The growth of public administration has many facets. As a discipline, the term public administration has emerged in the late 19th and beginning of the 20th century. American President Woodrow Wilson contributed very much to the subject of Public Administration, he is also known as the father of public administration. As a discipline public administration has passed through several phases of development.

According to Robert T. Golembiewski, public administration has developed as an academic field through a succession of five overlapping paradigms.

As observed by Golembiewski the paradigm of public administration may be characterized and understood in terms of their locus and focus (Golembiewski 1977: 23) 

Locus is the institutional ‘Where’ of the field. Focus is the specialized ‘What’ of the field.

Paradigm 1: The Politics Administration Dichotomy, 1900-1926

Paradigm 2: The Principles of Administration, 1927-1937

Paradigm 3: Public Administration and Political Science, 1950-1970

Paradigm 4: Public Administration as Management, 1956-1970

Paradigm 5: Public Administration as Public Administration

For our convenience, we can broadly divide the evolution and growth of public Administration into the following six stages:

PERIOD I (1887-1926) Politics–Administration Dichotomy
PERIOD II (1927-1937) Golden Era of Principles
PERIOD III (1938-1947) Period of Challenge
PERIOD IV (1948-1970) Phase of Identity Crisis
PERIOD V (1971-1980) Public Administration as Public Administration
PERIOD VI (1980 onwards) Reinventing Public Administration in Market Era

Let us understand in broad about each of the periods in the evolution of public administration.


The discipline of public administration was born in the USA. The credit for initiating an academic study of public administration goes to Woodrow Wilson. He is regarded as the father of the discipline of public administration. In his article entitled “The Study of Administration” published in the Political Science Quarterly in 1887. He emphasized the need for studying public administration as a discipline apart from politics. This is known as the “principle of politics – administration dichotomy”, i.e., a separation of politics and administration.

Since the dichotomy between politics and administration was first noted by Wilson, the cleavage acquired the name after him – ‘The Wilsonian Dichotomy’. Wilson argued that politics is concerned with policy-making while the administration is concerned with the implementation of policy decisions.

Wilson hence writes, “that administration lies outside the proper sphere of politics. Administrative questions are not political questions. Although politics sets the task for administration, it should not be suffered to manipulate its offices.”

Wilson believed that administration is a science. Thus, he said that “the science of administration is the latest fruit of that study of the science of politics which begun some 2200 years ago. It is the birth of our country, almost of our own generation. We are having now, what we never had before, a science of administration.” He called for a separate study of public administration. His basic argument was that “it is getting to be harder to run a constitution than it is to frame one.” (Waldo 1953: 67) 

Hence, there should be a science of administration.

Another notable event of the period was the publication of Goodnow’s Politics and Administration in 1900 which endorsed the Wilsonian theme further by conceptually distinguishing the two functions.

According to Frank J. Goodnow, politics “has to do with the execution of these policies.” (Goodnow 1914:22) 

In short, Goodnow posited the politics-administration dichotomy and he developed the Wilsonian theme further with greater courage and conviction.

At the beginning of the 20th century, American universities showed much interest in the public service movement. As a result, public administration received the first serious attention of scholars.

The American Political Association in its 1914 report stated that one of the concerns of political science was to train specialists for governmental positions.

In 1926, Leonard D. White wrote, Introduction to the Study of Public Administration, which was recognized as the first textbook on the subject. This book, while advocating a politics-administration dichotomy, stressed the human side of administration dealing comprehensively with the administration in government.


the second stage of evolution is marked by the tendency to evolve a value-free science of management. The central belief of this period was that there are certain ‘principles’ of administration and which is the task of scholars to discover and applied to increase the efficiency and economy of public administration.

This stage began with the publication of Willoughby’s Principles of Public Administration in 1927. He asserted that “in administration, there are certain fundamental principles of general application analogous to characterizing any science.” His main thesis is to apply the techniques of science to the solution of problems of organizing and administering with economy and efficiency.

Henry Fayol defined administration in terms of five concepts; Viz., Planning, Organising Command, Co-ordination, and Control.

Scientific management of the business of administration became a slogan. Administrative practitioners and business schools join hands to a mechanistic aspect of management. They claim that public administration is a science. The great depression in America contributed a lot to the development. keeping efficiency and economy as two basic values which the administration should attain, Gullick and Urwick tried to develop universal principles to achieve organizational goals, they coined the acronym ‘POSDCORB’ to promote seven principles of administration.

The main publication during the period from 1927 to 1937 was Willoughby’s ‘Principle of Public Administration’, Mary Parker Follet’s ‘Creative Experience’, Henry Fayol’s ‘Industrial and General Management’ Mooney and Reiley’s ‘Principles of Organization’ and Gullick and Urwick’s ‘Papers on Science of Administration’.

This period is often considered as the golden years of ‘principles’ in the history of public administration. This was also a period when public administration commanded a high degree of respectability and its product was in great demand both in government and business.


The main theme during this period was the advocacy of the ‘Human Relationship Behavioural Approach’ to the study of public administration.

The most notable contribution, in this period, came from the famous Hawthrone experiments carried out by a group of scholars at Hawthrone Plant of the Western Electric Company. The experiments clearly demonstrated the limitations of the scientific approach and, the powerful influence of social and psychological factors on the worker’s output.

This approach to organizational analysis drew attention to the effect of informal organization in the formal set-up of the phenomena of leadership and influence, and the impact of conflict and cooperation among groups in the organizational environment.

Second World War again demonstrated more than any other event that general administrative principles derived from scientific analysis, had limited applicability in public administration.

Chester Barnard also, in his work – Functions of the Executive in 1953 and Organisation and Management – stressed the psychological and behavioral factors in organizational analysis.

In 1954, Peter Drucker published his ‘Practice of Management’ in which he emphasized long-range planning and human relations in industry and government.


The mid-1940s theorists challenged Wilson and Gulick. The politics-administration dichotomy remained the center of criticism. In the 1960s and 1970s, the government itself came under fire as ineffective, inefficient, and largely a wasted effort. There was a call by citizens for efficient administration to replace ineffective, wasteful bureaucracy. Public administration would have to distance himself from politics to answer this call and remain effective.

Concurrently, after the Second World War, the whole concept of public administration expanded to include policy-making and analysis, thus the study of ‘administrative policymaking and analyses was introduced and enhanced into the government decision-making bodies. Later on, the human factor became a predominant concern and emphasis in the study of public administration. This period witnessed the development and inclusion of other social science knowledge, predominantly, psychology, anthropology, and sociology, into the study of public administration.

This shift was brought in by two significant publications – Simon’s ‘Administrative Behaviour’ and Robert Dahl’s essay entitled, ‘The Science of Public Administration: Three Problems”. Simon‘s approach rejected both the classical “principles” of administration and the “politics-administration dichotomy” in administrative thought and practice tried to widen the scope of the subject by relating it to psychology, sociology, economics, and political science. He advocated the behavioral approach to public administration to make it more scientific discipline. He focused upon decision-making as the alternative to the principles approach. He thus rejected the idea of politics-administration dichotomy and suggested and empirical approach to the study of public administration.

It is appropriate to quote Mohit Bhattacharya here. He writes,

he brought in the perspective of logical positivism in the study of policy-making and the relation of means and ends. Reflecting the perspective and methodology of behaviouralism in psychology and social psychology, Administrative Behaviour pleaded for raising of scientific vigor in public administration.

Robert Dahl also criticized principles of administration and observed, “We are a long way from a science of public administration. No science of public administration is possible unless: (a) the place of normative values is made clear; (b) the nature of man in the area of public administration is better understood and his conduct is more predictable, and there is a body of comparative studies from which it may be possible to discover principles and generalities that transcend national boundaries and peculiar historical experiences”

He believed that administrative behavior cannot be studied properly in isolation. Rather same has to be studied keeping into consideration environmental factors. Hence, he suggested the cross-cultural studies or comparative studies. In his words, “the comparative aspects of public administration have largely been ignored; and as long as the study of public administration is not comparative, claims for ‘science of public administration’ sound rather hollow. Conceivably there might be a science of American public administration and science of British public administration and science of French public administration; but can there be a ‘science of public administration in the sense of a body of generalized principles independent of their peculiar national setting?… The study of public administration inevitably must become a much more broadly based discipline, resting not on a narrowly defined knowledge of technique and processes, but rather extending to the varying historical, sociological, economic, and other conditioning factors.”

Fritz Morstein Marx with his book ‘The Elements of Public Administration’ (1946),
Paul H. Appleby ‘Policy and Administration’ (1952), F
Frank Marini ‘Towards a New Public Administration’ (1971), and others have also contributed positively in these endeavors.

In the 1960’s decade, two major developments took place in the history of public administration. These were:
1. Rise and Fall of Comparative Public Administration, and
2. Emergence of the concept of Development Administration.

The assertion of Robert Dahl has played a very important role in the development of the concept of comparative public administration. This conceptualization took a concrete shape in 1960 when the Comparative Administrative Group (CAG) was formed. Much of the development of this field depended upon the contributions made by Fred W. Riggs who chaired the CAG.

The concept of development administration also emerged as a sub-field of public administration in the 1950s and 1960s to carry out programs or projects to serve developmental objectives particularly to serve the needs of developing nations of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

However, by the late 1960s, loopholes in the methodology of development administration became evident and this model was criticized both by the radicals and conservatives.

In 1962 public administration was not included as a sub-field of Political Science in the report of the Committee on Political Science as a discipline of the American Political Science Association.

In 1967, public administration disappeared as an organizing category in the program of the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association. This had been a period of crisis for public administration. 

To quote Avasthi and Maheshwari,

This period has been one of crisis for public administration. The brave new world promised by the thinkers of the ‘principles’ era stood shattered and the future of the discipline appeared to be a little uncertain. Public administration was facing a crisis of identity…. public administration, naturally, was in search of an alternative and alternative was available in the form of administrative science.


In the late 1960s, a new movement started developing in American public administration that came to be known as ‘New Public Administration’. The scholars gathered at Minnowbrook under the patronage of Dwight Waldo to review the relevance of the study and practice of public administration in the current environment.

At this time two volumes: Frank Marini (ed.) Toward a New Public Administration, 1971 & Dwight Waldo (ed.) Public Administration in a Time of Turbulence, 1971 were produced to herald a new brand of public administration. The whole campaign of the young scholars focused on highlighting the lacunae of traditional public administration. The young scholars gathered there focused on the need of bringing in normative theory, social concern, human values, and other related social concerns in the study of public administration. The movement tried to integrate public administration with the basic concerns of political theory. In fact, this era called to end the politics-administration dichotomy and felt that both politics and administration are experimenting with the same problems from different perspectives.

By 1980 scholars like Ferrel Heady, Charles T. Goodsell, O.P Dwivedi, and others started the revival movement of comparative administration. This led to the widening of the scope of study of the subject.


The 1980s saw a marked shift in the history of public administration. A new environment has started developing in place of old paradigms of public administration. The publication of Reinventing Government in 1992 forced to reassess and redefine the functions of government in lines of ‘entrepreneurial government’.

Thus public administration that was reinvented in the form of New Public Administration in the early second half of the 20th century to achieve objectives of social justice, equality, relevance, and socio-economic progress was once again reassessed and reviewed in 1990 to incorporate features of New Public Management or we may say to establish ‘Entrepreneurial Government’ by focusing on efficiency, economy, and effectiveness. New Public Management (NPM) hinges on public choice theory and managerialism, a market economy, and private sector management.

Now Public Administration is advancing on two parallel ways. The First way continues to follow developments in the private sector and borrows from its ideas and methodologies that have been formed as a benchmark for improving the managerial and organizational tools in public systems.

The second way tries to preserve and strengthen social, civilian, and human aspects to give special concern to the welfare notion of the system of administration.


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