Monday, April 7, 2014

Ecology and Administration

The bureaucratic approach is primarily based on Weber’s ideal type of bureaucracy. Though this model was quite useful for comparing the bureaucracies of the western countries it could not serve the purpose for the developing countries. The reason being that the western countries had stable polities and the conditions prevailing there resembled those assumed for “classic” bureaucratic system suggested by Weber. Such were not the conditions prevailing in the under­developed countries. So after the World War II when there was an urge to study the admninistrative systems of developing countries the bureaucratic approach (based primarily on ‘structural’ & ‘functional’ aspects of bureaucracy) could not serve the purpose well. When the technical assistance programmes etc. were started for the developing countries in post war times, there was a natural curiosity on the part of the donor agencies to know what type of administrative systems these developing countries had and whether they would be able to absorb the kind of assistance being provided to them. Hence studies were started to study administration of developing countries and the private foundations such as Ford Foundation sponsored such studies. The features of administrative systems in these countries were quite different from those of developed countries and approaches such as bureaucratic approach were found lacking. Thus came the necessity for developing a new approach towards the comparative public administration. Two approaches emerged as a result of this necessity. The first one was ecological approach and the second one was the development administration approach.

The Ecological Approach to Comparative Public Administration


The basic assumption of ecological approach is that administration does not exist in vacuum. Bureaucracy is one of the several basic institutions existing in the society. Thus inter-relationships of bureaucracy with other sub-systems existing in the society is the crux to understand its ‘structures’ and ‘functions’. These other sub-systems could be political, social, cultural and economic etc. Bureaucracy as an administrative sub-system exists with these other sub-systems in a society. Thus for understanding the structure, role and functions of bureaucracy, the influence of these political, socio-cultural and economic sub-systems on bureaucracy and vice-versa are to be studied. It has to be noted that in ecological approach two way interaction between a system and its environment is considered i. e. it is not only the influence of the external environment on the system but also the system’s modifying influence on the external environment. Most of the scholars have concentrated on the social environmental influence on the administrative sub-system rather than bureaucracy’s influence on the social environment. So there is a need to develop a more balanced interactional analysis.

The ecological approach can be traced back to the writings of John M. Gaus whose work in turn took inspiration from the sociologists. Gaus was primarily interested in knowing key ecological factors for understanding the American Public Administration and he found some factors quite useful e. g. people, place, physical & social technology, wishes & ideas, catastrophe & personality. Robert Dahl, Roscoe Martin and Fred W. Riggs are other prominent writers in this field. According to Riggs, only the studies which are empirical, nomothetic and ecological are “truly” comparative. Ecological approach believes that as all plants can not grow in all climates similarly all administrative sub­systems can not be successful in all ecological settings.

According to Ferrel Heady, the environment of bureaucracy can be understood in terms of “concentric circles” with bureaucracy at the center as shown below :

Ecology and Administration

Since bureaucracy is most closely in interaction with the political sub-system, that’s why, the circle depicting the political system is the innermost circle. Since the larger society can be considered a general system it shown as the largest circle. The circle depicting economic sub-system lies in between.

For doing a comparative analysis of different nations, they can be classified into some basic categories based on some ‘decisive’ environmental factors. These factors could be of social and economic nature. Based on this approach the different nations could be classified into “developed” and “developing” countries. This approach uses “development” as the basis of classifying various countries. However this approach does not put countries in two polar extremes of “developed” and “developing”, rather the countries are located on a continuum, with the former placed on upper scale of development and the latter on relatively lower scale of development. This approach is called the development

administration approach. As can be seen the development administration approach itself is largely ecological.

One of very important approaches in ecological analysis is "structural - functionalism". Riggs, the foremost theorist in the field of comparative public administration has used this approach to understand the administrative sub-systems in the context of ‘transitional societies’. We will first study what is structural - functional approach and then move on to the Riggsian models & their critiques.

The Structural - Functional Approach To Ecological Analysis


The structural - functional approach assumes that every function in society is performed by some structure (or to be more precise ‘social structure’). A structure may perform different functions and a function may also be performed by a combination of structures. In this approach a social structure is considered as “any pattern of behavior which has become a standard feature of a social system”. An interesting point is that structures may be “concrete” like governmental departments etc. or may be “abstracts” like ‘structure of authority’.

The social structures having resemblance to each other in different environmental settings may perform different functions and so if some society doesn’t have some particular structures then it doesn’t mean that some functions would also be missing from that society. Also the social structures are not always unifunctional. In traditional societies a structure may perform many functions e. g. administrative & political functions are performed by more or less the same institutions. All this shows that structures and functions do not have a one to one relationship between them and the actual relationship should be determined by empirical research for different contextual settings. This approach focuses on the ‘interactions’ among various structures of the social system and of the social system with its external environment. According to this approach there are some pre-requisite structures and functions for the survival of the society. Riggs mentions five functional requisites for any society as well as for the administrative sub-system:

  1.  Economic

  2. Social

  3. Communicational

  4. Symbolic

  5. Political


It was Dwight Waldo in 1955 who first all suggested using the structural — functionalism in the field of public administration. Ever since Riggs has been the foremost user of this approach. Using this approach he came out with his Agraria — Industria typology and the models of Fused-Prismatic-Diffracted societies. The structural - functional approach proves that though indigenous structures and institutions of non-Western nations may prove to be dysfunctional from the Western standards still they are functional in their own social settings. It will be further discussed while discussing the Riggsian models.


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