The Public Administration Theory Primer

H. George Frederickson, Kevin B. Smith, Christopher W. Larimer, Michael J. Licari

Third Edition • July 7, 2015 • 320 pages

Print ISBN: 9780813349664 • $40.00 USD$51.99 CAN

Ebook ISBN: 9780813349916 • $25.99 USD$25.99 CAN

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The Public Administration Theory Primer explores how the science and art of public administration is definable, describable, replicable, and cumulative. The authors survey a broad range of theories and analytical approaches—from public institutional theory to theories of governance—and consider which are the most promising, influential, and important for the field. This book paints a full picture of how these theories contribute to, and explain, what we know about public administration today.

The third edition is fully revised and updated to reflect the latest developments and research in the field including more coverage of governments and governance, feminist theory, emotional labor theory, and grounded research methodology. Expanded chapter conclusions, additional real-world application examples throughout, and a brand-new online supplement with sample comprehensive exam questions and summary tables make this an even more valuable resource for all public administration students.

Real World Examples and Sample Comprehensive Exam or Discussion Questions to supplement The Public Administration Theory Primer, Third Edition are available for immediate download.

Real World Examples (PDF)

Sample Questions (PDF)

H. George Frederickson is Distinguished Professor of Public Administration at the University of Kansas.

Kevin B. Smith is professor of political science at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

Christopher W. Larimer is associate professor of political science at the University of Northern Iowa.

Michael J. Licari is the Provost at Indiana State University.


Chapter 1 Introduction: The Possibilities of Theory
Why Do We Need Theory in Public Administration?
The Uses of Theory
Is a Useful and Reliable Public Administration Theory Possible?
Some Contemporary Theories of Public Administration

Chapter 2 Theories of Political Control of Bureaucracy
Introduction: What Are Theories of Control of Bureaucracy?
The Difference Between Politics and Administration
Are Bureaucracies Out of Control?
Agency Theory

Chapter 3 Theories of Bureaucratic Politics
Introduction: What Are Theories of Bureaucratic Politics?
Administrative Theory as Political Theory
Allison’s Paradigm of Bureaucratic Politics
Politics, Power, and Organization
Networks and Bureaucratic Politics
Representative Bureaucracy

Chapter 4 Public Institutional Theory
Institutional Theory
The Basic Idea
From Organizations to Institutions
Alternatives to Hierarchy
Comparing Institutional Forms
High-Reliability Systems
Low-Reliability Systems and Their Improvement
System Fragmentation
Garbage Cans and Rent Seeking
The Diffusion of Innovation

Chapter 5 Theories of Public Management
Introduction: Developments in Public Management Theory
Traditional Management Theory Thrust Forward
Leadership as Public Management
Managing by Contract

Chapter 6 Postmodern Theory
Organizational Humanism and Postpositivism
Postmodern Perspectives in Public Administration
Looking for Postmodern Public Administration Theory
Conclusions: Fading Away or Still Useful as a Theory?

Chapter 7 Decision Theory
The Evolution of Decision Theory
Revisiting the Logic of Consequences
Bounded Decision Rationality and the Logic of Appropriateness

Chapter 8 Rational Choice Theory and Irrational Behavior
Introduction: What Is Rational Choice Theory?
The Rational, Self-Maximizing Bureaucrat
Trust and the Irrational Bureaucrat
The Self-Maximizing Citizen and the Tiebout Hypothesis
Rational Choice as the New Orthodoxy

Chapter 9 Theories of Governance
Introduction: Public Administration’s Need for a Theory of Governance
A New Model of Governance >
Governance as the New Public Management
Governance as a Unifying Framework for Public Administration?
Collaborative Governance Theory

Chapter 10 Conclusion: A Bright Future for Theory?
Theories of Political Control of Bureaucracy
Theories of Bureaucratic Politics
Public Institutional Theory
Theories of Public Management
Postmodern Theory
Decision Theory
Rational Choice Theory and Irrational Behavior
Theories of Governance
Theory in Public Administration


Praise for the second edition:

“In all honesty, I revere this book. Many graduate students refer to the text as their “bible.” It is the number one recommended resource for preparing students for comprehensive exams. My students regard it with equal deference and appreciation, saying that it is the source that they use to make sense of the hundreds of readings I assign in the seminar. This book is more than just a work of scholarship. It is a companion that provides constant reassurance along the path of my career, and without it I am all but certain I would never have earned my doctoral degree or found inspiration for the research questions I pursue as a faculty member. Words cannot begin to express how many times this book has sparked a research question or helped me to articulate a puzzle to work on […] I would recommend this book in a heartbeat. As mentioned above, this is a succinct introduction to almost every major idea in the discipline of PA in the past 130 years. This book is an absolute necessity for graduate students (especially in comps preparation) and scholars (in fostering new research ideas). The book is an intellectual treasure, headed by a masterful scholar, which provides a sense of comfort and awe.”
Casey LaFrance, Western Illinois University

The Public Administration Theory Primer is a succinct, clearly written text that engages thematically with historical and contemporary developments within public administration. Its broad topics leave readers with a clear understanding of how and why theoretical lenses emerged, and lead to critical thinking regarding the applicability of some theoretical foundations today.”
Staci M. Zavattaro, Mississippi State University

“I have not found a better book or any other work that comes close to competing with this book for its purpose, which in my mind is to integrate in one volume the intellectual development of the field of public administration.[…] This is the book that I should have used during my doctoral studies in the late 1990s. We studied many theories and concepts, but none of the assigned readings made any effort to integrate and synthesize the theories into a ‘plot’ of some sort. I found myself unable to critically use the material because I was learning ‘facts’ and not how to think—I was working with the pieces of this complex puzzle, but I was not aware of the big picture. It was only after I started teaching that I discovered The Public Administration Theory Primer. It has made my teaching of the subject enjoyable, refreshing, and rewarding. I strongly encourage you to consider the primer if you are a serious student of the interconnectedness of public administration.”
Alejandro Rodriguez, University of Texas, Arlington

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