Public Administration in a Global Context: Bridging the Gaps of Theory and Practice between Western and Non-Western Nations

By Welch, Eric; Wong, Wilson | Public Administration Review, January-February 1998 | Go to article overview

Public Administration in a Global Context: Bridging the Gaps of Theory and Practice between Western and Non-Western Nations


Welch, Eric, Wong, Wilson, Public Administration Review


Public bureaucracies operate increasingly in a global environment that requires greater communication and cooperation among nations. This globalization of public administration has highlighted the parochial nature of much of the literature, which was written to apply to one nation or to a small group of similar countries. When literature that was designed for the West or for Europe is applied to non-Western nations, it rarely fits well, exaggerating the tension between theory and practice.

At the same time that globalization underscores the poor fit between theory and practice, global pressures provide an opportunity to conduct comparative research that is meaningful and useful for managers in all nations regardless of economic, political, and social considerations. Such work can help bridge the gap between Western and non-Western perspectives. This article provides a framework that will facilitate such research.

The article first identifies the gaps as problems for public administration theory and practice using supporting literature from both Asian and Western theorists and practitioners. It then explores a sample of the literature that describes broader concepts of the modern global environment as well as the theoretical importance of organizational environments for bureaucracies. Subsequent sections concentrate on solutions--the development of a theoretical perspective that incorporates specific global pressures, and the statement of hypotheses that explore the impact of these pressures on the structure and activity of public organizations. Finally, the article discusses the implications of the framework for future research and practice.

The Dual Gap

Disenchantment and even amazement over the parochial nature of American public administration is well expressed in the public administration literature. American public administration is not considered to be either informed by international theoretical perspectives or very adaptable to other national contexts.

For example, Hood (1989, 348) writes: "Today (Americans perhaps excepted), public administration scholars live in what is much more of a `global village' conceptually, in that it would be hard to write an acceptable research degree thesis in the subject today which did not draw on an international literature for its conceptual framework. It is hard to see this trend going into reverse."

Another example of the ethnocentric and even greater Eurocentric nature of public administration is given in Table 1. A survey of five journals in the field of public administration was conducted to determine the prominence of comparative and Asian themes. The three categories identified for each year studied were (1) number of articles on comparative public administration theory, (2) number of articles on Asian national study, and (3) the number of articles on comparative public administration that incorporate Asia as either a case study or the focus of the analysis.(1) Results indicate only five articles on comparative public administration and 46 articles in which Asian nations were subjects of description (40 of those were in the International Journal of Public Administration and the Asian Journal of Public Administration) across all three years. Only one article sought to build theory through comparison of Asian and non-Asian nations.

Table 1 Numbers of Articles on Comparative, Asia, and Comparative with an Asian Country in Analysis in Five Public Administration Journals

                                            1995
                                  CPA    Asia   CPA & Asia

Administration and Society        0      0         0
Public Administration Review      0      4         0
Journal of Public Admin.
  Research & Theory               0      0         0
Asian Journal of Public
  Administration                  2      7         1
International Journal of Public
  Administration                  0(*)   1(*)      0(*)

                                            1994
                                  CPA    Asia   CPA & Asia

Administration and Society        1      0         0
Public Administration Review      0      0         0
Journal of Public Admin. … 

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