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Public Administration Identity and Research Methods

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 1273 words Published: 23rd Sep 2019

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In “Envisioning Public Administration as a Scholarly Field in 2020: Rethinking Epistemic Traditions,” the author, Norma M. Riccucci, answers basic questions about what Public Administration is and is not. Additionally, she explains what readers may see in the future in reference to the identity and research methods of Public Administration.

 Riccucci first talks about the identity of Public Administration. She says that it is difficult to truly define what Public Administration is, because its identity has been questioned and redefined for so many years (2010, pg.  S304). Specifically, she states that one of the harder questions to answer about Public Administration is whether the discipline is a “science or art” (Riccucci, 2010, pg. S304). Our book, Research Methods in Public Administration and Nonprofit Management, explains that Public Administration was seen as a sub-science of political science for most of history (McNabb, 2002 pg. 36). By looking at the research methods in Public Administration, we can determine what Public Administration is and how it will look in the future.

In the article, Riccucci provides a table of approaches to public administration research.  The table defines six different terms by describing their philosophy of knowledge, gives examples, differentiates between the term being qualitative or quantitative, and different methods of execution. The terms include: interpretivism, rationalism, empiricism, positivism, postpositivism and postmodernism/ critical theory.

Interpretivism is “knowledge derived from interpretations via the mind” (Riccucci, 2010, pg. S305). Examples of interpretivism can include government documents where individuals interpret the text in order to determine the meaning (Riccucci, 2010, pg. S305). The perfect

example of this would be the United States’ Constitution. Many people interpret the United States’ Constitutional very differently and try to figure out the intent of some of the wordings in the Constitution by its framers. Interpretivism is qualitative and mainly uses “descriptive case studies” along with “content and narrative analysis” (Riccucci, 2010, pg. S305).

Rationalism uses reason to describe knowledge (Riccucci, 2010, pg. S305). Rationalist believe that knowledge is automatically acquired. Rationalism is qualitative and tends to use concept-based analyses in its methods.

Empiricism uses the senses of the human body to define knowledge (Riccucci, 2010, pg. S305). For example, a study on African-Americans in Public Administration used to display a specific behavior or trend. The recording technique for this approach can be qualitative, quantitative, or both and usually involves case studies (Riccucci, 2010, pg. S305). 

Positivism is “knowledge acquired through empirical testing and verification of hypotheses” (Riccucci, 2010, pg. S305). Examples of positivism include experimental studies that can be scientifically or mathematically verified (Riccucci, 2010, pg. S305). An example of a positivist approach would be experimenting if race or gender plays a part in candidate selection for jobs. This approach is quantitative (Riccucci, 2010, pg. S305).

Postpositivism is “knowledge acquired through conjecture and subject to falsification” (Riccucci, 2010, pg. S305). Essentially, it challenges the positivist approach by recognizing that observations can contain error and that sometimes results can change (Riccucci, 2010, pg. S305). This approach can be either qualitative or quantitative.

Postmodernism, also known as critical theory, is “knowledge acquired through social construction” (Riccucci, 2010, pg. S305). This approach uses “critical analysis and deconstruction of mainstream concepts” to analyze Public Administration. An example of this a social influence, like social media, on a specific type of study. This approach is qualitative and may use literary criticism, case studies, and other methods (Riccucci, 2010, pg. S305).

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To conclude the article, Riccuci argues that the field of public administration is headed towards more diverse methods that include different approaches of studies like the ones listed above (2010, pg. S306). It is not bad for a field of study to have different methods of research, because it can cause the field to be closed to new opportunities, studies, and thoughts.

In addition to this article, our class textbook, Research Methods in Public Administration and Nonprofit Management, touches on some of these terms used to describe the field of Public Administration. Research Methods divides research into two sections: “positivist and postpositivist that result in qualitative or quantitative research” (McNabb, 2002, pg. 36). Many researchers, throughout history, mixed these methods together to includes elements of both positivist and postpositivist ideologies.

McNabb states that postpositivist approaches includes intuitionalism and behavioralism.  Institutionalism deals with creating and understanding of the rules of government to better serve the needs of citizens (2002, pg. 36). This understanding was the approach to Public Administration until the late 1950’s (McNabb, 2002, pg. 36). Behavorialism became popular in the late 1950’s after institutionalist methods began to fade out. Researchers began to look at the behaviors of citizens and public participation to better serve society (McNabb, 2002, pg. 37).

“The Myth of the Bureaucratic Paradigmfrom the Journal of Public Administration Review also discussed Public Administration and its research methods. In the articles is a quote by Leonard D. White who says “the student of [public] administration must… concern himself with the history of his subject, and will gain a real appreciation of existing conditions and problems only as he becomes familiar with their background” (Lynn, 2001, pg. 1).

Historically, Lynn talked about public administration as a “bureaucratic paradigm” in which the discipline exhibited a high regard for law and politics.  He compares it to modern Public Administration where values are more set to benefit members of the community and barely acknowledge political institutions.

In all, Public Administration is a field that was historically rooted in political science, but has sense branched out to more topics. Public Administration is a diverse field that welcomes various research types and questions. There are endless topics in Public Administration to still be researched. However, with the variety of methods of research studies seen throughout Public Administration, there are many ways to go about it.


  • Lynn Jr, L. E. (2001). The myth of the bureaucratic paradigm: What traditional public administration really stood for. Public Administration Review61(2), 144-160.
  • McNabb, D. E. (2002). Research Methods in Public Administration and Nonprofit Management. [Chegg]. Retrieved from https://ereader.chegg.com/#/books/9781351721479/
  • Riccucci, N. M. (2010). Envisioning public administration as a scholarly field in 2020: Rethinking epistemic traditions. Public Administration Review70, S304-S306.


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