Demons, Spirits, and Elephants: Reflections on the Failure of Public Administration Theory

Melvin J. Dubnick


For the past half-century, those defining the field of Public Administration in their role as its leading “theorists” have been preoccupied with defending the enterprise against the evils of value-neutral logical positivism. This polemical review of that period focuses on the Simon-Waldo debate that ultimately leads the field to adopt a “professional” identity rather than seek disciplinary status among the social sciences. A survey of recent works by the field’s intellectual leaders and “gatekeepers” demonstrates that the anti-positivist obsession continues, oblivious to significant developments in the social sciences. The paper ends with a call for Public Administrationists to engage in the political and paradigmatic upheavals required to shift the field toward a disciplinary stance.


Disciplinary Communities; Public Administration Theory; Simon-Waldo Debate

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