Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

A Critique of Fred W. Riggs' Ecology of Public Administration

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

A Critique of Fred W. Riggs' Ecology of Public Administration

Article excerpt


Fred W. Riggs, as one of the leading scholars on public administration in contemporary America, is considered the authority with exceptional creativity and of great theory in the field of comparative study of public administration. From the very beginning, Riggs made a great effort in searching for an objective and effective model for analyzing public administration in developing regions. He is definitely an energetic pioneer in research methodology, as evident by the "Pan-disciplinary approach" he came up with in the book "Public Administration in Developing Countries" published in 1964. Among other, Riggs' most significant contribution was to create the administration model--the fused-prismatic-diffracted model. The model covers a wide range of research, for instance, economic life, social structures, political symbols, and the allocation of power are all part of the analysis of structural function. Moreover, the model can be applied in modern, traditional, developing and semi-developed economies. Riggs has consistently put a particular emphasis on the linkage between public administration and its environment, and therefore advocated the concept that the administrative behavior in a given society must be understood in the context of the social background instead of the administration itself. Given that the administrative culture is only a subculture of the general social system, public administration can only be understood from the aspects of the ecological background which creates such an administration.

Those are the essential points of his theory. There are some imperfections in the theory which require further attention yet, in the study of administration and organization, it is indeed extensive and significant in its impact.


F. Heady once praised Riggs for his "wide range of knowledge and the depth of his theoretical viewpoints; he is one of the most represented theorists in modern society" (Heady, 1979:11). Even though his "administration development" is at present unsatisfactory, without Riggs' efforts the field of public administration would still be barren. Currently, theories of comparative public administration cannot be practically used to study actual administrative behavior. Riggs' theory, however, opens up an entirely new field of study. In the following sections, the contributions that Riggs has made towards understanding public administration systems are presented.

Theoretical Framework

A polarized model is inadequate in depicting the characteristics that contribute to a developing country's administrative system. As a result, Riggs abandoned models that differentiated between agrarianism and industrialism. Rather, Riggs opted to create a more diverse, yet simplified model, namely, the "fused-prismatic-diffracted" model or what I have chosen to call a "prismatic" model.

The formulation of the prismatic model was primarily based upon the extent to which a social administrative system undergoes functional differentiation. The model is appropriate for studying three societal types: highly developed Western industrial societies and traditional agrarian societies, as well as developing societies. Each society has its own social, economic, politically symbolic, and communicative attributes, as well as its own political system and concepts of individual rights. Yet, these attributes as a whole eventually develop into different administrative systems. Riggs believed that the degree to which each component of a society differs from another in function is measurable, and that measures of functional differentiation can be used to locate the three societal types along a continuum. Simultaneously, Riggs believed that his theoretical model can be used to compare the fundamental structure of various societies. Through his model, one is therefore able to comprehend each country's administrative attributes and differences. …

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