Academic journal article Public Administration Review

Paradigms, Traditions, and Keeping the Faith

Academic journal article Public Administration Review

Paradigms, Traditions, and Keeping the Faith

Article excerpt

Professor Laurence Lynn's piece, "The Myth of the Bureaucratic Paradigm," embodies that most valued but seldom found service, the friendly critic. One of the original scholars to launch the public management movement within policy schools, Lynn is an experienced administrator as well as a distinguished scholar. This article will extend an ongoing project to understand the fields that educate for public service. Lynn's work pays particular attention to the development and antipathy between the quarrelling siblings public administration and public management (Lynn 1996). This piece will extend his ongoing effort to bridge the exaggerated and somewhat self-serving gaps created between the fields of public management and public administration.(1)

This contribution reminds public management and public administration of the range, depth, and suppleness of traditional public administration while castigating the too easy and intellectually dishonest critique of public administration by stalwarts of the New Public Management and public management. The purpose is to remind both schools that they are deeply related to a common constitutional project that transcends both their beginnings and quarrels. In this limited response, I offer a few preliminary insights to extend the logic of his project. My main point is that the focus on the word "paradigm" by New Public Management and many public administration scholars reveals a flawed intellectual and normative approach to the problem of governance. I suggest that thinking about the issues as involving schools of thought within a tradition helps to frame the controversies better.


The choice of the word "paradigm" by Barzelay and others involved in the New Public Management movement and focused upon by Lynn has profound implications for the way in which the discussion proceeds (Barzelay and Armajani 1992, 3-33). Thomas Kuhn coined the word and gave it intellectual currency in his superb The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1970), in which he argued that change in science occurs by replacing one major research paradigm with another. For Kuhn, a paradigm is both an intellectual and a sociological construct. It provides a framework of basic assumptions about the nature of knowledge, rules of evidence and inference, and maps and directions for what constitutes important and vital problems. The paradigm performs a normative function in identifying the worth of proposed projects and the criteria by which they are evaluated. A paradigm arises from exemplary achievements, usually experimental or theoretical successes, that provide "apparently permanent solutions to an outstanding set of problems" (44). The achievements provide analogical strategies for approaching whole families of problems and reinterpreting them.

A strong paradigm focuses researchers on critical issues, building an edifice of knowledge with an internal coherence. This becomes "normal science." Textbooks enshrine the paradigm that is handed on through practice and training; it becomes a worldview that gives meaning, order, and significance to facts and directs action, while determining what constitutes worthy knowledge and projects. When established, it becomes almost taken for granted--Karl Polyani called it "tacit knowledge"--and it enables a community of practitioners and scholars to work together on shared projects. It forges a complex web of knowledge, problems, procedures, and community (Kuhn 1970, 19-25, 42-4, 180-6; Polanyi 1962, 49-63, 95-100, 200-11).(2)

The controversial linchpin of Kuhn's work is his explanation of how knowledge in science grows. Normal science proceeds by accumulating insight and knowledge, but it inevitably generates anomalies or problems that cannot be resolved within the assumptions, inferences, and evidentiary claims of the paradigm. These conundra accumulate and vex the paradigm, leading to controversy over how to solve them. If anomalies accumulate or new evidence emerges about problems the paradigm cannot account for, a crisis can occur in which alternative explanations emerge. …

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