To understand the present nature of public administration in any society, evolution can be analyzed and understood through three diverse traditions in the practice and theory of public administration. Broadly these can be termed the absolutist, liberal democratic and Marxian traditions. This analysis will enable us to take a broad prospective of the development of public administration.

The absolutist tradition anticipates the liberal democratic and Marxian traditions. Administrative traditions in places where absolute power was concentrated in the monarch can be termed absolutist. In Indian history the earliest work dealing with the absolutist tradition is Kautilya’s Arthashastra. Kautilya was the Prime Minister of Chandragupta Maurya (322-298 BC), the founder of the Maurya dynasty. In Arthashastra he deals with the three imperatives of the social philosophy of that time –– Dharma, Karma and Artha. According to him, finance (Artha) is the basis of the strength of the government.

It can be stated that Arthashastra adopts a political economy approach to the understanding of the problem of government by dealing with the aims of the state as well as the political means by which these aims can be achieved. Arthashastra can be regarded as an analytical and perspective document. This remarkable treatise discusses three important aspects of public administration, the principles of public administration, the machinery of the government and the management of personnel. Kautilya, while dealing with the importance of public administration, lays emphasis on the principles of authority, obedience and discipline as being central to the administration of the state. He also advocated a strong centralized authority vested in the monarchy. The whole administrative system was to revolve around the king who was the fountainhead of all authority and institutions.

Traditionally, the origins of public administration as a separate area of inquiry are traced to Woodrow Wilson’s essay entitled ‘The Study of Administration’, published in 1887. His essay marks the beginning of systematic investigation into the field of public administration. Since then the study of the subjects has passed through various phases, each phase characterize by a particular paradigmatic approach. Broadly, five phases or stages are identified for understanding the evolution of the subject within the broad paradigm of liberal democracy.


Woodrow Wilson’s essay entitled ‘The Study of Administration’, published in Political Science Quarterly in 1887, laid the foundation for a systematic study of public administration. Wilson’s name is associated with two notable features. He is regarded as the founder of the discipline of public administration. Secondly, he is the originator of the concept of politics-administration dichotomy which came to dominate the scene for quite some time.

Thus Wilson emphasized the need for a separate study of public administration. Making a distinction between politics and administration, he argued that administration is concerned with the implementation of political policy decisions. To quote his words Administration lies outside the proper sphere of politics. Administrative questions are not political questions. Although politics sets the tasks for administration, it should be suffered to manipulate its offices. The field of administration is a field of business.”

The next notable event of the period was the publication of Frank. J. Goodnow’s Politics and Administration in 1900, which endorsed the Wilsonian theme further by conceptually distinguishing between the two distinct functions of government. According to Goodnow, “Politics has to do with policies or expressions of the state will” whereas “administration has to do with the execution of these policies”. The heart of his distinction lies in the classic separation of powers, which prescribe the desirability of entrusting “in large measure” the expression or formulation of the “will of the sovereign” to a different organ than is charged with executing that will.

Apart from this analytic distinction, the institutional locations of these two functions were differentiated. The location of politics was identified as the legislature and the higher echelons of the government where major policy decisions would be made. By contrast, the location of administration was identified as the executive arm of the government –– the bureaucracy. The processes of administration, it was argued, have a certain regularity and concreteness about them, and these are amenable to scientific investigations which are likely to lead to a science of administration.

In 1926, Leonard D White published the Introduction to the Study of Public Administration, which was recognized as the first textbook on the subject. This book reflected the concerns of the field at that point of time, such as ‘politics should not intrude into administration, that is, politics and administration is to be kept separate’. Management lends itself to scientific study; public administration is similarly capable of becoming a ‘value-free; science in its own right and the mission of administration is economy and efficiency.

All scholars of this period were of the view that public administration should center in the government’s bureaucracy. It also strengthened the notion of a distinct politics-administration dichotomy by relating it to a corresponding value-fact dichotomy. Whatever the public administration executes through the executive branch is factual and scientific, while the study of public policy-making and related matters was left to political scientists, as these were supposedly value-laden. The teaching of organization theory, budgeting and personnel was located in the discipline of public administration. The teaching of American government, judicial behaviour, the Presidency, state and local politics, and legislative process was, on the other hand, located in the discipline of political science. This period also saw the isolation of public administration from such other fields as business administration.


The second stage of evolution continued the idea of politics-administration dichotomy and also of a value-free ‘science of management’ The central belief of this period was that there were certain ‘scientific principles’ of administration which were to be discovered by scholars, and administrators would become experts in their duty if they learn how to apply these principles.The beginning of this period may be dated to W.F. Willoughby’s Principle of Public Administration (1927).

This period saw the publication of a number of other relevant works, the more important among them being Mary Parker Follett’s Creative Experience (1924), Henri Fayol’s industrial and General Management (1930) and James D. Mooney and Alan C Reiley’s Principles of Organisation (1939). In 1937, Luther H Gulick and Lyndall Urwick’s Papers on the Science of Administration appeared.

Since this school of thought concentrated its attention on the upper levels of organisation hierarchy, it was labeled administrative management. Its basic principles are known by the name of classical organisation theory. A related body of literature which somewhat preceded this work on administrative management, focused on shop floor management. This became known as the scientific management school. The most notable contributors to this stream of literature were Federick W Taylor (Principles of Scientific Management, 1911), and Frank and Lilian Gilbraith.

According to the second paradigm, the locus of public administration is everywhere since principles are principles and administration is administration. That is, by definition, the principles of administration work in any administrative setting regardless of culture, environment, mission, or institutional setting. Gulick and Urwick stated: “It is the general thesis of this paper that there are principles which can be arrived at inductively from the study of human organisation and which should govern arrangements for human association of any kind. These principles can be studied as a technical question, irrespective of the purpose of the underlying its creation”. This is an assertion of positivism and universalism. Administration is a science and the principles are universally applicable. Luther Gulick coined the word POSDCoRB to promote some of these principled of administration. POSDCoRB stands for Planning, Organizing, Staffing, Directing, Coordinating, Reporting and Budgeting. These maxims of administration were said to be of universal applicability in all organisations.

The ‘public’ aspect of public administration was virtually dropped at this stage and the focus was almost wholly on efficiency. This stage can be called the stage of orthodoxy, as efforts were underway to delineate formally the boundaries of a new discipline of ‘management’. Public administration merged into the new science. The question of ‘value’ no monger bothered the new science of administration. Politics as practiced by the politician was considered irrelevant. Scientific management to efficiently handle the “business” of administration became the slogan. Principles of management were worked out as readymade aids to practitioners. The administrative practitioners and the business schools joined hands to emphasize the mechanistic aspect of management, untrammeled by the whims of politicians and the frailties of human beings.

Public administration, during the phase represented by the second paradigm, reached the zenith of its reputation. Public administration scholars were quoted by industry and government alike during the 1930s and early 1940s for their managerial knowledge.


The years between 1927 and 1937––the two dates coincide respectively with W.F.Willioughby’s and Luther Gulick and Lyndall Urwick’s book––may be broadly considered to be the period when the principles paradigm held an unchallenged sway. The next ten-year period (1938-1947) may be best identified as one in which a serious challenge to this paradigm developed. This challenge developed mainly in two directions. One, apprehensions were expressed on whether politics and administration could be really separated. The second objection was in relation to the principles of administration, which in fact there is nothing like immutable principles of administration.

The principles approach was criticized for the ambiguity of its principles, absence of scientific validity and its mechanistic approach to organizational analysis. The so-called principles of administration were challenged and called ‘naturalistic fallacies’ and ‘proverbs’.

Meanwhile, scientific management in industry was also undergoing a broadening and humanizing process in response to insistent social needs and forces. The most notable contribution, in this connection, came from the famous ‘Hawthorne Experiments’ in the late 1920s, carried out by a group of scholars under the leadership of Elton Mayo at the Hawthorne plant of the Western Electric Company. The experiments, which focused upon work groups, shook the foundations of the scientific management school by clearly demonstrating the powerful influence of social and psychological factors on the workers’ output.

The Hawthorne experiments pioneered a movement which came to be known as the Human Relations approach to administration. This approach to organizational analysis drew attention to the formation and effect of work groups in the organisation, the force of informal organisation in the formal set-up, the phenomenon of leadership, and conflicts and cooperation among groups in the organizational setting. In short, the human relations approach brought out the limitations of the machine concepts of organisation in the scientific managements school of thought by drawing attention and underscoring the vital importance of the ‘human side of the organization’.

The notable contributors in this phase, in which these objectives were underlined, were as follows:

  1. 1. The main theme of Barnard’s The Functions of the Executive, published in 1938, can be summarized as follows: (i) Politics and administration can never be separated; (ii) Principles of administration are logically inconsistent; and (iii) Psychological and behavioural factors in organizational analysis ought to be stressed.
  2. 2. Marx edited a book entitled Elements of Public Administration, which was published in 1946. The principle aim of the book is to deepen the reader’s understanding of the administrative process as an integral part of contemporary civilization. In a sense, therefore, this is a broadly political rather than merely technical area of study. It focuses on the fundamental problems of public administration­­––the problems that assert themselves at countless points within the framework of governmental effort. The analysis presented here attempts to explore both the range of controlling institutional factors and the variables of administrative behavior. One of the basic themes of the book concerns the implications of democratic government of public management in all of its ramifications.
  3. 3.Herbert A. Simon: He concluded classical principles as unscientifically derived and no more than proverbs. He rejected the politics-administration dichotomy; at the same time he brought in the perspective of logical positivism in the study of policy making and the relation of means and ends. Reflecting the perspectives and methodology of ‘behaviouralism’ in psychology, ‘administrative behavior’ pleaded for an increase in scientific rigour in public administration. The substantive focus was on ‘decision-making’ and as Simon insisted, “If any theory’s involved, it is that decision-making is the heart of administration and that the vocabulary of administrative theory must be derived from the logic and psychology of human choice.”

Simon’s approach provided an alternative definition of public administration, and winded the scope of the subject by relating it to psychology, sociology, economics and political science. In the development of the discipline, he identified two mutually supportive streams of thought. One was engaged in the development of a pure science of administration, which called for a good grounding in social psychology. Another stream was dealing with a broad range of values and working out prescriptions for public policy. Simon favored the co-existence of the approaches (empirical and normative) for the growth of the discipline of public administration.

  1. 4.Robert Dahl: Another significant even during this period was the publication of Robert Dahl’s essay identified three important problems in the evolution of the science of public administration:
    1. 1)The first problem arises from the apparent impossibility of excluding normative considerations from the problems of public administration. The scientific means to achieve efficiency must be founded on some clarification of the ends desired.
    2. 2)The second problem arises from the “inescapable fact that a science of public administration must be a study of certain aspects of human behaviour”. Dahl criticized the ‘machine’ concept of organisation and argued that the study of administration must embrace the whole psychological man.
    3. 3)The third problem relates to the narrow and parochial conception of the principles of administration. Referring to the study of public administration in the United States, he commented on the narrow and parochial nature of the intellectual pursuit. There was an apparent tendency to enunciate universal principles based on a few examples drawn from limited national and historical settings.

Robert Dahl stressed the need for cross-cultural studies and emphasized the environmental effects on administrative structure and behavior. He observed that public administration cannot escape the effect of ‘national psychology’ and the economic, political, social and cultural environment which it develops. He described the almost total ignorance of the relationship between the so-called “principles of public administration” and their general setting.

  1. 5.Dwight Waldo: Dwight Waldo attacked the notion of immutable principles, inconsistencies of methodology used in determining them, and the narrowness of values of efficiency and economy.


As a consequence of the rejection of the two defining pillars of early administrative theory, that is the politics–administration dichotomy and the principles approach, the discipline of public administration faced a crisis of identity. Many scholars of public administration responded to this crisis of identity by returning to the fold of the mother discipline, namely political science, but found that they were no longer welcome. Many political scientists began to argue that the true objective of teaching the subject was “intellectualised understanding” of the executive functions, thus reversing the objective laid down in 1914, namely, preparing ‘specialists for governmental positions’ John Gaus in his article entitled “Trends in the Theory of Public Administration” (1950) and published in the Public Administration Review developed thesis that “a theory of public administration means in our time a theory of politics also”. Further, Roscoe Martin wrote an article in 1952 calling for continued “dominion of Political Science over Public Administration”.

Public administration naturally was in search of an alternative, and this was available in the form of administrative science. Here, too, public administration had to lose its distinctiveness and separate identity, and merge with a larger field. The protagonists of this view held that administration is administration regardless of its setting, and it was on this premise that the journal Administrative Science Quarterly was founded in 1956. The 1950s was also the period of multifocal conceptualizations. Emphasis was being placed in administrative writings on almost all the prominent foci that were evolved in the 1940s––behavioural, decisional, comparative, systemic, ecological, and Weberian. This period also saw the rise of Fred W. Riggs who “through his macro, systemic, ecological and structural functional models of the administrative systems opened new vistas for cross-cultural administrative research An important feature of this period was the reassertion of the relationship between political science and public administration.

Besides the emphasis discussed in administrative theory during the 1960s, the ‘New Human Relations’ approach was popularised by scholars like Chris Argyris, Rensis Likert, Douglas McGregor and Warren Bennis. Their writings stressed the need for changing the traditional assumptions about human nature and for making an organisation an organic institution which voluntarily provides opportunities to its members for the development of their personalities.

Both political science and public administration had moved into a ‘post-behavioural era’. Substantial attention was given to developing an approach which was interdisciplinary, value-laden and philosophically non-parochial. The 1960s witnessed two other major developments in administrative theory, that is, (i) the crystallization of the concepts of development administration by Edward Weidner and Fred W Riggs and (ii) New Public Administration by Dwight Waldo and his colleagues. The separation of values and facts is shunned by the students of New Public Administration, and this approach has provided a solid foundation to the post-behavioural revolution initiated by David Easton and others.


In spite of ups and downs, confusion and uncertainty of preceding period, public administration registered great progress and entered the 1970s with an enhanced vision. Public Administration attracted to its fold scholars from various discipline and thus has today become truly interdisciplinary in its nature. Indeed, of all the social sciences, it is Public Administration which is most interdisciplinary. It has focused its attention increasingly on the dynamics of administration. It also draws heavily on the management sciences. The final stage of evolution of public administration coincides with a general concern in the social sciences for public policy analysis. Earlier, Simon introduced the public policy perspective in administrative analysis. With the abandonment of the politics-administration dichotomy, the public policy approach became agreeable to administrative analysis.

At this stage, both scholar and practitioners are of opinion that there is a close relation between politics and administration. As present governments seek to formulate and implement more and more welfare programmes, concern for policy studies in public administration gathers momentum. At this stage, the study of public administration has been gaining in social ‘relevance’ no doubt; but the boundaries of the academic field are not as clearly distinguishable now as it used to be in the old days of the politics administration dichotomy. Even many public administration scholars feel that the discipline has gained in vigor and rigor; but it has suffered a crisis of identity in the wake of its diversification and strength. To some the scope of the discipline seems to be broadening, while the question of its identity remains unanswered.


Public Administration as a discipline is just one hundred years old. Woodrow Wilson, “the father of public administration”, called it a ‘science’ as early as 1887. Thereafter Fayol, Gulick, Urwick, etc. developed ‘principles’ of administration which we claimed to be applicable universally. Max Weber developed his ideal model of bureaucracy. The advocates of principles of administration began soon to be challenged. Herbert Simon described the principles of administration as just ‘proverbs’ of administration. Robert A Dahl stated that public administration is not value-free and is characterised by personality and cultural differences, and thus “cannot claim to be a science”. Such critical attacks created a ‘crisis of identity’ for the discipline.

With the emergence of new nations and concept of welfare state, governmental activities increased phenomenally all over the world. But the “traditional” public administration failed to meet the challenges of nation building in the Third World countries. Riggs’ study clearly pointed out that it is necessary to have different kinds of principles of administration depending on environment and culture, thereby recognizing ‘plurality’. Simon’s decision-making approach has extensively widened the scope of subject by relating it to psychology, sociology, economics and political science, thus making it a ‘multidisciplinary discipline’.

Edward Weidner conceptualised “development administration” in order to counter the traditional public administration which was seemed to be glorifying only the means, forgetting the ends. The crux of development administration is social change. It is ‘action’ and ‘goal’-oriented administrative system. Its ‘result’ orientation makes it ‘corporate’ in nature. Because of its ‘professional expertise’, it is ‘elitist’ in nature. Vincent Ostrom, one the advocates of public choice school, developed the concept of ‘democratic administration’, which is a critique of the bureaucratic model of administration. In a democracy, public administration is vitally concerned with public choice and response to it. It should be concerned with security, justice, education, science and technology, urbanism, and development. “Micro-level local resources based planning” is the essence of democratic administration.

Proponents of ‘New Public Administration’ such as Waldo found the earlier dogmas of public administration– ‘Economy and Efficiency’ to be inadequate and incomplete activities of public administration. They lay stress on ‘values and ethics’, ‘social equity’, etc. which can be achieved through ‘social change’. Moreover, they were concerned with ‘contemporary problems and issues’.

Some thinkers criticize New Public Administration because of its “populist” nature. There is also ‘no consensus’ on central issues in new public administration. As of now a coherent concentrated and organic body of knowledge on the phenomenon of public administration is still evolving. There is neither a common research tradition nor the necessary consensus for a common field of inquiry. Each of the competing schools questions the other. Hence, as a subject of study, public administration is still in search of its identity.


  1. 1.Give an account of major landmarks in the growth of the discipline of Public Administration in the 20th century. What are the possible trends in its growth in the first decade of 21st century?                                                                                                                     (2003)
  2. 2.Describe the evolution of the discipline of public administration with special emphasis on post -1970 developments.        (2002)




Public administration has developed as an academic and professional field through a succession of six paradigms - that is, how the field has “seen itself” in the past and present.

Nicholas Henry has described the six paradigms in the intellectual development of public administration in the following manner:

  • Paradigm 1: The Politics/Administration Dichotomy, 1890-1926
  • Paradigm 2: The Principles of Administration, 1927-1937
  • Paradigm 3: Public Administration as Political Science, 1950-1970
  • Paradigm 4: Public Administration as Administrative Science, 1950-1970
  • Paradigm 5: Public Administration as Public Administration,1970- present
  • Paradigm 6: Governance, 1990- present.

According to Robert T Golembiewski, evolution of public administration may be distinguished and understood in terms of its locus and focus. ‘Locus’ refers to the ‘where’, to the contexts that are conceived to yield the phenomena of interest. ‘Focus’ refers to the analytical targets of Public Administration, the ‘what’ with specialists are concerned.


In his groundbreaking book, Politics and administration, published in 1900, Frank J. Goodnow contended that there were “two distinct functions of government,” which he identified with the title of his tome. “Politics”, wrote Goodnow “has to do with policies or expressions of the state will”, while administration “has to do with the execution of these policies. Goodnow’s point- that elected politicians and appointed public administrators do different things – eventually was labeled by academics as the politics/administration dichotomy.

Nevertheless, such subtleties were overlooked as public administration sought its identity during this period. Leonard D. White’s introducing to the Study of Public Administration of 1926, the first textbook devoted to the field, expressed the Progressive values of public administration at the time: Partisan politics should not intrude on administration is efficiency; and administration in general is capable of becoming a “value-free” science in its own right. These perspectives provided an intellectual base for public administration’s next paradigm, which rested on the idea that, just as there were principles of science, there were principles of administration. The concentration of study during this period was on locus, where public administration should be.


In 1927, W.F. Willoughby’s book, Principles of Public Administration indicated the new thrust of public administration: that public administrator would be effective if they learned and applied scientific principles of administration.

Willoughby’s textbook reflected intellectual trends that suffused the whole of management theory, and public administration was no exception. In this regard, the field’s infatuation with principles of administration stood in stark contrast with its ongoing embrace of the politics/administration dichotomy, which was unique to public administration.


The status of public administration soared during the principles-of-administration period.


The principles of administration by definition “worked” in any administrative setting and without exception – it therefore followed that they could be applied successfully anywhere. Gulick and Urwick (though perhaps more so in Gulick’s case) understood that their “principles” were not immutable facts of nature, but were simply helpful touch points in conveying an understanding of “What is the work of the chief executive?” Nevertheless, Gulick and Urwick also were aware that their still-spindly profession needed nourishment if it were to survive, and realised that a “science of administration,” based on scientific “principles”, was a publicly appealing image-indeed, “science” amounted to an “unassailable principle” in its own right.

Whatever the merits might have been of promoting an unassailable public administration, however, casting the field as a pure science saddled it with an ultimately untenable paradigm. The concentration of study during this period was on focus – essential expertise in the form of administrative principles.

THE CHALLENGE (1938-1950)

Dissent from mainstream accelerated in the 1940s in two mutually reinforcing directions. One objection was that politics and administration could never be separated in any remotely sensible fashion. The other was that the principles of administration were something less than the final expression of managerial rationality.


The Demise of the Dichotomy: One was internal of public administration. Public administration scholars were shyly noting as early as the 1930s that making public policy remained, certainly, “a question for statesmen, but officials can affect in some manner the turning of the scales. In other words, public administrators, like politicians, could mold public policy, too.

The second shift was external to the field and less positive. “Politics” initially had meant only partisan (and often corrupt) politics. By the 1930s, however, “politics” had been expanded in its scholarly meaning to include public policymaking, and public administrators, in accordance with the dichotomy, should not enter this forbidden “political” zone. It was at this point that the politics/administration dichotomy “became intellectually untenable, though difficult to shed”.


In the year following the publication of Gulick and Urwick’s defining opus, Chester I. Barnad’s The Functions of the Executive appeared, which had a major impact on Herbert. A. Simon when he was writing his devastating critique, Administrative Behaviour, published in 1947. Simon was not alone in his questioning of managerial principles, or what he dubbed dismissively as “the proverbs of administration.”

Simon wrote that “a fatal defect of the current principles of administration” is that for “almost every principle one can find an equally plausible and acceptable contradictory principle.” For example, the traditional administrative literature held that clear internal communication was essential to effect managerial control, but it promoted at least two contrary principles for achieving clarity of communication. One principle was narrow span of control – that is a manager could manage only a limited number of subordinates if orders were to be communicated effectively. An organisation that followed the principle of narrow span of control would have a “tall” hierarchy.

Span of control makes sense up to a point. Yet, the administrative literature argued with equal vigor for another principle that was vital for clear communication: minimal message handling/. The fewer people who passed a message up or down the hierarchy, the clearer and less distorted the message would be. This, too, makes sense up to a point. The hierarchy required to bring the bureaucracy in accord with this principle, however, would be “flat”.


Those scholars concerned with developing “a pure science of administration” based on “a thorough grounding in social psychology,” and those concerned with “prescribing for public policy,” an enterprise that “cannot stop when it has swallowed up the whole of political science; it must attempt to absorb economics and sociology as well.


Paradigm 3 began as an exercise in reestablishing the linkages between public administration and political science. But there were issues. The public administrationists were no longer really sure what they should be doing. Public administration professors felt for answers to the point that “the study of public administration in the United States” during this period was characterized by the absence of any fully comprehensive intellectual framework.


Political science – the presumptive “mother discipline” of public administration – clearly has had a profound effect on the character of the field. The fundamental percepts of American political science, such as the self-evident worth of democracy, political participation, and due process under law, continue to hold sway among even the most independently-minded public administrationists.

Beyond providing a base of democratic values, however, political science seems to have less utility in the education of public administrators. Political science educates for “intellectualized understanding” of public administration, whereas public administration educated for “knowledgeable action” and these epistemologies –academic versus professional-are fundamentally different Zeitgeists.


Partly because of their second-class citizenship in a number of political science departments, a few public administrationists began searching for an alternative. They found it in management, sometimes called administrative science or generic management, which holds that sector, culture, institution, mission, whatever, are of little consequence to efficient and effective administration, and that “a body of knowledge”- statistics, economics, accounting, operations research, and organisation theory are often cited – “exists that is common to the fields of administration.


The unambiguously clear impact of the management paradigm is that it pushed public administration scholars into rethinking what the “public” in public administration really meant. Defining the “public” in public administration has long been a difficult problem   for academics, in part because Western culture has never completely sorted out the “complex-structured concept” of “Publicness” and “privateness”. Publicness and privateness in society are composed of three dimensions: agency, interest and access.

The Agency or Institutional: Definition of “Public” refers to the distinction between institutions that acts on behalf of every one. (i.e., it acts publicly) and an institution that acts only in its own behalf (i.e., it acts privately.)Public administrationists have thought that the “public” in public administration refers to the institution of government and its agencies, and this definition still dominates thinking in the field. Seven out of ten books about public organisation theory take an “agency” perspective, as opposed to an “interest” or “access” view. Regrettably, the real world renders this approach problematic. Privatisation, the third sector and similar phenomena blur institutional distinctions and conspire to make an institutionally defined public administration an elusive entity.

The Interest or Philosophic: Definition of “Public” is concerned with who benefits. It is in the (public) interest of government to benefit everyone it governs; it is in the (private) interest of the for-profit firm to benefit only its owners. During the 1970’s public administrationists moved toward a meaning of “public” that focused less on agencies and more on whose interest was affected. Thus, rather than concentrating on the Department of Defense, for instance, and leaving, say, Boeing Corporation to business scholars, public administrationists explored the Pentagon’s contractual relationships with Boeing because they involved the public interest.

The Access or Organizational: Definition of “Public” is our final dimension of “Publicness” and “privateness” is that of access, which addresses the degree of openness to the public found in an organization’s activities, space, information, and resources.

Three Interlocked Understandings of “Public” and three definitions of public administration – institutional, interest and organizationalare in no way mutually exclusive. Rather, they are mutually reinforcing. Of equal importance, these definitions clarify not only the “public” in public administration, but also demonstrate that “Publicness”, and hence public administration, is unique.


In the halls of academe, it was not becoming increasingly clear to public administrationists that neither political science nor management addressed their interests, nor could they. Political science’s intellectual focus is pluralist, specialized and communal, whereas Public administration’s is elitist, synthesizing and hierarchical. Management’s focus is exclusively technical; whereas public administration’s is both technical and normative.

In the corridors of power, practitioners pride was emerging, as witnessed by the founding, in 1967, of the National Academy of Public Administration. Its founders purposely created an association of the nation’s most distinguished public administrators and academics that could serve as a resource in the solution of public problems. Both academies are the only ones chartered by Congress. In sum, both the academic and practitioner communities of public administration were in the last years of the sixties, moving toward an enhanced self-awareness. By 1970, the separatist movement was underway.


“Public administration as public administration” refers to public administration’s successful break with both political science and management, and its emergence as an autonomous field of study and practice.


In 1970, when the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) took birth, that public administration definitively declared its epistemological independence. NASPAA is composed of about 260 of America’s Master of Public Administration (M.P.A) and related degree programs- essentially all such programs in the United States. In 1983, NASPAA’s members voted to become the nation’s professional accrediting agency for these degrees.


Central to Paradigm 5 is the resurrection of the politics/administration dichotomy that defined public administration’s origins nearly a century ago. But the dichotomy has reemerged in a significantly new form – as a political-administrative continuum, rather than as a politics/administration division – that furnishes the field with an intellectual gravitas that is sensible, understandable and workable.

In paradigm 5, politics and public administration do co-exist on the same social continuum, but as separate and distinct “constellations of logic” whose activities sometimes overlap. At the far ends of that continuum, political acts (such as appointing to government jobs unqualified nephews.) can be distinguished from administrative acts (such as appointing to government jobs the most qualified applicants drawn from a competitive pool). It may be less easy to separate the political from the administrative in the middle reaches of that continuum, but we nonetheless understand that politic’s values relate more to power, community, pluralism, personality, loyalty, emotion and ideology, whereas public administration’s values relate more to fairness, hierarchy, elitism, impersonality, professionalism, analysis and neutrality.

PARADIGM 6: GOVERNANACE                                                                         (1990-PRESENT)

Deep changes in technology, communication, the global economy, and the power and role of government are causing self-assessments within the business, nonprofit, and government sectors. The roles of the sectors are changing. At root, Globalization, the Internet, and related developments pressure governments to reduce their sovereignty. We are moving away from government, or the control over citizens and the delivery of public benefits by institutions of the state, and we are moving towards governance, or configuration of laws, policies, organisations, institutions, cooperative arrangements and agreements that control citizens and deliver public benefits. Government is institutional; governance is institutional and networked.

A unique analysis of more than 800 empirical studies, covering a range of disciplines, found a general shifting away from “hierarchical government” and a distinct movement toward “horizontal governing” involving a gradual addition of new administrative forms. Public administration now straddles between two paradigms. One asserts its independence as a stand-alone, self-aware field of study and practice. The other asserts its paramount purpose-creating and implementing social change for social good. Both paradigms are complementary and mutually reinforcing. Without independence, public administration would be a sorry, surly supplicant, shorn of the capacity to chart its own course. Without purpose, independence would be irrelevant.


  1. 3.How would you trace the development of Public administration in terms of different paradigms from the politics/administration dichotomy of 1900-1926 to the rise of Public Administration as Public Administration after the formation of the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) in the USA in 1970?                                     (2012)
  2. 4. “The paradigms of public administration may be understood in terms of locus and focus” – Golembiewski. In the light of the above statements describe the “six –paradigms” of Nicholas Henry about the evolution of the discipline of public administration.                                                 (2000)





There are many theories of knowledge that have shaped study and practice in public administration. These theories have different approaches to generate knowledge in order to provide a better explanation or understanding of social phenomena. The quality of knowledge generation in public administration was the ultimate focus of many articles in the field. Some questioned the rigor of research in public administration to produce knowledge because it lacks the use of positivist approach. Others believed that alternative approaches, such as interpretive theory, provide deep contributions to the body of knowledge in the field. In fact, there is a traditional tension between the normative and the factual dimensions of positivist and interpretivist theories of research.


Public administration as a field of study was highly influenced by positivism as a way of thinking and producing knowledge when it was established by the end of the 19th century. Positivism came from the 17th century Enlightenment and emerged in the United States during the Progressive Era when Woodrow Wilson wrote the first essay on the study of public administration. Gay Adams argued that the foundation of public administration as a field of study was strongly influenced by the instrumental rationality in management. Spicer argued that many, if not most; early writers in the field of public administration were influenced by rationalism by emphasizing “the powers of reason to order human affairs”. Rationality infused some concepts in public administration such as efficiency, expertise, the business model, specialization, and professionalism, which could all be handled through the science of administration.

In The Study of Administration, Wilson called for using a scientific logic to study the field of public administration. He advocated a reinvention of public administration from the corrupting influences of the spoils system. He believed in the separation of administration from politics as a means to establish a science of administration that could lead public administration to be more efficient. This foundation of public administration based on the legacy of science prepared the field to accept the scientific perspectives in order to ensure the most efficient performance of public administration. Frank J Goodnow, in his 1900 book Politics and Administration, supported the use of a science of administration to study public administration. Goodnow clearly articulated the politics-administration dichotomy as the basis to study the science of administration without political considerations. This dichotomy was always tied to the search of a science of administration in the field of public administration.

The influence of the scientific management school on public administration came in the same context. Fredrick Taylor argued in his 1911 book The Principles of Scientific Management that scientific management consists of certain broad general principles that lead to the one best method of achieving any task. This domination of the science of administration through positivist approach and instrumental rationality continued to influence the theory and practice in the field. The influence also could be seen on the theory of public administration through the work of Leonard White, W. F. Willoughby, Gullick and Urwick, and many other writers in the field. In general, Lynn pointed out that “scientific administration, which stressed the separation of administration from politics and efficiency as the goal of administration, became the dominant idea in public administration from roughly 1910 to 1940”. It should be made clear that the public administration writers who advocated the use of science to study administration were not necessary positivists, but they were influenced by its approach to produce knowledge in the field.

This domination had a very strong support, even though from a different perspective that criticized the traditional science of administration, to enhance positivism in the study of public administration. Herbert Simon inThe Administrative Behavior’ argued that a true scientific method should be used in the study of administration because earlier public administration writers lacked the empirical basis to conduct a rigorous scientific research. Stivers pointed out that Simon shifted the attention from administrative principles, which he considered proverbs, to logic in the study of public administration. Positivist researchers emphasize objectivity and ignore human values because of the “strict separation between facts and values”. This separation is exactly the fact-value dichotomy that Simon advocated. Simon called for the use of empirical research and experiments to determine the appropriate administrative procedures that can assure efficiency in public administration.

After the Great Depression and World War II, many scholars in the field started to question the performance of public organizations. In fact, a new paradigm emerged in the field of public administration during the 1950s and rejected the traditional way of handling public administration by the Orthodoxy of scientific management. The theoretical basis of positivism was criticized for its deficiency in dealing with issues in public administration. Particularly, the tension between administration and politics, or bureaucracy and democracy, imposed this deficiency because the science of administration was not seen as the appropriate instrument to study public administration unless it considers the democratic values of American government.  

For instance, Dwight Waldo attacked positivism through his critique to the logical positivism of Herbert Simon. Waldo argued that whereas classical public administration disguised its values under the covering of the science of administration, logical positivism simply ignores these values. He asserted that it is not appropriate to deal with values as mere data in causal relationships. Waldo rejected Simon’s fact-value dichotomy, especially in social sciences, because he believed that facts and values cannot be separated even in pure science. Robert Dahl in his article The Science of Public Administration: Three Problems also rejected the positivist approach and argued that value-free science is impossible. According to Dahl, “the first difficulty of constructing a science of public administration stems from the frequent impossibility of excluding normative considerations from the problem of public administration”. Dahl asserted that by considering the interpersonal and organizational context, the study of human behavior cannot be experimental as positivists claimed. In general, the main problem with this scientific approach is that it cannot be reconciled with democratic values.

In his book the Administrative Behavior, Herbert Simon believed in the scientific study of PA, but he considered the POSDCoRB only as proverbs not scientific principles. In fact, he had a different meaning for the term “scientific.” Certainly, Simon concentrated on human motivation and behaviour because he believed that they follow stable “patterns that can be understood and reduced to law like generalization”. Administrator’s decision-making is influenced by “bounded rationality,” which is limited by skills and habits, values and conceptions, as well as the limited knowledge of things relevant to job.

The criticisms of positivism (or logical positivism) facilitated the path for alternative theories to contribute to the study and practice in the field of public administration. According to White, “In the late 1960s some scholars in the field of public administration began to question some of the positivist assumptions.” White asserted that the break with positivism and the call for other normative theories were necessary during that time to deal with the problems of the 1970’s and 1980’s. This period witnessed the development of other alternative approaches to deal with the study and research in public administration such as interpretivism.


Positivism can be defined as “research approaches that employ empirical methods, make extensive use of quantitative analysis, or develop logical calculi to build formal explanatory theory”. Positivism as a philosophical framework is traced to the French philosopher Auguste Comte who “rejected the theological and metaphysical explanations of human behavior in favor of scientific ones”. White pointed out that positivism was established in the context of the Enlightenment era when the faith in rationally rigorous knowledge as a means to reach truth replaced the belief in mysticism, spiritualism, and traditionalism. Early positivism believed in three interrelated themes: the faith in science, the conception of progress driven by scientific advances, as well as the political and social vision that is consistent with the first two themes. According to Fox and Miller, the early positivists believed that there is an objective reality that “can be completely described using denotative terms that correspond to facts”. For early positivists, if social progress is driven by science, perfect knowledge would be produced about human affairs. However, the most influential form of positivism on contemporary social science in general and public administration in particular is not Comte’s positivism, but the logical positivism of behavioralism.  

Positivism or explanatory research is premised on the desire to draw a distinction between discovery and validation, the belief in neutral observations, value free ideal of scientific knowledge and the belief in the methodological unity of sciences. The proponents of this approach believe that there is an objective reality that exists beyond the human mind. Therefore, embracing scientific methods of research to analyze and resolve problems identified within the society socio-economic and political spheres, is deemed to be a reasonable way of eliminating arbitrary decisions based on values, preconceived ideas, selfish interests and others. According to White (1999), explanatory research strives to build theories that explain and predict natural and social events as it uses both deductive-nomological and inductive-probabilistic models of explanation and prediction.

An administrator committed to a positivist approach will therefore strive to establish causal relationships between variables as well as try to make predictions on the basis of how variables affect one another. A causal relationship is based on the assumption that one variable causes the other one to behave in a certain manner whereas predictability is premised on the assumption that if something happens or occurs, then something else will follow. Establishing a causal relationship between variables calls for the formulation of a set of hypotheses, which are then, tested using the data collected. In this vein, the study of an institution as a collective phenomenon is reduced to the study of attributes of individuals.

In pursuit of objectivity, neutrality, rationality and applicability, the values, ideologies, perceptions and ideas of the researcher or administrator are deemed to play no role in the way they explain and predict certain phenomena within the organizations. The administrator is expected to detach himself/herself from the subjects of their study even though they (administrators) determine the ends of the social and political processes or the best and most efficient alternative(s) needed to address the identified problems or any other issue at hand. In other words, the administrator has to rely on his or her scientific knowledge and skills to make recommendations and decisions about the things that need to be done and how they should be done.

Positivism in contemporary literature is seen in social sciences as an attempt to borrow the natural sciences’ methods to explain and predict social phenomena. Lincoln and Guba asserted that one of the basic elements of positivism is that social and natural sciences should have the same goals and use the same methodology. Brian Fay pointed out that positivism introduced the use of scientific methods of research to solve socio-economic problems as the only reasonable method to eliminate arbitrary decision-making, which is based on values or selfish interests. Fay discussed how applying scientific approaches to social problems would lead to what he called” “policy science” in which individuals uses their technical knowledge to find the most efficient alternative to solve a particular problem. This most efficient alternative is what positivism thinks to be the “correct way of proceeding in human affairs”. In this sense, positivism could be seen as the belief in the existence of objective reality, which could be explained and controlled through causal relations and testing hypotheses that establish statistical inferences.

The main purpose of the positivist approach is to explain the current conditions and predict any change of the future conditions to control them. Prediction is a very critical feature of this approach because “explanation is not complete unless it could have functioned as a prediction”.

In fact, because of the limitations of the mainstream research in public administration, which was discussed earlier, other alternative theories were introduced. These theories offer research in public administration a rich diversity of methods that help to reach deep understanding of social problems. These subjective theories believe human values cannot be detached from generating knowledge. Ralph Hammel argued that the research in public administration should pay more attention to the stories managers tell, which is a valid approach to produce knowledge, instead of maintaining the objectivity of hard sciences. For Hummel (1991), the use of scientific standards, which the positivist approach asserts, is not an appropriate research tool for studying this type of administrative practice. One of the theories that influence the research in public administration is interpretivism.


According to Jane Ritchie and Jane Lewis, the development of the interpretive theory and qualitative research methods could be traced to the 19th century by a German scholar, Wilheme Dilthey. Ritchie and Lewis pointed out the Dilthey emphasized the significance of understanding and studying the live experiences of people through their historical and social context. Dilthey believed that the research in social sciences should explore the lived experience in order to connect the particular actions under study to their social and historical aspects. This approach helps researchers to have better understanding to the social phenomenon. According to White, interpretivism “stands in the philosophical traditions of the analytical philosophy of language, hermeneutics, and phenomenology”. Language has a considerable role in providing the basis of understanding social problems.

According to Fay, an interpretive approach is premised on the realization that a large part of the vocabulary of social science is made up of action concepts which are used to describe doings. These action concepts are used to “describe behavior which is done with a purpose such that one can ask, what is its point, aim or intent, or what was the person trying to do, desiring or meaning”. The actors are expected to provide the researcher with the meaning and the understanding that they attach to their actions, lest he or she reaches a wrong conclusion about the actions that he or she has observed.

Interpretivism is based on the belief that there is no objective reality out there. Administrators and researchers committed to this method believe that reality is socially constructed. Reality is not something that exists outside the researcher as it is the case under the positivist perspective. For the interpretivists, reality is determined by the live experiences, values, norms, culture and social background of both the researchers and the observed people. Researchers are therefore expected to make a concerted effort to clearly understand the actions and behavior of the observed people. They cannot detach themselves from the group, as there is need for them to interact and listen to the stories told by the people that they are studying.

White explains the underpinnings of interpretive approach succinctly when he states that “Interpretive research is concerned with the meanings that people attach to norms, rules, and values that regulate their interactions. Care is taken not to impose a previous understanding of norms, rules, and values on others but rather to understand their beliefs and actions from their point of view. The focus is not only on what they tell us directly about the reasons for their beliefs and actions but also on the social practices that underlie them. Social practice gives meaning to social action”.

Interaction between the researcher and the observed is important as the meanings and importance attached to the actions performed by the latter need to be internalized by the former such that he or she should be able to communicate them back to the group. In other words, a consensus can be reached if the researcher can explain the actions and behavior of the group in the same way as presented to him or her by members of that group. Hence, mutual exchange of views and knowledge regarding a particular phenomenon is viewed as one of the important building blocks of the interpretive approach. Fay summarizes this point by stating that, “By ‘reliving’ or ‘identifying with’ his subjects, the social scientist was supposed to be able to discern their mental states and therefore reveal the (mental) causes of the actions he observed”.

In this vein, Hummel reminds us that managers within public organizations handle and resolve issues through storytelling where they share experiences with their staff. As far as Hummel is concerned, people need to understand the problem before they can think of possible solutions that can be used to resolve it. Prior understanding of the issue or phenomenon at hand does not seem to be very important under the positivist perspective, as it is the case under interpretive perspective. Hence, the objection by Hummel that “In both policy formulation and management, raw scientific data cannot become accepted into policymakers’ or managers’ realities unless these data are first given a place in the unfolding story of policymaking and managing”.

Hummel goes further to state that problems within public organizations and the society at large occur as a result of interactions between people. Since different people are likely to have different interpretations of what is happening, active participation of the concerned parties in unpacking the identified problems as well as how they can be resolved, not scientific knowledge, is the most important strategy that public managers can embrace to reach a consensus with their staff. Inter-subjectivity and not objectivity, is important in terms of addressing problems within the field of public administration more especially that people are “placed in the organization that their roles give them specific perspectives and responsibilities that are not necessarily compatible”.

The aim of the interpretive research method is to ensure a clear understanding of the meaning of events and the intention of human actions. White pointed out that the common concern for interpretivists is not to explain human behavior, but to understand actions. White noted that “instead of seeking causal explanations of behavior, interpretive research enhances our understanding of, among other things, the beliefs, meanings, feelings and attitudes of actors in social situation”. Fay asserted that interpretivism aims “to discover the intentions which actors have in doing whatever it is they are doing”.

Interpretivist researchers think there is no universal law or objective reality, but facts are to be reached through subjective understanding.

Based on this perspective, the role of the researcher in interpretivism is not to observe from outside, but to be involved within the research. For interpretivists, it is hard for researchers to have a clear understanding if they keep themselves distant from the background, the environment, and the social values of the actors under study. In other words, interpreting the world comes from the actors’ point of view through their explanation of the meanings attached to their actions. To reach a better interpretation, researchers should be involved in communication with the actors to reach a shared meaning and a common understanding. Fay also agreed that “interpretation requires communicative interaction: the achievement of successful dialogue between the researcher and the actors”. Interpretivist researchers should pass their interpretations to the actors again to ensure a common understanding of meanings. According to White, the successful dialogue that reflects how the interpretation conforms to the intension of actors gives the validity to the interpretive approach. The interpretation of this conversation leads the researchers to present their views “like good storytelling” which includes facts and values.


Phenomenology is a philosophical theory developed by the German Philosopher, Edmund Husserl and his disciple, Alfred Schutz, as a leading school in interpretivist approach in the late 1960s and 1970s. The word ‘phenomenology’ has two meanings. It is an object of perception, something we see, feel or perceive through our senses. Secondly, however, a phenomenon is something ‘extra-ordinary’, something out of the normal which we cannot yet explain or understand.


Epistemology is the study of the nature and scope of knowledge and justified belief. It analyzes the nature of knowledge and how it relates to similar notions such as truth, belief and justification. It also deals with the means of production of knowledge, as well as scepticism about different knowledge claims. It is essentially about issues having to do with the creation and dissemination of knowledge in particular areas of inquiry.


Even though there does not seem to be any major similarity between positivism and interpretivism, there are a lot of major differences that the two approaches have. First of all, in terms of reality, while positivists believe that there is an objective reality; interpretivists believe that there is no universal reality. Reality for interpretivists is subjective. Second, in terms of objectivity, interpretivists think that it is hard for researchers to be objective, while positivists assert the researcher should be objective. While positivists advocate for the fact-value dichotomy, interpretivists reject this dichotomy because research is driven by values. Therefore, interpretivists are involved with their research subjects, whereas positivists keep a distance from the subjects under study.

In addition, positivists focus their research on causal explanation while interpretivists concentrate on descriptive understanding. Moreover, while interpretivism has a lingual basis and a hermeneutic method in understanding meanings, positivism does not. Interpretivists believe in the role of communication, while positivists reject this role. Finally, for interpretivists, generalization of universal laws is impossible because of the different values imposed on each specific social phenomenon, while generalization constructs the validity in positivism.

Public administration under the domination of the positivist approach would seek to apply scientific procedures, standards, and principles on every step of the division making, for instance. Empirical evidence must be attached as a requirement to prove each executive function. Executives should be “policy scientists” in order to handle administrative problems efficiently. They should have a guide that includes universal principles that effectively worked in the past to be used in dealing with current and future problems. Policy outcomes should be always measurable and counted in order to be believed. In fact, this is not a fictitious view to public administration under the positivist approach, but it represents in how the early writers in the field proposed governance to be.

Fay discussed the role of science in policy and how knowledge would provide policy scientists, who represent a minority, the power to dominate over the majority. Using the positivist approach would advocate the power of policy scientists who monopolize decision-making. He argued that the accountability of these policy scientists “would be far different from the sort of accountability envisioned in democratic theory”. They would be accountable to the knowledge provided be empirical research that ordinary people do not know enough about. Therefore, Fay supposed that the decisions of policy scientists “would be immune to attack from the public at large, quite simply because of the public’s ignorance”.

Public administration was built on or, at least, highly shaped by the rational bureaucratic model of organization. Bureaucracy imposes a stable hierarchal system, which is run by firm rules and regulations that require administrators to follow. Certainly, the use of the alternative theories would, practically, give public administrators more flexibility to deal with problems and conflicting situations in their organizations. Alternative theories such as interpretivism would provide public administrators a better understanding of problems.


There are many different research theories in the field that seek a better understanding and explanation to problems in public administration. These approaches, which may agree on many research aspects, have different logics of inquiry to acquire knowledge. There is no one appropriate approach that could be used in public administration. The nature and the conditions of every research question or problem determine which research approach fits better. Each one of the approaches adds new elements to the theory and practice in public administration. A continuous discourse should be maintained to keep the canal opened among all the approaches of research in the field. We really “need to keep the conversations going within and across the existing and emerging narratives we weave to make sense of public administration for ourselves and for others. This is the only way in which research in public administration can remain relevant to scholars, professional administrators and the public we serve”.


  1. 1.What are the implications of thepost-structuralist perspectivediscrete aspectsepistemological positions?
  2. 2."Simon's identifying decision - making as the core field of public administration appears logically acceptable but his positivist underpinning is problematic." Critically examine the statement.           (2010)