Bringing the law back in the law-government nexus in an era of network governance

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Recently, scholars have claimed that public management theory has too much ignored law.
Consequently, the under-legalized conception of public management has produced a flawed understanding of public management theory as well as public management practices, threatening public institutions’ legitimacy. In this article, we argue that law never left public management theory. Rather, the link between government and law has been redefined twice. We refer to the assumptions that constitute this link as the law-government nexus. This nexus changed from lawfulness in a public administration paradigm, to legal instrumentalism in a (new) public management paradigm, and to a networked concept in the public governance (PG) paradigm. In order to prevent a faulty over-legalized conception of public management, bringing the law back in should be built on lessons from the past. This article elaborates on three strategies to reconnect law and
public management. We map the strengths and weaknesses of each law-government nexus and illustrate these with the case of the Dutch tax agency. In our strategies that aim to reconceptualize the current law-government nexus, we incorporate the benefits of each paradigm for public management
theory. The revised law-governance nexus enables the PG paradigm to correspond to contemporary issues without encountering old pathologies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)118-129
JournalPerspectives on Public Management and Governance
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021


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