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Scholars and politicians have sometimes presented bureaucracy as inherently conflicting with democracy. Notably, bureaucrats themselves are rarely consulted about that relationship. In contrast, I draw on interviews and participant observation to illuminate how government administrators understand their own place in democratic government in Taiwan, one of the few successful third-wave democracies. The administrators I work with root their own legitimacy not in separated powers or autonomous expertise, but in their ongoing collaboration with legislators and publics. They define their own accountability not just as executive legislative mandates but as producing them in the first place, and figure bureaucracy as a key site for political participation. I put these views into historical context to elucidate how bureaucracy can compete for democratic bone fides with common democratic indicators like constitutions and elections. This article contributes to scholarship on the ethnography of bureaucracy, administrative accountability networks, and the internal law of administration. In particular, I stress the importance of administrative culture as a central aspect in political legitimation.

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Law & Social Inquiry: Journal of the American Bar Foundation

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This article has been published in a revised form in Law & Social Inquiry: Journal of the American Bar Foundation, 10.1017/lsi.2019.29. This version is free to view and download for private research and study only. Not for re-distribution, re-sale or use in derivative works. © 2019 American Bar Foundation.