Don’t reinvent the wheel: the search for an identity for public administration

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For many years, public administration has suffered from an identity crisis. This article argues that public administration's identity actually exists in the form of abandoned and often neglected fragments of well-established knowledge. We advocate reassembling these fragments and arranging them using a logic that will crystallize an identity for public administration. Our approach is based on viewing public administration as a social science of results, not a profession relying on a generic viewpoint. We maintain that there is a trialectic system of relationships among three pillars of public administration: the political, the legal and the managerial. The interrelationships between these pillars generate configurations, temporary arrangements geared toward certain issues. At any given time, one pillar may be emphasized over the other two. Such variations should not be viewed as a crisis of identity. Rather, this article suggests a research agenda for examining the identity of the field through longitudinal historical studies in which configurations may be identified in order to determine the conditions and circumstances that led to the variations in emphasis among the pillars. The more knowledge that is accumulated, the better we will be able to develop a reasonable approach for public administration and free it from oft-repeated cries of identity crisis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)808-826
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Review of Administrative Sciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - 29 Dec 2014

Bibliographical note

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  • agenda for research
  • boundaries
  • configuration
  • flexible approach
  • pillars
  • trialectics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration


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