Bureaucracy as politics in action in Parks and Recreation

Holly Randell-Moon, Arthur J. Randell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The North American television show Parks and Recreation focuses on the bureaucratic processes and practices of managing the Parks and Recreation Department for the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana. Filmed in the mockumentary style of television comedies such as The Office, humour is derived from the discrepancy between the self-importance the main character, Leslie Knope, deputy director of the department, attaches to the department’s work and the mundane realities of mid-level bureaucracy in municipal government. Nevertheless, in spite of this parodic discrepancy, the programme encourages viewers to sympathise with Leslie’s perspective that bureaucracy is foundational to building inter-organisational relationships and stimulating community activism. By using the mockumentary conceit to focus on public administration, Parks and Recreation also reveals the role of bureaucracy in place-making and the attendant histories that are included and excluded in the foundation of settler autochthony. Because the ideal of public administration as the service of community is emphasised, Parks and Recreation is also able to position the opposite of this ideal – reduction of municipal services and bureaucratic non-caring – as mockable and problematic for community interests, particularly the needs of women and minority groups. Parks and Recreation highlights how bureaucracy is politics in action that can fundamentally shape the civic, private, and communal spaces of residents’ lives.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)161-178
Number of pages19
JournalNew Formations: a journal of culture/theory/politics
Issue numberSummer
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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