, these sectors are interdependent, so decisions are a product of their game-like interactions, rooted in trust and regulated by rules of the game negotiated and agreed by the participants. Such networks have significant degree of autonomy from the state - they are self-organising - although the state can indirectly and imperfectly steer them. In sum, governance refers to governing with and through networks; to network steering. The arguments that there had been a shift from ‘government to governance’, that it was the mix of bureaucracy, markets and networks that mattered, and a consequent ‘hollowing out of the state’ are now referred to, and debated, as ‘the Anglo-governance school’.[5] Rhodes wrote the foundational texts of this school.[6]

Interpretive political science[edit]

Mark Bevir and R. A. W. Rhodes are the authors of Interpreting British Governance (2003) and Governance Stories (2006). They argue that political science must necessarily be an interpretive art. This is because they hold that the starting point of enquiry must be to unpack the meanings, beliefs, and preferences of actors in order to then make sense of understanding actions, practices, and institutions. Political science is therefore an interpretative discipline underpinned by hermeneutic philosophy rather than positivism: there is no ‘science’ of politics, instead all explanations, including those that deploy statistics and models, are best conceived as narratives. Bevir and Rhodes thus provide an elaborate philosophical foundation for a decentred theory of governance woven together by the notions of beliefs, traditions and dilemmas. 'It follows that the role of political scientists is to use (1) ethnography to uncover people’s beliefs and preferences, and (2) history to uncover traditions as they develop in response to dilemmas. The product is a story of other people’s constructions of what they are doing, which provides actors’ views on changes in government, the economy, and society. So, for example, a political scientist may select a part of the governance process, and then explain it by unpicking various political traditions and how actors within these traditions encounter and act to resolve dilemmas. Governance is thus understood as the contingent and unintended outcome of competing narratives of governance.’[7]

A decentred theory of governance[edit]

For Bevir and Rhodes, decentered theory revolves around the idea of situated agency: institutions, practices or socialisation cannot determine how people behave, so any course of action is a contingent individual choice. People’s actions are explained by their beliefs (or meanings or desires); any one belief is interpreted in the context of the wider web of a person’s beliefs; and these beliefs are explained by traditions and modified by dilemmas. A tradition (or episteme or paradigm) is the set of theories against the background of which a person comes to hold beliefs and perform actions. It is a first influence upon people – a set of beliefs that they inherit and then transform in response to encounters with "dilemmas" (or problems or anomalies). A dilemma arises whenever novel circumstances generate a new belief that forces people to question their previously held beliefs. Change occurs through encountering such dilemmas: while individual responses to dilemmas are grounded in traditions, they then modify just those traditions.' [8]

Selected books[edit]

  • Bevir, M. and Rhodes, R. A. W. Interpreting British Governance. (London: Routledge, 2003).
Books 1-3 are a trilogy introducing the ‘interpretive turn’ to studying British government. Discussed in a symposium in British Journal of Politics and International Relation 6 (2) 2004: 129-64.
  • Bevir, M. and Rhodes, R. A. W. Governance Stories (Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2006).
The book was the subject of a symposium in Political Studies Review 6(2) 2008: 143-177.
  • Bevir, M. and Rhodes, R. A. W. The State as Cultural Practice. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).
  • Rhodes, R. A. W., J. Wanna and P. Weller, Comparing Westminster. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).
It applies the Bevir and Rhodes approach to a comparative study of the Westminster tradition.
  • Rhodes, R. A. W. Everyday life in British Government (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).
The book completed the decade long interpretive project. It is a political anthropology of British government, applying the Bevir and Rhodes approach.
  • Rhodes, R. A. W. (Ed.), Transforming British Government. Volume 1. Changing Institutions. Volume 2. Changing Roles and Relationships. (London: Macmillan, 2000).
Reports the findings of the UK Economic and Social Research Council's (ESRC) Whitehall research programme.
  • Rhodes, R. A. W. Understanding Governance. (Buckingham and Philadelphia: Open University Press, 1997. Reprinted 1999).
It is the foundational text for ‘the Anglo-governance school’.
  • Rhodes, R. A. W. and D. Marsh (Eds.), Policy networks in British government (Oxford Clarendon Press, 1992).
  • Rhodes, R. A. W. Beyond Westminster and Whitehall: The Sub-Central Governments of Britain. (London: Routledge, 1988. Digital edition 2003).
Still in print after 22 years. It introduced ‘the new orthodoxy’ of Britain as ‘differentiated polity’.
  • Rhodes, R. A. W. Control and Power in Central-Local Government Relationships. (Aldershot and Brookfield, Vermont: Ashgate, 1999).
Originally published in 1981, reprinted 1983 and 1986, Japanese translation, 1987, reprinted with a new preface and three additional chapters 1999.


  1. ^ Marsh in British Journal of Politics and International Relations 10 (4) 2008: 738
  2. ^ See: R. A. W. Rhodes, Beyond Westminster and Whitehall: the sub-central governments of Britain, 1988
  3. ^ See, R. A. W. Rhodes, and P. Dunleavy, Eds., Prime minister, cabinet and core executive, 1995
  4. ^ See, D. Marsh, and R. A. W. Rhodes, Eds., Policy networks in British government, 1992
  5. ^ Marinetto in Political Studies 51 (3) 2003: 592-608
  6. ^ See, R. A. W. Rhodes, Understanding governance, 1997; and 'Understanding Governance: ten years on’, Organization Studies, 28 (8) 2007: 1243-1264.
  7. ^ Encyclopedia of Governance, pp.194–195
  8. ^ Encyclopedia of Governance, pp.194–195

External links[edit]