Fiction and Imagination: How They Affect Public Administration

By McCurdy, Howard E. | Public Administration Review, November-December 1995 | Go to article overview

Fiction and Imagination: How They Affect Public Administration


McCurdy, Howard E., Public Administration Review


For more than 50 years, scholars and practitioners have examined the role that fiction plays in public administration. For the most part, attention has centered on the degree to which practitioners can learn something about administration by exposing themselves to works of fiction (Egger, 1944, 1959; Waldo, 1968; Kroll, 1965, 1981). Fiction has been used as a teaching device, like the case study, to illustrate principles and expand experience (Holzer, Morris, and Ludwin, 1979; Argyle and Bright, 1992; Hunker, 1992; Marini, 1992a, 1992b).

In this article, I suggest that fiction plays an additional role in public administration. I argue that fiction (and other works of imagination) affect what public managers do and how they do it. Fiction appears to shape the policies that public servants carry out and the way in which they conduct their duties. It probably influences the choice of administrative methods. It does this by entering the public consciousness or popular culture and becoming part of the cognitive base for making decisions about public policy and administration.

This expanded view of fiction complements broader efforts currently underway to examine ways in which managers imagine the world around them (Morgan, 1986; Kass and Catron, 1990; Hummel, 1991; Kramer, 1992). It is also part of the effort to understand the relationship between humanistic arts and public administration. The latter is being advanced by a new Section on Humanistic, Artistic, and Reflective Expression in the American Society for Public Administration; by the section's new journal Public Voices, and by a new book on the role of the arts by Charles Goodsell and Nancy Murray (1995).

Conventionally, fiction is a term that encompasses works of art portraying imaginary events and persons, as in novels, cinema, television drama, and the theater. I have broadened the subject matter to include additional works that seek to portray events or places in imaginative ways, especially those in the future. Television docu-dramas, various types of paintings, theme parks, and popular science thus join fiction in a broader class of media that affect administration through imagination.

In this article, I present three cases that illustrate the influence of fiction and imagination upon public administration. The debate over the best way to treat the mentally ill shows how fiction can influence the outcome of policy debates, especially those for which empirical evidence remains inconclusive. The creation of the U.S. space program shows why other works of imagination must be included along with the study of fiction. The case of the National Performance Review illustrates the way in which fiction affects the course of administrative reform. These cases are followed by some suggestions on the ways in which the study of fiction and imagination might improve the understanding of public administration.

Fiction and Mental Institutions

Fiction can influence the choice of public policies and the methods for carrying them out, especially in areas where experts cannot agree. This phenomenon is well illustrated by the history of the deinstitutionalization movement. During the 1960s, a great debate took place in the United States on the best way to organize public facilities for the mentally ill. It culminated in the effort to replace large state institutions with community-based mental health centers. The debate began within fairly narrow policy circles, among specialists who treated the mentally ill. The issues they raised could not be settled conclusively through scientific investigation, as is often the case with public policy. Works of fiction slipped into this intellectual vacuum, creating vivid images that lent support to the advocates of deinstitutionalization.

Sociologists and psychologists had begun the debate before the 1960s, with a small group of reformers suggesting that government incarceration of the mentally ill served to remove the powerless and odd from society. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Fiction and Imagination: How They Affect Public Administration
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.