Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Riggsian Models and their Critiques

To study the administrative sub-systems and the problems associated with them, social scientists and the scholars of public administration have constructed models. Fred W. Riggs developed some models to study the administrative sub-system of the developing countries. In 1956 Riggs gave the “Agraria-lndustria” model.

Agrarian and Industrial Model

Riggs classified societies into agricultural and industrial societies i. e. the agrarian and the industrial. The models were developed to study the political and administrative transitions in such societies. Imperial China and contemporary America were the prototypes of these agraria and industria ideal types respectively. Riggs assumed that all societies transformed from agrarian to industria at some point of time in history. The features of the agraria were described as follows:

  1.       Ascriptive, particularistic and diffuse patterns were predominant in such societies.

  2.       Limited social and spatial mobility

  3.       Relatively simple and stable occupational differentiation

  4.       Existence of differential stratification system

Similarly, the characteristics of a “modern industrial society” i. e industria were given as follows:

  1.       Universalistic, specific and achievement norms were predominat in such societies.

  2.       Higher social and spatial mobility

  3.       Well developed occupational system insulated from other social structures

  4.       “Egalitarian” class system based on generalized patterns of occupational achievement.

  5.       Prevalence of “associations”, i. e., functionally specific, non-ascriptive structure.

However it was observed that these two polar type models were not helpful in studying the transitional societies i. e. the societies which are not yet fully industrialized but are far more industrialized in comparison to the agrarian economies. To overcome this problem Riggs developed an equilibrium model “transitia” for the transitional societies but this was less developed.

The agrarian-industria model was criticized on the following grounds:

  1. The “industria” does not exist in isolation but has “agrarian” included in it. So two separate polar type of societies do not exist.

  2. This model assumes a unidirectional movement of the agrarian society to the industrialized society.

  3. The classification of the societies into two types of societies is too abstract and general.

  4. The analysis of the administrative sub-system was not dealt with in detail rather the environment of the administrative sub-system was explained more.

  5. The transitional societies could not be studied with the help of these models.

Riggs himself soon abandoned these models and developed the concept of “fused- prismatic-diffracted” societies.

Model of Fused-Prismatic-Diffracted Societies

The ideal models of fused, prismatic and diffracted societies aimed at studying the pre­historic, developing and developed societies. While explaining the concept of structural- functional approach it was mentioned that social structures may perform large no of functions in some societies. This is called multi-functionality and such social structures are called “functionally diffuse”. On the other hand “functionally specific” social structures perform only prescribed limited functions. Riggs calls functionally diffuse societies as “fused” and the functionally specific societies as “diffracted”. The society which is intermediate between these types of societies is called “prismatic" society. Prismatic society has features of both fused and diffracted societies. Riggs emphasized that all societies are generally prismatic and no society could be called purely fused or diffracted. It should be noted that Riggs developed fused-prismatic-diffracted models only for heuristic purposes and their exact characteristics are not found in any actual society.

Prismatic societies have following features which are in between those of fused and diffracted societies:

  1. In between ‘universalism’ of diffracted societies and ‘particularism’ of fused societies, the prismatic societies are characterized by ‘selectivism’ i. e. somewhere between universalism and particularism.

  2. Similarly intermediate between ‘achievement’ norm of diffracted societies and ‘ascription’ norm of fused societies the prismatic societies are characterized by ‘attainment’ norms i. e. people progress in society partly by achievement and partly by ascription.

  3. Between ‘functional specificity’ and ‘functional diffuseness’, ‘polyfunctionalism’ was coined by Riggs to explain multifunctionality of social structures in prismatic societies.

The focus of this model of Riggs is the study of administrative sub-system sala of prismatic societies and its interaction with other social structures and their environment because the primary concern of Riggs has been the study of administrative problems of the developing or transitional societies.

The basic characteristics of the prismatic societies are:

1. Heterogeneity

Heterogeneity refers to the “simultaneous presence, side by side, of quite different kinds of systems, practices and viewpoints”. It means presence of features of both fused and diffracted societies e. g. presence of sophisticated intellectual class in urban areas while in rural areas still traditional rural elders have many political, religious, administrative roles etc. This may happen due to uneven social change. Similarly the administrative sub-system of prismatic societies “sala” exists along with modern “bureau” and traditional “courts” or “chambers”.

2. Formalism

Formalism means the incongruence between the formally prescribed and the effectively practiced i. e. between the norms and the realities. Opposite of formalism is called realism. For example, the rules may prescribe a certain set of behavior by the government officials while they act in a different way considerably. The diffracted and fused societies have high degree of realism. Due to formalism, the public officials have lot of discretion in implementing the laws of the land. The broad reason why such formalism develops in a prismatic society is lack of ability of the society to guide the performance of the institutions in society i. e. lack of awareness in public, lack of commitment towards the societal objectives etc. This type of formalistic behavior encourages corruption in a prismatic society.

Due to such a “formalism-realism” dichotomy between the prismatic and diffracted societies, attempts towards administrative reforms in diffracted societies lead to the desired changes in administrative system however in the prismatic societies as the public officials indulge in behavior which is quite different from the officially prescribed one, all the attempts to bring about administrative reform have only a superficial impact.

3. Overlapping

It refers to the extent to which formally differentiated structures of a diffracted society coexist with the undifferentiated structures of a fused type. In diffracted society there is no overlapping as the various structures of the social system perform the specific functions in a more or less autonomous way while in a fused society all the functions are performed by the same social structure (which is generally the Chief Executive of that society) so there is no scope of overlapping in fused societies also. However in a prismatic society though “modern differentiated” social structures are created still the society is dominated by the undifferentiated structures. In the administrative sub­system “sala” overlapping means that the actual administrative action is determined by ‘non-administrative’ criteria such as social, cultural, political, economic or religious factors etc. Overlapping is manifest in a prismatic society by many features e. g. nepotism, poly-communalism or “clects”, poly-normavativism, lack of consensus, separation of authority and control. These are described below:

a) Nepotism

In contrast to the diffracted society, in prismatic society the considerations of caste, religion, family and loyalty etc. are the deciding factors in official recruitment. This is there despite the fact that officially these criteria are prohibited. In diffracted society universalism is the criteria for official recruitment. This is due to the fact that in prismatic society “selectivism” which is intermediate between “universalism” and “particularism” prevails i. e. sometimes universalism is followed while at others particularism is followed. This all depends on the people to be selected and favours they find with the selecting authority.

b) Poly-Communalism or “Clects”
Poly-communalism refers to the simultaneous existence in a society of various ethnic, religious and racial groups which remain quite hostile to each other while in existence. These groups represent various interest groups existing in the community. These groups are termed as “clects” by Riggs and they are characterized by attainment norms, selectivism and poly-functionalism. Clects are functionally diffuse and carry out semi-traditional type functions but clects are organized in a ‘modern’ way.

According to Riggs, ecological factors affect the administrative system also, so the existence of clects affects ‘sala’ also. As a result the public officials develop a loyalty toward the community more than that toward the government. In the official recruitment, dominant minority community gets disproportionate representation. To balance it “quota system” is started but it results in mutual hostility among the various groups existing in the society.

Quite often, the sala officials develop close nexus with some particular clects and start functioning as their ‘agents’. This affects the functioning of the government very badly and generates corruption.

c) Poly-Normativism - Lack of consensus

Poly-normativism is a unique feature of the prismatic societies. This means that the traditional behavior pattern co-exists with ‘new’ sets of norms. This results in lack of consensus on norms of behavior. This affects the ‘sala’ also. Sala officials though publicly claim to follow objective, universalistic and achievement oriented norms actually follow subjective, particularistic and ascriptive behavior. The recruitment of public officials is generally done from certain groups only. Even if recruitment is done based on merit the career advancement of the officials is affected by ascriptive values. The relationship between the citizens and sala officials is also affected by poly-normativism. Though the citizens expect the public officials to be honest and rule abiding yet they do not have these virtues and avail benefits out of turn.

d) Separation of Authority and Control

In a prismatic society the authority and control structures are separated. Though such type of societies have highly centralized and concentrated authority structures in the society still the control system is highly localized and dispersed.

This means that there is a separation of “de-jure” authority (i. e. legitimate power) from “de-facto” control (i. e. illegitimate power). This control system finds roots in society’s culture of poly-communalism, clects and poly-normativism. This affects the politician-administrator relationship also in a prismatic society and results in “unbalanced polity” in which the sala officials extensively influence the policy making process. This upper hand of bureaucrats in the exercise of power makes the political process weak and the administration becomes unresponsive in prismatic societies. According to Riggs in such scenario if the public administration in transitional societies is strengthened then it blocks the political development. The sala officials become too powerful but weak as administrators. This results in nepotism in recruitment, corruption and inefficiency in the administration of laws.

“Bazaar - Canteen” Model - The basis for the Prismatic Economy

Economic sub-system of prismatic society was termed as “bazaar - canteen” by Riggs. Market forces of supply and demand determine the prices in a diffracted society but in a fused society society “areana” factors (considerations which determine balance of power, prestige, solidarity, other religious, social and familial factors) dominate. In a prismatic society, both market and arena factors interact in such a way that they produce a state of price indeterminacy and a price which might be called “common to all” could not determined for a service or commodity. The economic sub-system in prismatic society behaves as “subsidized canteen”, where the goods and services are provided at lower rates, for the members of special clects or for politically influential groups who have ‘access’ to the canteen and as "tributary canteen”, where higher prices are charged, to the “outside” members. This means that in prismatic societies the prices charged for the public services vary according to the relationship between the sala official and his clientele.

This “bargaining” culture prevailing in the economic sub-system of the prismatic societies affects the financial administration also particularly areas such as budgeting, accounting, auditing, collection of taxes etc. The collection of government revenues also gets adversely affected resulting in low emoluments to the public officials. Such an atmosphere breeds corruption by the public officials to increase their income.

Exogenous, Endogenous and Equi-genetic Changes in societies

After considering the main features of prismatic societies we now turn our attention to studying the process of change in societies. If change is caused primarily by external pressures like technical assistance programmes the change is called “exogenous", on the other hand the change emanating due to internal processes is called “endogenous" change. “Equi-genetic” changer results when both external and internal pressures for change act in equal measure. In prismatic societies both exogenous and endogenous changes take place however if the process of diffraction is more exogenetic then the prismatic phase has more formalism, heterogeneity and overlapping. Such societies are called “exo-prismatic” societies. In “endo-prismatic” societies the prismatic phase is more endogenetic and the “effective” behavior precedes the formation of new institutions while in exo-prismatic societies first the formal institutions are created and then it is expected that the behavior of social structures will change according to the newly prescribed norms. Latter is the case generally in developing countries which try to absorb the external pressures in minimum possible time but actually result in more formalism, heterogeneity and overlapping.

Criticisms of Riggsian Models

The Riggsian Prismatic - Sala Model was criticized on the following grounds:

  1. In Riggsian analysis the major focus is on the impact external environmental factors on the administrative sub-system and not the other way round. For any study to be called ecological, it has to study the “interactions” of the system with its environment i. e. the effect of external environment on the system and system’s effect on the environment. Riggs has considered the impact of external socio-cultural, economic and political factors on sala but he has not much considered the impact of sala on socio-cultural and economic factors though the effect on political environment has been considered to some extent. As in prismatic societies the administrative sub­systems are relatively autonomous capable of directing socio-economic change, the effect of such autonomy on socio-cultural dimensions also needs to be studied.

  2. The main aim of Riggsian models seems to be the study of external environmental settings and not the administrative sub-system per se. The prismatic model gives a vivid picture of social system in a transitional society but not that of the components & details of administrative sub-system. The input side i. e. the environmental factors affecting the administration have occupied much space in Riggsian models rather than the output side of administrative sub-systems i. e. analysis of work output efficiency of different administrative sub-systems in different contextual settings various organs of administration etc.

  3. Riggsian models do not look into possibility of relative independence of various “social structures”. It may be possible that a transitional society has ‘prismatic’ socio-cultural sub-systems while quite ‘diffracted’ bureaucratic sub-system. Such is the case in countries like India and Malaysia. Thus prismatic society can not be considered to have all the components as prismatic, there may be cases when some social structures in such society are relatively diffracted in comparison to other. So there is a need to consider different “mixed categories" in prismatic model.

  4. It can not be generalized, as has been done in Riggsian models, that formalism always enhances the “power” of the bureaucrats or that power of administrators is indirectly proportional to the administrative effectiveness. Much depends on the way the terms like “power” are defined.

  5. Inter-relationships among several structural conditions should have been taken into account by Riggs to make his study more effective. R. S. Milne has talked of certain structural characteristics which have led to the emergence of other structural features e. g. according to him under two conditions bureaucrats may not become powerful. First, if there is a culture of civil service neutrality and second, if the politicians could be sufficiently powerful so that they control the bureaucrats. In India both these conditions exist to some degree, in Pakistan the first one is there but not the second while in Philipines the second one exists not the first one. So different analytical categories need to be made out of the “uniform” prismatic model to take into account the structural variations in different countries and to avoid the general statements regarding the transitional societies.

  6. Overlapping is not necessarily dysfunctional and sometimes it brings along with it “new ideas and interesting change”. In fact countries like United States sometimes set up two or more competitive agencies whose areas of function will overlap and will result in some wastage but will also bring out some new innovations. Michael Crozier supports this view. John Montgomery says that one of effective ways of administrative reforms is to duplicate functions, to start competition with old bureaucracy or to bypass it altogether. Thus overlapping per se does not always mean dysfunctionality and wastage of resources and Riggs should have considered this aspect to increase the heuristic purpose of his study.

Prismatic Model - Truly “Negative” or Negative from Western Bias

The social behavior in a prismatic society has been assumed to be negative in itself by Riggs. He has used terms like ‘normlessness’, 'ritualism’, 'mimetic', 'myths' and double talk’ etc. to show the functioning of the prismatic societies. Obviously the use of such terms shows that the basic character of prismatic societies has been assumed to be negative. This shows that Riggs sees everything associated with prismatic society as a dyfunctionality. While in a diffracted society the aberrations have been explained with much more sophisticated terms like ‘market imperfections’ and 'frictions'.

Riggs Theory seems to have put the United States society and its society as a standard model and lack of development in developing countries has been taken as dysfunctional. He chose only those actions in a prismatic society which appear to violate the standards of economy, efficiency and morality of the West while the bad economics, inefficiency and immorality of the West have not been mentioned. His model sees only negative aspects of political, economic, social and administrative sub-systems in developing societies. Monroe points out American social structures can not be taken as standard diffracted society and they have a number of prismatic characteristics e. g. in civil rights matter the true spirit of American constitution is violated, corruption in highly placed offices, regulatory agencies often indulge in discriminatory behavior, tax loopholes etc. This means that Riggs has underestimated the prismatic traits of even relatively diffracted societies and as a result has discussed the behavior of social structures in diffracted societies only on the basis of officially prescribed behavior. If analytical categories of “effective” behavior in relatively diffracted societies are created and then compared with the prismatic model then the negative character of prismatic societies would not be as much negative. So, to see the true characteristics of prismatic societies and their sub-systems the academic analysis has to be freed from the Western bias.

Formalism - Context decides the “functionality”

According to Riggs, formalism refers to the degree to which incongruence exists between the formally prescribed and the effectively practiced. Riggs has considered this feature of prismatic societies as dysfunctional to the achievement of public policy goals of the prismatic societies as it leads to official corruption, arbitrariness, inefficiency etc. However for judging whether a structure is eufunctional or dysfunctional, it has to be seen in the ecological context. This important aspect has been neglected by Riggs. Riggs has equated formalism with “negative development”. However it has been the experience of development practitioners that strict adherence to the rules and regulations i. e realism showed by the bureaucrats can prove to be a hindrance for the development. Even in an atmosphere where little respect is there for the formally prescribed rules and regulations, formalism can be exploited to further the objectives of the government by freeing the government of red tapism and making the bureaucratic process faster. Valsan has propounded the concept of “positive formalism” to bring into highlight the positive development ushered in by such formalism. Interestingly R. S. Milne has gone to the extent of recommending training the civil servants in positive formalism as far as practicable. All this discussion highlights the fact that the “functionality” of formalism is decided by the context in which it is being used. It may be dysfunctional if used in the context of “classic” Weberian type of bureaucracies e. g. existing in France, Germany etc. but could be “eufunctional” and “developmental” if practiced to a practicable limit in developing countries like India.


The bureaucratic approach and the ecological approach to study the comparative public administration differ in regard to the number of ecological elements incorporated in them. In Weberian scheme of things the administrative sub-system was considered with reference to the nature of the socio-cultural norms of authority system while the impact of economic environment was only sketchy but in Riggsian models the socio-cultural and economic aspects of the administrative ecology are discussed in much more wider context. As far as interaction between political and administrative systems are considered both the scholars have given ample attention to it. Both Weber and Riggs have chosen nations at a particular stage of their socio-economic development as the subjects of their study. Weber studied “bureaucracy” of West while Riggs was mainly interested in studying the problems of administrative sub-systems “sala” of developing countries in transition. The administrative patterns of fused or diffracted societies were not his prime consideration. Both Weber and Riggs lack in their “comparative” studies to explain “development” in various sub-systems particularly administrative sub-system. Weber’s assumption of unilateral development towards “bureaucratization” can not help solve present day problems while Riggs contribution to development administration has been outside his ecological models.

Riggs’ contribution to the study of comparative public administration has been phenomenal. As Ferrel Heady has mentioned “mere acquaintance with all his writings on comparative theory is in itself not an insignificant accomplishment”. The ideal type models of Riggs have influenced much research in comparative public administration.

They are designed to suggest certain relationships among the different variables they incorporate. The rigour of scientific theory should not be expected in these frameworks. Ecological models help only qualitative comparisons among various societies. Their utility is limited as they use impressionist categories like more or less prismatic or the problems faced while measuring diffraction. In spite of these and other operational problems, the ecological model has brought consciousness of interaction between administrative system and the social environment around it.

Source : Administrative Theory by Pardeep Sahni ,ETAKULA VAYUNANDAN


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