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Critically classifying: UK e-government website benchmarking and the recasting of the citizen as customer

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In recent years, discussion of the provision of government services has paid particular attention to notions of customer choice and improved service delivery. However, there appears to be marked shift in the relationship between the citizen and the state moving from government being responsive to the needs of citizens to viewing citizens explicitly as customers. This paper argues that this change is being accelerated by government use of techniques like benchmarking, which have been widely used in the private sector. To illustrate this point, the paper focuses on the adoption of website benchmarking techniques by the public sector. The paper argues that the essence of these benchmarking technologies, a process comprised of both finding and producing truth, is fundamentally based on the act of classifying and draws on Martin Heidegger's etymological enquiry to reinterpret classification as a dynamic movement towards order that both creates and obfuscates truth. In so doing, it demonstrates how Heidegger's seminal ideas can be adapted for critical social research by showing that technology is more than an instrument as it has epistemic implications for what counts as truth. This stance is used as the basis for understanding empirical work reporting on a UK government website benchmarking project. Our analysis identifies the means involved in producing the classifications inherent in such benchmarking projects and relates these to the more general move that is recasting the relationship between the citizen and the state, and increasingly blurring the boundaries between the state and the private sector. Recent developments in other attempts by the UK government to use private-sector technologies and approaches indicate ways in which this move might be challenged.

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en

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http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/27178/

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