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For more than 50 years, scholars and practitioners have examined the role that fiction plays in public administration. For the most part, attention has centered on the degree to which practitioners can learn something about administration by exposing themselves to works of fiction (Egger, 1944, 1959; Waldo, 1968; Kroll, 1965, 1981). Fiction has been used as a teaching device, like the case study, to illustrate principles and expand experience (Holzer, Morris, and Ludwin, 1979; Argyle and Bright, 1992; Hunker, 1992; Marini, 1992a, 1992b).
In this article, I suggest that fiction plays an additional role in public administration. I argue that fiction (and other works of imagination) affect what public managers do and how they do it. Fiction appears to shape the policies that public servants carry out and the way in which they conduct their duties. It probably influences the choice of administrative methods. It does this by entering the public consciousness or popular culture and becoming part of the cognitive base for making decisions about public policy and administration.
This expanded view of fiction complements broader efforts currently underway to examine ways in which managers imagine the world around them (Morgan, 1986; Kass and Catron, 1990; Hummel, 1991; Kramer, 1992). It is also part of the effort to understand the relationship between humanistic arts and public administration. The latter is being advanced by a new Section on Humanistic, Artistic, and Reflective Expression in the American Society for Public Administration; by the section's new journal Public Voices, and by a new book on the role of the arts by Charles Goodsell and Nancy Murray (1995).
Conventionally, fiction is a term that encompasses works of art portraying imaginary events and persons, as in novels, cinema, television drama, and the theater. I have broadened the subject matter to include additional works that seek to portray events or places in imaginative ways, especially those in the future. Television docu-dramas, various types of paintings, theme parks, and popular science thus join fiction in a broader class of media that affect administration through imagination.
In this article, I present three cases that illustrate the influence of fiction and imagination upon public administration. The debate over the best way to treat the mentally ill shows how fiction can influence the outcome of policy debates, especially those for which empirical evidence remains inconclusive. The creation of the U.S. space program shows why other works of imagination must be included along with the study of fiction. The case of the National Performance Review illustrates the way in which fiction affects the course of administrative reform. These cases are followed by some suggestions on the ways in which the study of fiction and imagination might improve the understanding of public administration.
Fiction and Mental Institutions
Fiction can influence the choice of public policies and the methods for carrying them out, especially in areas where experts cannot agree. This phenomenon is well illustrated by the history of the deinstitutionalization movement. During the 1960s, a great debate took place in the United States on the best way to organize public facilities for the mentally ill. It culminated in the effort to replace large state institutions with community-based mental health centers. The debate began within fairly narrow policy circles, among specialists who treated the mentally ill. The issues they raised could not be settled conclusively through scientific investigation, as is often the case with public policy. Works of fiction slipped into this intellectual vacuum, creating vivid images that lent support to the advocates of deinstitutionalization.
Sociologists and psychologists had begun the debate before the 1960s, with a small group of reformers suggesting that government incarceration of the mentally ill served to remove the powerless and odd from society. Some went so far as to suggest that mental illness did not objectively exist and that the rude behavior of the mentally ill was a means of protest against their oppression. Social scientists supporting this point of view conducted field studies in mental institutions. Using the tools of anthropology, they suggested that life in the madhouse could be viewed as a coherent culture where the "crazy" behavior of inmates was a reasonable response to the conditions of confinement. These studies contradicted the prevailing view, also supported by scientific evidence, that saw mental illness as a serious medical disease. The reformers used their studies to press the case for deinstitutionalization (Goffman, 1961; Szasz, 1961).
Artists had been exposed to such issues through the incarceration of their own kind. The poet Ezra Pound, for example, was incarcerated in the St. Elizabeth's mental institution in Washington, D.C., in part for conducting radio profascist broadcasts from Italy during World War II. Hollywood had raised suspicions about the ethics of involuntary commitment through vehicles such as the 1947 movie classic Miracle on 34th Street (Perlberg, 1947), in which a department store bureaucrat seeks a judge's order to incarcerate an overly zealous Santa Claus. The movie, as with others of its time, suggested that unscrupulous persons employed incarceration as a means to remove troublesome but otherwise healthy persons from society.
Full public exposure of the issue occurred with the counterculture revolution of the 1960s. Deinstitutionalization fit well into the growing distrust of authority and search for personal liberation that motivated the counterculture movement. In his highly influential portraits of the exceptional but troubled characters Franny and Zooey, J. D. Salinger expressed dissatisfication with traditional methods of psychiatry.
You go right ahead and call in some ignorant psychoanalyst.
You just do that. You just call in some analyst who's
experienced in adjusting people to the joys of television,
and Life magazine every Wednesday, and European travel,
and the H-bomb...and God knows what else that's
gloriously normal--you just do that, and I swear to you,
in not more than a year Franny'll either be in a nut ward
or she'll be wandering off into some goddam desert with a
burning cross in her hands (1961; 108).
In 1962, Ken Kesey published the most influential statement of this philosophy. His best-selling novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, depicted conditions at an Oregon state mental institution as seen from the point of view of one of its inmates. Kesey's novel subsequently became a Broadway play and an award-winning Hollywood movie. In the story, Kesey pits Randle Patrick McMurphy, assigned to the mental hospital because of aggressive tendencies, against Big Nurse Ratched, the symbol of institutional authority. McMurphy's free-wheeling behavior has the power to cure other inmates, including the narrator, Chief Bromden, a mute half-Indian distressed by the disintegration of his native culture. Big Nurse interprets McMurphy's skills as a threat to her …