Public Administration as a Field of Study: Divergence or Convergence in the Light of 'Europeanization'?

By Randma-Liiv, Tiina; Connaughton, Bernadette | Trames, December 2005 | Go to article overview

Public Administration as a Field of Study: Divergence or Convergence in the Light of 'Europeanization'?


Randma-Liiv, Tiina, Connaughton, Bernadette, Trames


1. Introduction

Although acknowledgement of Public Administration as a field of study acquired attention in the work of Christian Wolff already during the 1730s, it was Woodrow Wilson's essay "The Study of Administration" (1887) that consolidated the subject in the center of scholarly interest. Mosher (1982:27) doubts that there is any element in an evolving administrative culture more significant for the nature of the public service than the education system, both formal and informal, by which are transmitted public service ethos, frames of reference, and knowledge. Therefore, the nature and quality of the public service heavily depends upon the nature and quality of the system of education. While education determines, augments, and limits the potential of public administration; public policy to a great extent determines, augments, and limits the potential of education. The education system has to respond to the demands of public administration while shaping the nature of that administration. Therefore, the drive towards Europeanization of public administration as a profession should be reflected in academic programs and more generally, how the study of Public Administration is identified in various national contexts. In addition, the creation of new Public Administration programs in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) could give the discipline a further impetus to develop its own identity and approach. These developments have created a momentum for the design of academic programs of a European character, which could eventually lead to the promotion of a specific strand of public administration teaching and research, based on European realities, and thus contributing to the development of a common European Administrative Space.

However, it is difficult, if at all possible, to speak of a unified 'model' of the study of Public Administration. In regard to the existence of a well-developed European concept of public administration, it is still primarily a national undertaking and also conceptualized as such (Rutgers, Schreurs 2000:621). Public Administration programs tend to be generally inward looking, concentrating on local, regional and national administrative systems (Toonen, Verheijen 1999). Authors of the subject agree (e.g. Raadschelders, Rutgers 1999:32) that there is no European study of Public Administration, as there is only a multitude of national studies of Public Administration due to the varying historical and cultural developments of individual countries and the historically rooted differences in the concept of state.

The aim of this discussion is to analyze the dilemma between divergence and convergence of the study of Public Administration in the light of Europeanization. For that, different state traditions within Europe are discussed leading to various identities of the study of Public Administration and different approaches to its disciplinary, multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary character. Although elements of the study of Public Administration are also taught in such pan-European settings as Colleges of Europe in Brugge and Natolin, Poland, and the European University Institute in Florence, this paper focuses on the national programs and developments in Public Administration. While a limited number of previous studies on the state of the discipline of Public Administration have addressed American and Western European approaches, this paper contributes to the field by adding a focus on the development of Public Administration in Central and Eastern Europe.

2. Different concepts of Public Administration

Despite Christian Wolff's recognition of the study of 'state art' at the beginning of the 18th century and the development of elements of modern Public Administration programs by Cameralists during the same period, Public Administration is still generally perceived to be a young discipline. It has been noted that "in Western Europe, the 'resurrection' of administrative sciences dates mainly from the post-war expansion of the welfare states, and hence, it is a relatively young field of science" (Kickert, Stillman 1999:5).

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