The politics of blame avoidance in complex delegation structures: the public transport crisis in Berlin

By Tobias Bach and Kai Wegrich

Cover page of European Political Science Review

Published in European Political Science Review, online 16 October 2019


The article analyses the public attribution of blame and the use of presentational strategies of blame avoidance in complex delegation structures. We theorize and empirically demonstrate that complex delegation structures result in the diffusion of blame to multiple actors so that a clear allocation of responsibility becomes more difficult. The article shows that public attribution of blame follows a distinct temporal pattern in which politicians only gradually move into the centre of the blame storm. We also find that blame-takers deploy sequential patterns of presentational management and use blame shifting to other actors as a dominant strategy. However, the analysis suggests that complex delegation structures impose limitations on blame-takers’ use of blame avoidance strategies, and that sequential presentational management becomes less useful over time. The article uses media content analysis to study blame games during a major crisis of the public transport system in Berlin, Germany.

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Published Oct. 16, 2019 12:53 PM - Last modified Oct. 16, 2019 12:57 PM