n Journal of Public Administration - The paradigms of public administration re-examined : a reflection

Volume 47, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0036-0767



Public administration scholarship of the 21st century has tended to focus more on recent paradigms of New Public Management (NPM) and its successor paradigm of governance while largely ignoring the strong foundation of century old paradigms of public administration. This approach, if persistently allowed in African universities, will create a serious knowledge deficit among the new crop of African scholars in the discipline of public administration. Where efforts have been made to consider the foundational paradigms of public administration through a historical trajectory, emphasis is again given to the evolution of public administration from American and European contexts, completely ignoring the indigenous African systems of administration. Yet, pre-colonial Africa had not only one but several systems of administration and governance structures that ought to be known by African students and scholars of public administration. In this author's view, our effort to re-examine the paradigms of public administration is an urgent one and as African scholars, we must equally reclaim the African traditional systems of administration in our scholarship. This article examines the paradigms of public administration and explores some of the indigenous systems of administration that need to be advocated for in the teaching of public administration. The purpose of the article is to reflect on how public administration as a field of study has shaped up, thereby enabling young scholars to appreciate the epistemological contexts of the discipline but also to re-examine how modern administrative challenges could be addressed by revisiting the old principles and practices which occupied the minds of the earliest scholars. Of course not all such principles and practices could be applied in addressing the current challenges. From the deflation of the politics-administrative dichotomy by Simon in 1946 and the puncturing of the science of administration by Dahl in 1947, the discipline of public administration has suffered a lack of a unified theoretical framework. The NPM at least tried to bring back this uniformity but this was short-lived and many scholars soon had to declare its death during the 1990s. The article first explores indigenous systems of administration and then re-examines the paradigms of public administration from the politics-administrative dichotomy (1887-1926), through the principles of administration (1927-1937), the era of challenge (1938-1947), the identity crisis (1948-1970), from public administration to public management (1970 to early 1990), from public management to governance (1990-2008) and to the new public governance debate (2010 to date).

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