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


  • Melvin J. Dubnick University of New Hampshire



Disciplinary Communities, Public Administration Theory, Simon-Waldo Debate


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.

Author Biography

  • Melvin J. Dubnick, University of New Hampshire
    Melvin J. Dubnick is a professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire. He is the author of numerous works on government accountability, administrative ethics, government regulation, and civic education as well as the co-author of textbooks on American government, public administration, and policy analysis. Elected as a Fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration in 2010, he has served as managing editor of PublicAdministration Review (1990-1996), co-editor-in-chief of the Policy Studies Journal (1985-1990), and is currently co-editor-in-chief of the Encyclopedia of Public Administration and Public Policy.    






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