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Public bureaucracies operate increasingly in a global environment that requires greater communication and cooperation among nations. This globalization of public administration has highlighted the parochial nature of much of the literature, which was written to apply to one nation or to a small group of similar countries. When literature that was designed for the West or for Europe is applied to non-Western nations, it rarely fits well, exaggerating the tension between theory and practice.
At the same time that globalization underscores the poor fit between theory and practice, global pressures provide an opportunity to conduct comparative research that is meaningful and useful for managers in all nations regardless of economic, political, and social considerations. Such work can help bridge the gap between Western and non-Western perspectives. This article provides a framework that will facilitate such research.
The article first identifies the gaps as problems for public administration theory and practice using supporting literature from both Asian and Western theorists and practitioners. It then explores a sample of the literature that describes broader concepts of the modern global environment as well as the theoretical importance of organizational environments for bureaucracies. Subsequent sections concentrate on solutions--the development of a theoretical perspective that incorporates specific global pressures, and the statement of hypotheses that explore the impact of these pressures on the structure and activity of public organizations. Finally, the article discusses the implications of the framework for future research and practice.
The Dual Gap
Disenchantment and even amazement over the parochial nature of American public administration is well expressed in the public administration literature. American public administration is not considered to be either informed by international theoretical perspectives or very adaptable to other national contexts.
For example, Hood (1989, 348) writes: "Today (Americans perhaps excepted), public administration scholars live in what is much more of a `global village' conceptually, in that it would be hard to write an acceptable research degree thesis in the subject today which did not draw on an international literature for its conceptual framework. It is hard to see this trend going into reverse."
Another example of the ethnocentric and even greater Eurocentric nature of public administration is given in Table 1. A survey of five journals in the field of public administration was conducted to determine the prominence of comparative and Asian themes. The three categories identified for each year studied were (1) number of articles on comparative public administration theory, (2) number of articles on Asian national study, and (3) the number of articles on comparative public administration that incorporate Asia as either a case study or the focus of the analysis.(1) Results indicate only five articles on comparative public administration and 46 articles in which Asian nations were subjects of description (40 of those were in the International Journal of Public Administration and the Asian Journal of Public Administration) across all three years. Only one article sought to build theory through comparison of Asian and non-Asian nations.
Table 1 Numbers of Articles on Comparative, Asia, and Comparative with an Asian Country in Analysis in Five Public Administration Journals
1995 CPA Asia CPA & Asia Administration and Society 0 0 0 Public Administration Review 0 4 0 Journal of Public Admin. Research & Theory 0 0 0 Asian Journal of Public Administration 2 7 1 International Journal of Public Administration 0(*) 1(*) 0(*) 1994 CPA Asia CPA & Asia Administration and Society 1 0 0 Public Administration Review 0 0 0 Journal of Public Admin. Research & Theory 0 0 0 Asian Journal of Public Administration 0 11 0 International Journal of Public Administration 2 4 0 1993 CPA Asia CPA & Asia Administration and Society 0 1 0 Public Administration Review 0 1 0 Journal of Public Admin. Research & Theory 0 0 0 Asian Journal of Public Administration 0 10 0 International Journal of Public Administration 0 7 0
(*) Survey covers first six issues of the 1995 volume of IJPA
Similar results were obtained from a content analysis of 253 comparative articles published in 20 journals for the years 1982-1986 (Wart and Cayer, 1990). Wart and Cayer further identify the absence of broader theorizing work as a major factor contributing to the ambiguity of purpose and identity crisis of comparative public administration. It is not the lack of comparative work but the lack of a comprehensive and nonethnocentric comparative framework that is a major concern.
The parochial nature of public administration theory in the United States would not be such a concern in the world of the 1920s or even the 1960s, but in todays global village failure to incorporate ideas from other contexts can be detrimental to the long-term development of public administration theory in America and for the applicability of American public administration theory abroad. Efforts in comparative public administration in the United States have attempted through various means and with a variety of national objectives to bridge the gap between theory based on the American perspective and the context of other administrative systems. Two main methodological trajectories have emerged in the literature.
The first, ascribed mainly to the founders of the field in the United States (most obviously Ferrel Heady and Fred Riggs) take the perspective that bureaucracies are subsystems within the political, economic, and social context of a particular nation. Analysis under this framework takes the form of an outside-in process in which bureaucracies can be evaluated best by a continual focusing in from the social to the economic to the political context in which they are found. The aim of this approach is to provide a description and explanation for "why" bureaucracies are what they are and why they do what they do. This set of theorists can be grouped into what may be called traditionalists.
The second and more recent position is typified by the work of Guy Peters in which improvement in scientific integrity is sought through the identification of dependent variables and the systematic collection of empirical evidence.(2) This type of analysis is an inside-out exploration in which phenomena found universally in the bureaucracies studied are analyzed to determine what the differences are. The context is then formed around the findings while the long-term objective of prescription is sought. This set of theorists can be called revisionists.
The revisionists criticize the lack of cumulative knowledge in comparative public administration and attribute its downfall in the 1960s and 1970s to this lack. They see the lack of cumulative knowledge as the direct result of the absence of scientific methods and approach. Traditionalists criticize the assumptions and the reductionist nature of the newer approach, which they believe does not provide enough richness of detail and is limited to the comparison of bureaucracies operating under similar political, economic, and social contexts. That is, the traditionalists criticize the revisionists for focusing almost exclusively on Western bureaucracies.
Being empirical is not the problem, but being comparative
is. The comparisons that are made by [the empiricists]
are almost completely limited to the United States
and a few European countries--all Western industrialized
democracies. Some models that [they use] seem to
be applicable only to parliamentary or presidential
democracies, and not to the much larger number of
contemporary political entities which have regimes
dominated by single …