EPPA Pillar: Disciplines

The ´EPPA Pillar: Disciplines´ aims to  discuss the links between the major disciplines that constitute the field of Public Administration. Key questions are how disciplines such as political sciences, management sciences, law, economics, ... are dialoguing, sharing, collaborating, (or not) with/within PA and how this could result in synergies to produce more relevant knowledge to understand the functioning of the field of public policies and administration.


EPPA: “The Many Disciplines of PA” (14–15 September 2017 in Potsdam)


The aim of the EPPA-seminar 'The many Disciplines of Public Administration' was to shed light on the relationship of different established social science disciplines to Public Administration, both as an academic field and as an object of teaching and research, in the light of recent developments, both in different disciplines and in the PA community. Starting from the more or less problematic linkages between the major disciplines that constitute the field of Public Administration key questions were how disciplines such as political science, management, law, economics and others, are dialoguing, sharing, collaborating (or not) with and within PA. Is it possible to achieve increasing and stronger synergies to produce relevant knowledge to understand the functioning of the field of public policies and administration? What can we learn and how can we cooperate across the established disciplinary boundaries, which seem to become ever more imperative and impregnable?

Again some very preliminary and simplified 'lessons learned', which again may be somewhat controversial:

  1. PA is not a (traditional) discipline and should not strive to become one. It is a research platform or research field, a community of interest combining and using different disciplines and methods. This is not a weakness or a deficiency, but a strength and asset of our field. There are few social science research fields which are as interdisciplinary as PA. Despite trends towards an ever stronger specialization and 'purification' of disciplines, interchanges and mutual learning between the many disciplines of PA have increased in recent years, and not declined. PA needs different and strong disciplines. But these overall findings are not true for all relevant disciplines.
  2. For example, PA and Political Science are brothers and sisters as well as opponents. The relationship is close, competitive and based on a certain division of labour, and generally in Europe PA is doing well in the same countries where political science is strong. But especially in the US the relationship between PA and PolSc is not friendly, to say the least, and it seems Europe is copying this. Here the more relaxed and productive European perspectives clearly need to be strengthened.
  3. Also the relationship between PA and Public Management is evolving. In many countries there is by now no distinction between PA and PM but in other parts of Europe public management is still treated as something different, dominated and usually placed in traditional faculties of economics or business. It is necessary to overcome these traditional blinkers. 
  4. The most problematic and challenging is the relationship between PA and Law, which in spite of a long common history in many European countries live a parallel life hardly talking to one another, like the proverbial 'ships passing at night'. Debates in many European countries about changes in administrative law are hardly connected to debates in administrative reforms and theories. PA and Law scholars and practitioners lead separate lives but in solving practical problems they cannot avoid talking to one another. Therefore the way forward could be to concentrate on practical problem solving in common research projects, the more applied the easier to work together interdisciplinary. This relationship needs to take into account the different context of ‘common law’ countries, and ‘administrative law’ countries.
  5. The relationship between PA and Public Policy Studies is the most ambivalent. Public administration and policy meet in all kinds of contexts, there is a strong agreement that you cannot do Public Policy without PA, there are all kinds of common handbooks etc., but at the same time there are silos between large conferences and journals. Generally it is not clear why Public Policy and PA are so often seen as two areas, because there are all kinds of common interests, scholars, theories and no obvious methodological differences.
  6. PA and Sociology, especially organizational and institutional theory is a rather recent re-established relationship, again in spite of a strong common heritage in bureaucratic theory and Max Weber. Also here the Institutional embeddedness at universities is crucial. Traditionally organizational theory and e.g. 'New Institutionalism' is located in Departments of Sociology, but at least in the US it has moved to Business and Management Schools. This is gradually also happening also in Europe and should be strengthened in PA programmes and research, i.e. the institutionalization of sociological thinking in organization and management research. However, in France, sociology always remained on the PA-radar.
  7. Finally, PA needs to be more aware of new developments, especially in ICT- technology, the Internet, clouds and all other developments associated with these upheavals. For the time being PA looks in many countries and programmes like a technology free-zone. There is a strong need to build technology and digital data-competences in PA departments: and there is an even stronger need to include tech-rich social science thinking in PA.
  8. The overall challenge is how to organize and institutionalize teaching and research in the future. The relationship between PA and its disciplines is until now mainly shaped due to different clustering mechanisms, i.e. clustering of interests and research problems vs. clustering via conferences, journals and associations. Especially journals shape and legitimate what we do not need to know. Journals create silos and make collaborative (interdisciplinary) research less likely. Therefore we need more and more visible centers of research and teaching where scholars from different disciplines can interact both in the development and implementation of common curricula and research projects.

see more EPPA: "The many Disciplines of PA"