Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Dotted Lines: Networks, Quantum Holism, and the Changing Nation State

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Dotted Lines: Networks, Quantum Holism, and the Changing Nation State

Article excerpt


Borders and the nation-state model are increasingly under stress. This article demonstrates how networks and network structures are currently holding the nation-state model together while some as-yet-unknown future model of collective action develops. Networks are particularly useful at helping to overcome three acute problems associated with the nation state: (1) the internal clash of interests, (2) system externalities, and (3) synergy dysfunction. In keeping with a quantum, holistic view of reality, borders are best viewed as dotted lines on our maps. Another way to state this argument is that networks and network structures may now be viewed as constructs to help societies maintain the belief that national borders are still meaningful although for numerous specific policies these borders mutated or even disappeared long ago.


We may distinguish certain things for the sake of convenience. The word 'distinguish' means 'to mark apart.' A distinction is merely a mark which is made for convenience; it doesn't mean that the thing is broken. It's like a dotted line, whereas when we represent something as divided it's a solid line. . . . it would be good to draw only a dotted line between countries as well - because actually it's a distinction, rather than a division of two different things which are independent. (Bohm, 1994: 72)

Networks and network structures (1) are holding the nation-state model together at a time when it is not yet certain what model of collective action will come next. The nation-state model for collective decision-making is under great stress because globalization and internationalization continue to accentuate how interconnected the world really is, as evidenced by the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center complex and the Pentagon. Few decisions made under the sovereign authority of one nation have limited impacts beyond the borders of that nation while numerous decisions made by subnational units of government (i.e, states, provinces, municipalities, tribes, and clans) and specific corporations have global implications. Laurence O'Toole (1997: 446-448) identifies policies that do not reach beyond the scope of a single agency as rare, and he indicates that international agreements are a growing part of the reason for this predicament.

While it remains unclear what model may follow the nation-state model, it is clear that networks and network structures are being established on a regular basis to, in effect, patch the holes in the nation-state model by increasing cross-border cooperation and collaboration. The success of these networks may be heavily dependent on their ability to solve problems that cross national borders while avoiding the appearance of impinging upon national sovereignty. Sovereignty is in fact a social construction, a myth if you will. Sovereignty is the solid lines we put on maps when, as David Bohm emphasizes in my opening quote, dotted lines would be more in sync with quantum reality and his concept of thought as a system. "We" make the lines solid and "we" have the power to think of them as dotted lines instead.

Being "at the cutting edge" and "pushing the limits" have undeniable appeal, yet most administrators are faced daily with boundaries and borders that they seldom seek to dislodge, expand, or supplant. Personal experience teaching organizational theory and behavior to practicing public administrators tells me that these students enjoy reading about Senge's learning organizations (1990), Gabriel and Schwartz's psychoanalytic theory to explain why people act as they do within organizations (1999), and Behn's view that public managers must be active leaders (1998). While hours of stimulating student interaction form around such topics, most of these studentadministrators do not believe they have the power to alter the basic structure and culture of their organizations. They frequently see a wide gap between such interesting ideas and their roles in creating the future of their agencies. …

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