Paradoxes of Modernization: Unintended Consequences of Public Policy Reform

Helen Margetts, Perri 6, and Christopher Hood (2010) Paradoxes of Modernization: Unintended Consequences of Public Policy Reform. Oxford University Press. ISBN: 9780199573547.

This book explores the unintended and unanticipated effects associated with ‘modernization’ projects and tackles the key question that they provoke – why do policy-makers persist in such enterprises in the face of evidence that they tend to fail?

Paradoxes of Modernization first discusses what is meant by ‘modernization’ and ‘unintended consequences’, placing public policy reform within more general intellectual and social trends. It presents eight case study ‘modernization’ projects. Their architects promised faster trains, a more efficient and reactive health service, a more motivated public service, better performing local government, enhanced information for prospective US university students, reduced rates of child malnutrition in developing countries, and a free, open, safe, interconnected cyberspace for people to conduct their social and political life. Each case provides a neat story with a paradox that varies the modernization theme and tackles the question: why was the project pursued? The conclusion categorizes the cases in terms of their outcome, from success to disappointment, and suggests some strategies for a more balanced version of modernization for current and future policy-makers.

About the authors

Edited by Helen Margetts, Professor of Society and the Internet, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, 6, Perri, Professor of Social Policy, Graduate School, College of Business, Law and Social Sciences, Nottingham Trent University, and Christopher Hood, Gladstone Professor of Government and Fellow of All Souls College, University of Oxford


  • George Boyne, Professor of Public Sector Management at Cardiff Business School, Cardiff University
  • H. George Frederickson, Edwin O. Stene Distinguished Professor of Public Administration, University of Kansas
  • Jeanette Hofmann, researcher, Centre for the Analysis of Risk and Regulation, London School of Economics, and the Social Science Research Centre Berlin
  • Christopher Hood, Gladstone Professor of Government and Fellow of All Souls College, Univeristy of Oxford
  • Oliver James, Professor of Politics, Department of Politics, University of Exeter, UK
  • Peter John, Hallworth Chair of Governance, School of Social Sciences, University of Manchester
  • Justin Keen, Professor of Health Politics, Institute of Health Sciences, University of Leeds
  • Tim Leunig, Reader in Economic History, London School of Economics
  • Helen Margetts, Professor of Society and the Internet, Oxford Internet Institute (OII), and Fellow of Mansfield College, University of Oxford
  • David Marsden, Professor of Industrial Relations, London School of Economics
  • Nicolai Petrovsky, assistant professor, Martin School of Public Policy and Administration, University of Kentucky
  • Devi Sridhar, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, All Souls College Oxford, and Director of the Global Health project, Global Economic Governance Programme, Department of Politics and International Relations, Oxford
  • Edmund C. Stazyk, Assistant Professor, Department of Public Administration and Policy, School of Public Affairs, American University, Washington, D.C.
  • Yorick Wilks, Professor of Artificial Intelligence, University of Sheffield, and Senior Research Fellow, Oxford Internet Institute
  • Perri 6, Professor of Social Policy, Graduate School of the College of Business, Law, and Social Policy, Nottingham Trent University


“highly relevant to the modern complex world of evidence-based policy and joined up government. It provides a valuable contribution to the field.” – Andrew Steven Gunn, Political Studies Review