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Paradigm Shift in Public Administration

By Lawa | Political science | 24 Feb 2023

A paradigm shift means a change in the underlying assumptions with time. As we progress, expanding our dimensions of knowledge and making an effort towards an effective system, changes become inevitable. Thus, a shift in our positions is a spontaneous process along with the development process. With this changing scenario, various concepts emerge bringing new ideas, views, and insights to the topic.  As Plato argues that everything present is one of the forms of their ultimate form. Therefore, if there evolve disciplines with time, there always occurs a paradigm shift towards their ideal form.

Public administration is derived from the Latin language where public = publicus means,"relating to the people" and administrare means "to serve, manage or control", the etymological meaning becomes to serve the people's affairs. whatever the system a state follows? Whether it is capitalistic or democratic the state's goal is always people-centric.  The state performs on the behalf of the people's welfare. Hence, In simple words, public administration encompasses all the activities performed by the state to achieve people's interest by formulating public policies and implementing them. 

Working with any subject, there always appear two types of prospective. One is the narrative while the other is normative. As a Narrative, we discuss the activity dimension of public administration and normative we go with the intellectual discipline.  


Activity:  It is as old as social life.  Administration as an activity in history can be traced from the womb of civilizations: the earliest Egyptian civilization to the modern day's concept of state-nation.

The centralized bureaucratic administration developed by  Egypt and the civil services recruitment initiated in China based on a merit-based system i.e. competitive examination tried to frame the administration to the mainstream. 

  • People's satisfaction towards the state or monarchy depends upon the operation of the kingdom, thus in ancient times older countries like India, Egypt, city of Greece adopted a well-developed administration.
  • In medieval on the rise of the feudal system, the main feature of the feudal system was the decentralized anarchic administration system. 
  • This type of administration was continued by the national monarchies of France, Italy and Russia. With time these states adopted the expansionist concept paving avenues towards the establishment of ministries and departments.
  • After the American war of independence and the France revolution, the concept of Democracy was widespread: from Europe to all over the world.  With the assimilation of the values and norms of Democracy, The administration expanded its wings of scope. The prime focus of administration changed to the People's welfare, people-oriented, and People-centric.
  • With the industrial revolution, the administration adopted a new method, "resolution of issues".. Before the activities of the administration was constrained to the supply side or obeying the command. This adoption made the work of administration more complex.
  • The upheavals of world wars brought a new issue of reconstruction and rehabilitation, for this the role of administration was imperative in solving it.
  • And the timely seen economic crisis like depression and inflation required necessitated remedial measures to be adopted by the administration. 

All these developments integrated administration into society and increased the dimension of its activity. The world war brought new concepts like international organizations and regional organizations leading the way of administration from domestic operations to the international diaspora, in its character. This was further promoted by the development of the means of transportation and communication.

The activity of administration is dependent on the vision of the state and the state's insights are the prevailing political ethos adopted by the state. every time when there occur changes in the political dimension of politics consequently, there occur changes in the administration. 

As an independent Discipline

The industrial revolution, there expanded the scope of the administration, thus the situation became so complex that now the administration required professionals and skills for smooth functioning. This gave a rise to professional civil servants and the need to systematize their skills and experience into administrative codes which paved the way towards the emergence of public administration as an independent discipline.

Phase 1:- The politics/administrative dichotomy (1887-1926)

Woodrow Wilson

  • As an independent and separate subject, credit goes to Wilson
  • "The study of Public Administration" (1887): emphasized the necessary scientific foundation for the public administration
  • Politics/administrative dichotomy, the distinction between political activity and administrative activity

Leonard D. White

  • "Introduction to the study of public administration" (1926)
  • Main thrust: Politics should  not intrude on the administration

Phase 2:- The principles of administration (1927-1937)

During this phase, scholars believed that public administration is a separate disciple with its own underlying principles. 

W. F. Willoughby

  • "principles of public administration" (1927)

Argued that public administration contains certain fundamental principles of general applications. His principles were based on the separation of power and clearly aimed to make the distinction between the roles and responsibilities of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of the government. the principles are-

  • Principle of separation of power
  • Principle of unity of command
  • Principle of the division of work
  • Principle of hierarchy, Principle of coordination
  • Principle of continuity
  • Principle of efficiency
  • Principle of accountability

Luther Gulick and Lyndall Urwick

  • "Papers on the science of public administration" (1937): POSDCORB:- planning, organizing, staffing, directing, coordinating, reporting and budgeting

F. W. Taylor

  • "Principles of scientific management" (1911)
  • emphasized the adaptation of scientific methods in public administration


Phase 3:- Criticism and Challenges (1837-1950)

The goals and objectives of public administration is concurrent with the political aspects. Not only this, public administration is also concerned with the formulation and implementation of public p[policy. This was the prime criticized point.

Chester I Barnard

  • "the functions of executive" (1938)
  • His challenge came in two forms: the rejection of the idea of political/administration dichotomy and principles of public administration lacking scientific validity

Herbert Simon

  • "Administrative behaviour: a study of  decision-making in administrative organization" (1947)
  • in his work, he showed that for every administrative principle, there was a counter-principle. Thus, rendering the whole idea of principle reducant. 
  • his focus is on the behavioural aspects i.e decision-making rather than the principles.

Robert A. Dahl

  • countered the claim of public administration as a science
  • "the science of administration: Three problems" (1947)
  • no science of administration is possible unless: (1) the place of normative values is made clear; (2) the nature of man in the area of public administration is better understood and his conduct is more predictable; and (3) there is a body of comparative studies which it may be possible to discover principles and generalities that transcend national boundaries and peculiar historical experiences

Coming to the mid of century, the two main ideas of public administration: political/administration dichotomy and the principles of administration were abandoned. due to this abandonment there created a crisis in identity.

Phase 4: Crisis of Identity

To address this crisis, scholars tried to link public administration with political science at first and then with management.

John Gaus

  • "Trends in the theory of public administration" (1950)
  • he tried to convenience that the theory of public administration Is also a theory of politics

During this phase, there were two types of developments:

1. Emerged popularity in the use of the case study method which was remarked as the response of public administration towards the behavioural revolutions going on in that time frame

2. Rise and fall of comparative administration 

Comparative administration is the study of how different countries and regions organize and manage public administration, How these systems are similar and in contrast to one another? these help to adopt positive aspects of one system and implement it in others and eradicate the negative aspects of own. This failed because of various reasons like lack of theoretical development, funding, overemphasizing and shift in priorities.

Some Scholars tried to search for alternatives: James G March and Herbert Simon's, "Organizations", Richards Cyert and March's,"A behavioural theory of the firm", March's,"Handbook of the organization", James G Thomson's," Organization in action", and the Journal," administration in science quarterly" gave a solid foundation to take public administration as Management as a paradigm in public administration.

As a management paradigm, public administration was provided focus:  techniques and institutional settings which required expertise and specialisation but the locus was missing which is for what these techniques and institutional settings must be used. 

Phase 5: Public Administration as an independent discipline

On the verge of existence, public administration tried to create itself as a interdisciplinary subject. For this three aspects was choosen.

  • Politics-administration union
  • Economics-administration confluence
  • Organization theory and administration intermixing 

Secondly, the emergence of New Public Administration, which emphasis on values rather than the traditional goals and objectives of efficiency and effectiveness.

These two concept, led public administration to rise as an independent discipline.

David Osborn and Ted Gaebler

  • "Reinventing Government" late 1980's
  • New Public Management (NPM) theory
  • emphasizes the use of private society style models, organizational ideas and values to improve the service. It is focused mainly to two theory: Public choice theory and Principle agent theory
  • focused to managerialism
  • this model is criticised that people are taken as economic units rather than democractic participants

In response to this, Janet and Robert Denthardt, proposed a new theory as New Public Service (NPS); focused to reinventing government responsibilities adopting the democratic norms and values and assimilation of digitalization explorance in governance.  

As we live in a integrated world of politics and economics, the later insights on the involvement of various actors in governance gives a new concept in public administration as New public Governence (NPG). It emphasis on the collaboration and participation of range of actors i.e. citizens, business, and non governmental organization.









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