Monday, April 7, 2014

Comparative Public Administration

After World War II, many developing countries became free from colonialism. The United Nations also emerged with the development of developing countries as one of its goals. The international technical assistance and co-operation programmes also started. It was widely felt in the western countries as well as the developing countries that administrative capability of the latter was required to be enhanced so that they could fully utilize the assistance being offered to them. It was in this light that comparative public administration came into picture. It emphasized on the comparative analysis of the experiences of the developing countries to cope up with their problems.

In 1961, comparative public administration was defined by Comparative Administration Group (CAG) as “the theory of public administration applied to diverse cultures and national settings and the body of factual data by which it can be examined and tested”. It means that CPA doesn’t just mean the application of concepts of public administration to different ecological settings but also entails obtaining some factual data by which the government administrative systems of different countries could be compared and analyzed.

Although in all the modem social sciences the importance of comparative studies has been widely recognized, anthropology and sociology were the first disciplines to take lead in this sphere. Herbert Spencer, Vilfred Pareto, Emile Durkheim and Max Weber, who are considered to be the founding fathers of sociology had comparative sociology as their main area of study. But due to several constraints such comparative study was slow to originate in public administration.

Origins of “Comparative Features”

It was Woodrow Wilson’s seminal essay in 1887 “The Study of Administration" the publication of which is considered to be the beginning of the academic study of public administration. Wilson argued for comparative studies in administration e. g. some of the good practices prevailing at that time in Europe could be borrowed in American public administration. Taylorism" which influenced American administrative theory considerably had become sort of international movement in 1920s. Lenin applied some of its ideas in Soviet Union. Leonard White stressed the “cross-cultural” character of the principles of public administration. He observed in 1936 that a principle of public administration "is as useful a guide to action in the public administration of Russia as of Great Britain, of Iraq as of the United States”. Later on Human Relations movement, though could not develop a cross-cultural approach, still emphasized some variables of internal environment of the organization as important towards its efficient functioning.

AComparative Public Administrationfter World War II, scholars such as Edwin Stene, Herbert Simon and Dwight Waldo made a call for the “scientific explanations” in the administrative theory and scholars such as Robert Dahl vigorously argued for “cross-cultural” analysis in public administration.

Before the World War II also there were some studies on comparative government and administration but post World War II literature is full of criticism against those studies arguing that they were not truly “comparative” and “ecological” in their content. The main accusations are:

  1. It made only the Western countries as its point of study. So it was “culture bound” in content.

  2. It emphasized only constitutionalism and values of western liberal democracy. So it was “normative” in its approach.

  3. It assumed that every political and administrative system evolves the same way as did the western systems. So it was “parochial” in character.

  4.  It was not “ecological” in nature.

  5. “Cross cultural" and “cross temporal” features were lacking.

The Comparative Public Administration Movement

Though the literature on comparative government and administration existed earlier also but post World War II this literature underwent a phenomenal change. Comparative Public Administration emerged in true sense only after World War II. The main reasons being:

  1. After World War II, Marshall Plan was started for the economic recovery of Europe and Point Four programme was enunciated for the developing countries. American public administration scholar turned practitioners were involved in such programmes. They realized that many of the problems of other countries could not be solved just by the traditional Americal public administration structures and institutions. Different cultural contexts of different countries forced them to think in tems of comparative studies of the administrative systems. Soon United Nations technical assistance teams were formed. The government of United States, many academic universities, multilateral bodies and private foundations etc soon joined hands to embark on a path of “international administrative reform”.

  2. The newly independent Asian & African countries were in the varying stages of social, economic and political development and there existed no studies on their public administration systems. For these countries to transform to modern developed nations the capability of their administrative systems had to be enhanced. For that to happen “contextual” studies of their administrative systems had to be made. It was this objective with which the comparative public administration movement started.

  3.   There was an “intellectual" curiosity to develop a science of public administration e. g. Robert Dahl asserted that “as long as the study of public administration is not comparative, claims for a ‘science’ of public administration sound rather hollow”. Robert Jackson also mentioned that science of public administration, if not fully achievable, is at least worthy of seeking and that the scientific study of public administration required the study of various administrative patterns in the cross- cultural and cross-national settings and the “rigorous” comparative analysis of empirical findings from such studies will help in constructing a general theory of public administration.

  4. Behaviouralism in administrative studies concerns itself with the scientific study of human behavior in various contexts and makes use of propositions drawn from other social sciences also. So it is necessarily inter-disciplinary in character. This inter­disciplinary and cross-cultural approach has necessitated the study of comparative public administration.

  5. Post World War II, generous financial assistance was provided to the scholars of comparative public administration by aid giving agencies in USA like Ford Foundation or Agency for International Development etc. Their interest was to know more about the administrative systems of aid receiving countries.

  6. At that time cold war had started and developing nations were important. Therefore for the western countries to have an interest in the development of developing nations had a “practical” connotation as well.

In 1952, the first attempt was made to start the study of comparative public administration when a Conference on Comparative Administration was sponsored at Princeton by Public Administration Clearing House. William J. Siffin was the first American scholar to write a book on CPA entitled “Toward the Comparative Study of Public Administration” in 1956. The next important event was in 1963 when the Comparative Administration Group (CAG) was set up. It was set up as a committee of American Society for Public Administration. CAG was funded till 1971 by the Ford Foundation and noted CPA scholar Fred Riggs chaired it till 1970. The main aim of CAG was to analyze the problems of developing countries in the context of their own cultural, historical, social, political and economic environments and to suggest remedies to the practitioners in development administration. CAG sponsored research in Asia, Latin America and Europe. The period between 1963 and 1976 is known as the golden era of comparative public administration. A galaxy of scholars like Fred Riggs, Braibanti, John Montgomery, Ferrel Heady and Dwight Waldo etc were associated with the Comparative Administration Group. In 1972 CAG was merged with the International Committee of American Society of Public Administration (ASPA) and Section on International and Comparative Administration (SICA) was formed.

CPA : An Enterprise in Theory Building

Comparative Public Adminisration has actually made public administration truly inter­disciplinary as all kinds of social sciences have contributed towards its growth. Theory building has been an important priorities of CPA movement as noted American scholar Caldwell observed that the objective of CPA is “to hasten the emergence of a universally valid body of knowledge concerning administrative behavior". Amitai Etzioni also mentions that comparative study will establish truly “universal propositions” of administrative theory. According to Ferrel Heady comparative public administration has five “motivating concerns” viz:

  1.      The search for theory building

  2.      An urge for practical application

  3.      Contribution from comparative politics

  4.     Interest of the scholars of administrative law

  5.      Cross cultural analysis of the problems of Public Administration systems

CPA: Treading a Paradigm or still Pre-Paradigmatic?

The study of any scientific discipline passes through many stages before arriving at a stage which is the foundation for continuing as a “coherent discipline". This foundation stage is acceptable to most of the scholars of that scientific discipline. This stage is called a paradigm in that discipline or the dominant model. Before this paradigm, a number of competing views and propositions exist and a unanimous view regarding the path which the discipline should take is lacking. This stage has been termed as “pre- paradigmatic” stage by Thomas Kuhn.

Scholars like William Siffin have described comparative public administration as a field in confusion because of the diversity in the view points existing in the literature. But it is a matter of debate whether this pre-paradigmatic stage is good or bad for the development of CPA as a field of inquiry. Social Sciences by their vary nature are prone to contestations from diverse view points and lack of consensus regarding the dominant view in the discipline can not be taken necessarily as fatal for the discipline, though it doesn’t mean that a systemic coherence is not required between different paradigms. CPA at present is passing through a “poly-paradigmatic” process. It is characterized by a number of competing approaches. Riggs has identified a number of them as normative, empirical, nomothetic, idiographic, non-ecological and ecological approaches.

“Trends” in Comparative Public Administration Studies

Fred W. Riggs, the foremost scholar of comparative public administration, observed that three “trends” were visible in the CPA studies. These are:

  1.    From normative to empirical

  2.    From ideographic to nomothetic

  3.    From non-ecological to ecological

The empirical approach means to suggest some conclusions on the basis of actual field study instead of ‘normative’ suggestions e. g. traditional comparative politics & administration emphasized “good administration” and efficiency & economy were considered as virtues for administrative systems in all contextual settings.

The ideographic approach focuses on ‘unique case’ or ‘case study’ method while nomothetic approach focuses on ‘generalizations’, ‘laws’ or ‘hypotheses’ that predict the behavior.

Riggs also emphasized on studying the administrative systems in the contextual settings in which such systems existed. This ecological approach emphasized on studying the inter-relations between the administrative system and the external environment in which it existed.

Different Approaches in Comparative Public Administration

There are different approaches which the scholars in comparative public administration have taken to study the subject. According to Henderson the literature of CPA can be classified into three main areas of emphases:

  1.      The bureaucratic system approach

  2.      The input-output system approach

  3.      The component approach

Most acceptable classification of the approaches has been done by Ferrel Heady. Ferrel Heady in his book PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION : A COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVE gives four main approaches in the literature of CPA:

  1.      Modified traditional approach

  2.      Development oriented approach

  3.      General system model Building

  4.      Middle range theory formulation

As already explained earlier the pre World War II literature on CPA was parochial in its approach concentrating on just few administrative systems. The modified traditional approach to CPA was the continuance of that approach only though the focus shifted to some comparative aspects of different administrative systems. These studies were largely descriptive and included topics such as personnel system and administrative organization etc.

The development oriented approach focuses on the essentials of the administrative system which should be developed in order to meet the necessities of a society which is experiencing large socio-economic, cultural and political changes. The aim is to develop the administrative systems so that the publically stated goals of the governments in such societies could be achieved.

The general system model building approach is a comprehensive approach which focuses on the administrative systems in the larger context of its environment. It focuses on whole of the social environment. The prominent scholar who contributed a lot to this approach was Fred W. Riggs who made "ideal types” models for societies. John T. Dorsey who gave “information - energy model” also belongs to this category.

While the general system model emphasized on building comprehensive models, of administrative systems, the middle range formulation concentrated on just few components of administrative system. The most famous middle range model is “bureaucratic model”. It is based on Max Weber’s ideal type of bureaucracy.

Out of the above described models, the most commonly used models for the purpose of comparative public administration today are: the bureaucratic model, the Riggsian models and development administration approach. These may also be called the “foci” of comparative public administration literature.


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