The Quest for Controlled Freedom

Friday 11 Oct 2019, 09:30 - 18:00

Plenary meeting room Dutch Senate (Eerste Kamer), The Hague

Register until 6 October Add to calendar
Cover of Quest for Controlled Freedom

With an eye on the common good, public actors may pursue particular goals. When such a goal has been formulated and decided upon, it is up to the discretion of others to implement that goal. The assumption is that the exercise of discretion is instrumentally aimed at the realization of the goal concerned. To underline the latter, control is needed. Eventually, discretion will be curbed. This is a usual and actually normative view on discretion. In an alternative, empirical, perspective, discretion concerns room to judge and act in skilful and ingenious manners, addressing the situation at hand. Rather than direct supervision, trust in craftsmanship and peer consultation then imply more ‘horizontal’ forms of control.

While total control and full freedom both seem illusions, the continuous quest for a dynamic equilibrium in the tension between the two forms the essence of discretion. When the pursuit of public goals is concerned, while full freedom, as well as total control, seem illusory, what are the meta-conditions in the public sphere for appropriate action, in terms of accountable ways of dealing with freedom when acting towards such goals?                         

Exploring these conditions is the aim of this conference. The topic is inspired by a new book, titled Discretion and the Quest for Controlled Freedom, edited by Tony Evans and Peter Hupe (forthcoming with Palgrave Macmillan).

Conference themes

With the theme Discretion and Accountability, the point of departure is a juridical one. Keith Hawkins, Professor Emeritus of Law and Society, Oriel College, University of Oxford, will address this theme. He is the editor of The Uses of Discretion (1992). The panel discussion will be chaired by Peter Mascini, Professor of Empirical Legal Studies, Erasmus School of Law, Erasmus University Rotterdam.

With the theme Crafting Freedom, society at large comes into play. Catherine Needham, Professor of Public Policy and Public Management, Health Services Management Centre, University of Birmingham will address this theme. Her latest book is Reimaging the Future Public Service Workforce (2018).The panel discussion will be chaired by Antoinette de Bont, Professor of Sociology of Innovation in Healthcare, Erasmus School of Health Policy & Management, Erasmus University Rotterdam.  

The theme Control through Hierarchy and Beyond concerns the ways in which citizens and organizations organize themselves, expressing in fact alternative forms of control - although maybe labelled differently. Herman van Gunsteren, Professor Emeritus of Political Theories and Philosophy of Law, Leiden University, will address this theme. He is the author of The Quest for Control: A Critique of the Rational-Central-Rule Approach in Public Affairs (1976). Arthur Ringeling, Professor Emeritus of Public Administration, Erasmus University Rotterdam, will chair the panel discussion. In 2017 he published Public Administration as a Study of the Public Sphere: A Normative View.

The chair of the conference is Mirko Noordegraaf, Professor of Public Management, Utrecht University School of Governance and chair of the Dutch Public Administration Society (Vereniging voor Bestuurskunde).


  • 09.30-10.00         Coffee and tea
  • 10.00-10.30         Introduction
  • 10.30-11.00         Keynote speech ‘Discretion and Accountability’
  • 11.00-12.00         Panel discussion
  • 12.00-13.00         Lunch buffet                                                        
  • 13.00-13.30         Keynote speech ‘Crafting Freedom’
  • 13.30-14.30         Panel discussion
  • 14.30-15.00         Break (coffee and tea)
  • 15.00-15.30         Keynote speech ‘Control through Hierarchy and Beyond’
  • 15.30-16.30         Panel discussion
  • 16.30-16.45         Conclusion
  • 16.45-18.00         Drinks reception

Admission is free, but due to the location, advanced registration is required.

Organizing committee

This conference is organized by Prof. dr Peter Hupe (Public Governance Institute, KU Leuven; until retirement: Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences (ESSB), Erasmus University Rotterdam), Prof. dr Peter Mascini (ESSB/Erasmus School of Law (ESL), Erasmus University Rotterdam) and Marianne Breijer (ESL, Erasmus University Rotterdam), in cooperation with Prof. dr Tony Evans (Royal Holloway, University of London, with Peter Hupe editor of the book) and with the support of dr Gijs van Oenen (Erasmus School of Philosophy (ESPhil.), Erasmus University Rotterdam).

BACT Prosperity Trustfonds

Contact and registration

Marianne Breijer, event manager
Erasmus School of Law, Erasmus University Rotterdam

This conference has been made possible through the financial support of:

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