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Gatty Lecture: Meritocracy Reconsidered: Bureaucratic Selection and Nation-Building in Indonesia

Thursday, September 22, 2022 at 12:30pm

Kahin Center
640 Stewart Ave, Ithaca, NY 14850, USA

Nicholas Kuipers

Assistant Professor of Political Science & Presidential Young Professor, National University of Singapore

Many countries select civil servants via examinations. In this talk, I argue that the outcomes of these tests prompt attitudinal shifts on the part of winners and losers—particularly when successful applicants disproportionately hail from specific ethnic, racial, or religious groups. Looking at Indonesia, I present evidence in support of this argument from a survey conducted in partnership with the Indonesian civil service agency, in which we solicited survey responses from the universe of applicants for civil service jobs. Matching responses to the database of test scores, I show that individuals who failed the exam are more likely to (1) support preferential treatment for in-groups, (2) reflect negatively on an ethnically inclusive national identity, and (3) believe the recruitment process was corrupt. Building on these empirical results, I conclude by presenting a reconceptualization of the decision to implement civil service reform as a trade-off between the twinned demands of state-building and nation-building.

Nicholas Kuipers is an Assistant Professor of Political Science and Presidential Young Professor at the National University of Singapore. His research is interested in understanding how institutions structure political attitudes and has been published or is forthcoming in journals such as the American Political Science Review, the British Journal of Political Science, Perspectives on Politics, and World Politics. Nicholas received his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley and was previously a predoctoral scholar at the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law at Stanford University.

Co-sponsored by the Department of Government.


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Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Asian Studies, Government, Southeast Asia Program


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Ava White

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Nicholas Kuipers

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National University of Singapore

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