Selecting Personnel for Key Societal Roles

The Research Unit investigates the semantics, institutions and practices of personnel decisions for key societal roles with particular emphasis on churches, large businesses, the civil service and the military from ancient times to the recent past.

It takes the observation as its starting point that personnel decisions are always made with a view to an uncertain future: Whether a person selected will prove to be suitable for the role is never be evident at the time of appointment. Personnel decisions can thus never be “objectively” correct, but have to be justified and secured against negative consequences in other ways, for example through examination of competences that will supposedly predict success, public support or reliance on external indications, such as divine signs.

The Research Unit also postulates that it is not sufficient to make the observation that personnel decisions tend to mirror societal hierarchies in that privileged persons are likely to be overrepresented or in exclusive possession of key posts, as it is the rule that several candidates from similarly privileged backgrounds will compete. Processes leading to personnel decisions must thus be conceived in such a way that their result will be acceptable to those who are not successful in obtaining a post - in spite of or rather because of their inherent uncertainty.