Skip to main content

Justice, Fairness, Inclusion, and Performance.

Fellow Spotlight: Daniel Carpenter

Fellow Spotlight

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in academia?

I began my academic career as a student of political theory. It was Gerald Mara, then Associate Dean of the Graduate School at Georgetown University, who taught fabulous courses on the history of political philosophy. I had entered college wanting to go into law or business, but in those political philosophy courses I discovered my passion for ideas about politics and government, a passion that sustains me to this day. I wrote my master’s thesis on the Gorgias of Plato, thinking about what responsible democratic rhetoric looks like. Little did I know that over three decades later, the issue of rhetorical (ir)responsibility would become one of the great questions of our time.

Who has been a key mentor or source of inspiration for you?

John Padgett and John Mark Hansen at the University of Chicago. They both nurtured my interest in American politics, public administration and in the deployment of statistical and historical methods. John Padgett taught me organization theory and introduced me to comparative historical perspectives on state building and, beyond that, to stochastic process models. John Mark Hansen encouraged my interest in agencies that seemed, at the time, to be less important (The USDA and the Post Office) but which were pivotal in American political development and remain so today. He is also a fantastic teacher of applied statistics.

What is your favorite class you have ever taken or taught and why?

About twenty years ago I designed a course called What is a Republic? I got a lot of help from political theorists at Harvard and elsewhere, as well as from scholars in American and European political history. I now teach it just about every year at Harvard. It examines the problem of representative government from the standpoint of political philosophy and political history, ranging from the Roman Republic to the twentieth century. It explores the necessary tension between government by office and representation by assembly, as well as the centrality of political liberty and civic virtue. We read Machiavelli, Montesquieu, Madison, Jefferson, Hamilton, W.E.B. Du Bois, Danielle Allen and many other thinkers.

What advice would you give to those interested in pursuing a career in public administration?

I would tell them to consider three things: (1) that the future of our democratic republic depends upon them as much as it does any politician or judge; (2) they should understand that they are serving their town, state, country and world, and that precisely by doing so they will court the opposition of many who see the world differently; and (3) to adopt a stance of epistemic and public humility and listen to those they serve.

What area of public policy interests you the most and why?

At the moment, I think environmental public policy, in part because three interlocking issues are at play – (1) the global climate and carbon constraint/reduction, (2) the living environment of woods, waters, land and air and their quality and (3) issues of environmental justice, especially for Indigenous peoples. All three of these force us to look beyond what is electorally popular and to consider long-term problems and, in many cases, those whose voices are very much in the minority.

What would you currently consider the most critical challenge for public administration and why?

I’m worried about the authoritarian moment we’re in, not just threats in the United States but worldwide. Many politicians want to ignore law and convert public administrators into machines that implement their personal will. Two constitutional law scholars, tom Ginsberg and Aziz Huq, call this the challenge of the administrative rule of law. I think it operates not just with respect to law but also with respect to what we consider the constraints of office. Public servants in the United States and elsewhere take oaths of office, where they swear fealty to the Constitution and to certain norms of professionalism and the public good. In the coming decades, those oaths and those offices will be tested, and the result of those struggles may well determine the survival of our republic.

Do you have a publication – books, scholarly, or otherwise – that you would like to spotlight?

Democracy by Petition: Popular Politics in Transformation, 1790-1870 (Harvard University Press, 2021). Many scholars of government will be more familiar with my books on bureaucratic autonomy (The Forging of Bureaucratic Autonomy, 2001), pharmaceutical regulation (Reputation and Power (2010)) or regulatory capture (Preventing Regulatory Capture, with David Moss (2013)), but Democracy by Petition points to a logic of governance in which elections alone don’t suffice for representation.

One of the things that has fascinated me as I study the history of administration and its present is that much of public management still consists in the being receptive to citizen complaints and grievances. Some perspectives see these, but government is one of the few institutions where, in a free society, people can get a hearing of their concerns, even if the outcome of that process is not what they desired. As it turns out, the vast masses of petitions flowing into Congress plausibly led to the creation of many federal agencies. Beyond that, responding to petitions and complaints has been from time immemorial a core function of public administrators, as both an explicit and implicit function of their offices.

What is your favorite hobby or activity that you enjoy doing in your free time?

Those who know me will know that the answer to this question is immediate: fly fishing. I started 25 years ago when some friends gifted me his and hers fly fishing rigs for my wedding. I fish in all weather and all places. It’s a necessary complement to a life of hard work, and it’s a form of church.

									 Daniel carpenter

About Daniel Carpenter

Daniel Carpenter is Allie S. Freed Professor of Government and Chair of the Department of Government in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

Professor Carpenter graduated from Georgetown University in 1989 with distinction in Honors Government and received his doctorate in political science from the University of Chicago in 1996. He taught previously at Princeton University (1995-1998) and the University of Michigan (1998-2002). He joined the Harvard University faculty in 2002. Beginning July 2021, he will serve as Faculty Director of the Social Sciences at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, a position he also held from 2013 to 2020.

Professor Carpenter's research on petitioning appears in his book Democracy by Petition: Popular Politics in Transformation, 1790-1870 (Harvard University Press, 2021), which was awarded the J. David Greenstone Prize of the American Political Science Association, the Seymour Martin Lipset Prize of the American Political Science Association and the James P. Hanlan Book Award of the New England Historical Association; "L’éruption patriote: The Revolt against Dalhousie and the Petitioning Explosion in Nineteenth-Century French Canada,” Social Science History (2019, with Doris Brossard); "Recruitment by Petition: American Antislavery, French Protestantism, English Suppression," Perspective on Politics (September 2016); "Paths of Recruitment: Rational Social Prospecting in Petition Canvassing," American Journal of Political Science (2018, with Clayton Nall and Benjamin Schneer), which was awarded the AJPS Best Article Award for 2018; “Party Emergence Through Petitions: The Whigs and the Bank War of 1832-34Studies in American Political Development (October 2015, with Benjamin Schneer), and “When Canvassers Became Activists: Antislavery Petitioning and the Political Mobilization of American Women,” American Political Science Review (August 2014, with Colin D. Moore), which was awarded the Mary Parker Follett Prize of the American Political Science Association for best article in political history of 2014.

Professor Carpenter's previous scholarship on regulation and government organizations appears in Reputation and Power: Organizational Image and Pharmaceutical Regulation at the FDA (Princeton, 2010), winner of the Allan Sharlin Memorial Award of the Social Science History Association; and of The Forging of Bureaucratic Autonomy: Reputations, Networks and Policy Innovation in Executive Agencies, 1862-1928 (Princeton, 2001), winner of the Gladys Kammerer Prize of the American Political Science Association and the Charles Levine Prize of the International Political Science Association. With David Moss of Harvard Business School, he is the author and co-editor of Preventing Regulatory Capture: Special Interest Influence in Regulation and How to Limit It (Cambridge, 2013).

He is a Guggenheim Fellow, a Radcliffe Institute Fellow (2007-2008), and Fellow at the Stanford Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (2003-2004), as well as an elected fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration. His articles have appeared in the American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, Studies in American Political Development, Science, the New England Journal of Medicine, the Journal of the American Medical Association, the Lancet, and the Bulletin of the History of Medicine, among other venues. His public writings have appeared in The New York Times, Le Monde, the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Washington Monthly and other outlets.

Back to NAPA News Article