Explaining changing ethical conduct in local government using orders of worth

Richard Cowell, James Downe, Karen Morgan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


Despite growing research on organisational integrity and values, there remains a
disconnection between work that defines relevant ethical principles and analyses of efforts to attain them in practice. Moreover, researchers have neglected how practical difficulties in demarcating ‘good’ from ‘bad’ conduct can shape the evolution of ethics regulation. To address these gaps, we use Boltanski and Thévenot’s ‘orders of worth’ framework to examine the impact of ethics regulation on the conduct of politicians in English local government. The
study finds that changes in personnel were important factors in achieving conduct improvements, but that formal procedures were invoked less frequently as actors questioned their efficacy in dealing with problematic situations. Moreover, problems encountered at local level fed into national steps to abolish the ethical framework. Significantly, however, the objects being governed make a difference: efforts to formally regulate disrespectful language were seen as deeply problematic, but not so principles of selflessness.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPublic Administration Review
Publication statusSubmitted - 31 May 2018


  • Integrity; ethical conduct; orders of worth; ethics regulation; local government


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