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“Large Forces” presentation at NECoPA

NECopaI presented my Large Forces monograph at the Northeast Conference on Public Administration on November 2.  The Powerpoint version of the presentation is here.  I’ll be revising the manuscript before I discuss it again at the Southern Political Science Association’s meeting in New Orleans in January.  Here are key items to be addressed in the revision, following the very helpful conversation at NECoPA:

  • Clarify the claim about what is needed: research on administrative development (changes in the scope and techniques of administration over time) that relies significantly on large forces as explanatory variables.
  • Explain how existing research fits into a “large forces” framework.  For example, there is considerable research on the impact of IT on public administration.  (And there were many papers on this theme at NECoPA.)    Isn’t this the sort of thing I’m advocating for?  In a sense, yes — but perhaps we don’t recognize this as a specific instance of a broader phenomenon, which is administrative response to technological change.  When we think about it this way, we might ask — does this response have commonalities with other instances of technological change?  And if we proceed from the broader category — are there other technological changes that we are currently overlooking?  I also suspect that the IT&PA literature is focused predominantly on questions of administrative technique, to the neglect of questions about scope of administrative responsibilities.
  • I will expand on the claim that taking this approach will help us to build connections with scholars in public administration in developing countries.  Broadly, the argument is that when we focus on the operation of large forces –such as  transborder and internal migration, international rivalries, economic transformations and crises, perhaps “democratic surges” — we will  find more common ground than we realized previously.
  • As space permits, I’ll sketch what a “large forces” research agenda might look like: what questions might be explored, and what methods might be used.
  • I may also introduce some other current definitions of the field to bolster the position that the “received wisdom” leans toward a narrow conception of the boundaries of scholarship.  The proposition is that research that was once regarded as core to the field (that, research using large forces reasoning) is now regarded as peripheral to the field.
  • I’ll also elaborate on my observations about Jane Mansbridge’s recent statement that “political science is the only discipline devoted to learning how to make democracies work better.”  The pioneers of public administration didn’t think so: Read FDR’s statement about the work of his Committee on Administrative Management.
  • And there will be other adjustments to improve and clarify the text.  (For example, my point in describing coverage of the field in the New York Times in 1950 was not clear.)  If you have suggestions, email me.

As it turns out, a considerable part of the panel discussion at NECoPA was about textbooks in PA, and what they should contain. I’m not sure that I am arguing for the proposition that introductory texts should spend a large amount time on this sort of analysis — although I would argue that, to the extent that they provide a “historical overview” of the field, they might follow this model.

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