Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Evolution of Public Administration as a Discipline

We can look at the evolution and gradual shaping of the Public Administration Worldwide in 2 different forms - In practise and as a subject.

Public Administration in Practise -

Public Administration in practise is prevalent in our society from the day man started to live an organised community life. We all know that in ancient times man used to move from one place to another in search of food and shelter but after the advent of agricultural revolution which gave the ancient man the means of cultivating food and livelihood sustainably, man changed his way of living from nomadic to settled way of living. Soon this settled way of living changed itself into a community form of living as maximum persons were concentrated in the areas where there was abundance of resources and means of livelihood. The day this community way of living started, Public Administration was born in practise and it manifested itself through various forms in old times such as Barter System, Organised Living Shelters, Public Utility Assets such as wells, distribution of work according to specialisation etc.

Public Administration as a Subject -

If we talk about Public Administration as a discipline that is to be studied and analysed then Public Administration is a very new subject when compared to other traditional subjects like Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Geography etc.

The first foundation of Public Administration as a subject was laid down when a 26 page essay titled "The Study of Administration" authored by Woodrow Wilson who is also popularly known as the Father of Public Administration was published in the Political Science Quarterly Journal named "The Political" in 1887. This essay propounded the theory of Politics-Administration dichotomy which is also marked as the first stage of the evolution of Public Administration.

Public Administration was introduced formally as a subject of study in the course curriculum of Universities and Colleges in the middle of the 20th century.

Below is the break up of the evolution of Public Administration as a discipline right from its inception till today -

1. First Stage of Public Administration (1887 - 1926)

Politics Administration Dichotomy

2. Second Stage of Public Administration (1927 - 1937)

Principles of Administration - The Golden Age of Public Administration

3. Third Stage of Public Administration (1938 - 1947)

Start up of the Crises - Challenging Era of Administration

4. Fourth Stage of Public Administration (1948 - 1970)

The Age of Crises of Public Administration

5. Fifth Stage of Public Administration (1971 - 1990)

New Public Administration

6. Sixth Stage of Public Administration (1991 - 2000)

New Public Management

7. Seventh Stage of Public Administration (2001 till date)

The changing behaviour of Public Administration.

First Stage of Public Administration -

It revolved around the concept of Politics-Administration dichotomy. Politics-Administration dichotomy is nothing but the Wilsonian Principles that Woodrow Wilson propounded through his 26 page essay "The Study of Administration".

The doctrine of Politics Administration dichotomy clearly indicates that the framework of working of politicians and bureaucrats should be clearly demarcated and no one should interfere in the field of the other. Functions of the legislature and the executive should be properly defined. Primary function of the legislature would be to formulate programs and policies & the responsibility of executing these programs and policies would be vested in the executive.

Second Stage of Public Administration  - 

It was during this stage that the reputation of Public Administration grew significantly. Now Public Administration was a more reputed name and it was during this period that Public Administration was introduced in the course curriculum of various colleges and universities. Many important publications of renowned authors were released during this period which immensely enriched and diversified the discipline of Public Administration. Some of these renowned works are -

1. Principles of Organization by Mooney and Reiley (1939)
2. Papers on the Science of Administration by Gulick and Urwick (1937)
3. Onward Industry by Mooney and Reiley (1931)
4. Creative Experience by M.P. Follet (1924)
5. Industrial and General Management by Henri Fayol (1916)
6. Principles of Public Administration by W.F. Willoughby (1916)

During this stage more focus was put on the efficiency aspect. Due to this focus on efficiency aspect there were extensive efforts made in order to draw the lines for the evolution of a new discipline termed as Management.

Huge amount of contribution was done to the discipline of Public Administration from scholars of diverse fields such as Engineering, Industry and Organization.

Efforts were on in this stage in order to evolve a value free science of management. Value free means that in Public Administration least amount of concern was adopted for the public aspect of Public Administration and all attention was solely based on improving the efficiency.

Hence a mechanistic notion of administration was evolved which mainly focussed on improving the efficiency by giving performance incentives and other benefits to the workers in order to get more and more output.

Hence cumulatively on the basis of the above facts it can be summed up that the second stage of Public Administration was the Golden Period of it and it was during this period that subject of Public Administration was exposed to analysis through scientific rules and research was conducted on its various aspects in order to further enrich it.

But the flaw of the Second Stage of Public Administration came out when the Hawthorne studies were conducted from 1924 - 1932. These studies were conducted on various work groups and they deeply shook the basic fundamentals of the Scientific Management theory by demonstrating the powerful influence of social and psychological factors on the work situation. Hawthorne Studies proved that the impact of financial rewards and physical work conditions is very limited on the productivity and mental health of the worker. This flaw ultimately led to evolution of the third stage of Public Administration which is also famously known as Human Relations approach to management.

Third Stage of Public Administration - 

This stage was full of immense challenges for the discipline of Public Administration as during this period the very basic structures on which the foundation of Public Administration was laid were severely criticized during this period. They were Politics Administration dichotomy and scientific status of Public Administration. During this period many scholars iterated and proved the fact that politics can not be totally separated from administration because administration itself is very much political in nature.

It was also during this period that questions were put forward on the scientific status of Public Administration. Robert Dahl through his three principle theory of Science supported by Herbert Simon criticized the scientific status of Public Administration and dubbed them as "idioms, proverbs and phrases that come in couplets".

During this stage various questions were put forward asking whether Public Administration is Science or Art in which many prominent scholars said that Public Administration can not be Science. They said that it may be possible that Public Administration is Art but the status of Science can not be conferred upon the subject of Public Administration.

Fourth Stage of Public Administration - 

Third stage of Public Administration was the start of the age of the crises and the fourth stage of Public Administration was the suffering age of crises. The suffering was so high that most of the existing scholars of Public Administration reverted to the fold of either political science or administrative science. Due to the reverting back of scholars of Public Administration a vacuum was created which resulted in an identity crises for the discipline of Public Administration.

Fifth stage of Public Administration deals with New Public Administration. Sixth stage of Public Administration deals with New Public Management and Seventh stage of Public Administration deals with the changing behaviour of Public Administration. I will cover in my subsequent articles Politics Administration Dichotomy, New Public Administration, New Public Management and Changing Behaviour of Public Administration.


  1. This was a good article. It made me understand the topic very well.

  2. Thanks for the article, but am kind of confused well i thought that there was a stage that dealt with the way environment to a great extent affects the way public administration works....

  3. where can i find the continuation of this topic?
    reply asap!


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