The Comparative Evolution of Public Administration in Australia, Brazil, and Canada

Article excerpt

Over the past century or so university, especially graduate, education in public administration has been seen as an antidote to inefficient, unaccountable government. More broadly, Leonard White noted that "In every direction good administration seeks the elimination of waste, the conservation of material and energy, and the most rapid and complete achievement of public purposes consistent with economy and the welfare of workers." Gibbon similarly noted "the growing complexity of modern conditions and the increasing difficulty of modern problems make it imperative to attain still higher reaches of administrative ability." Hodgetts cited combating the spoils system as an imperative in the professionalization of the civil service. Similarly, Wahrlich argued that only through the development among public servants of a progressive mentality, based on professional competence, leadership, institutional loyalty and teamwork, could the public service carry out its highly important social mission. (1)

Responding to similar concerns, in the modern era Stillman notes that the beginning of "systematic effort" at public administration education dates at least from Napoleon's Ecole Polytechnique. Cunha dates North American university education in public administration from the establishment of the first schools of public administration at Syracuse University in 1924, and at Princeton and the University of Southern California in 1929/30. (2)

From the advent of public administration as a formal academic discipline those involved in or associated with the discipline have observed and commented on its development. Especially common topics have been questions of the proper location of the discipline, both intellectually in terms of the focus of teaching and research, (3) and physically in terms of where programs are to be housed. (4)

This paper is based on content analysis of articles in the Australian Journal of Public Administration (AJPA), Revista de Administracao Publica (RAP), and Canadian Public Administration (CPA), adopting methods used by existing us research, and so allowing for comparison with that national context. The focus is on differences in institutional context, disciplinary influences, research methods, and the focus of research. The article assesses whether the international public administration discipline better approximates an epistemic community, in which ideas and practices move seamlessly between the national contexts; (5) or a Tower of Babel, in which the different national contexts remain largely isolated. This reflection is especially relevant given the continued importance of globalization.

In contrast to the epistemic community model of a seamless interaction across borders, there is good reason to suspect that a Tower-of-Babel mentality exists in terms of the diffusion of ideas and practices. Barriers to the diffusion of ideas might take the form both of passive hurdles to transmission: language barriers, different contexts, ready access to journals; and more active ones: a reasoned view that some aspects of the national context are unique, and so not amenable to lessons from elsewhere; as well as a less defensible administrative nationalism. Within the countries studied in this research, Alberto Guerreiro Ramos probably made the case first and most strongly, if not for an administrative nationalism, then certainly for the "sociological reduction," or "critical assimilation of the foreign sociological patrimony." (6) Other Brazilian scholars have put the case for "a Brazilian organizational theory" more strongly. (7) Similarly in Australia, Holmes notes that prominent Australian public administrationist Francis Bland advocated study of "the peculiar characteristics of public administration in Australia" in the 1940s; while a similar desire motivated Hodgetts and Corbetts' seminal edited volume in the Canadian context. (8)


Table 1 presents the backgrounds of authors published in the three journals. …