T02P03 - Comparative Public Administration: Eastern vs Western Perspectives

Topic : Comparative Public Policy

Panel Chair : Zeger Van der Wal - zvdwal@gmail.com

Panel Second Chair : Caspar VAN DEN BERG - c.f.van.den.berg@fgga.leidenuniv.nl

Objectives and Scientific Relevance of the panel

Normative assumptions and traditional stereotypes characterize most debates on administrative cultures in the East and the West. Two contrasting views dominate. The dichotomous view suggests civil servants in both spheres hold different values and attitudes engrained in antithetical traditions with regard to the role of the state, stages of democracy, individual versus collective freedoms, and power distance (e.g., Berman 2011; Hofstede 1980; Schwartz 1999).

The second view emphasizes increasing convergence or even universalism of practices and values as a result of the “global public management revolution” (Kettl 2005, 1), often referred to as New Public Management (NPM) since the 1980s. Recently, Mahbubani (2013) has written on the “great convergence” between Asia and the West due to increasing exchanges of management ideas and best practices, and almost universal acceptance of Western good governance values.

More specifically, Xue and Zhong (2012, 284) suggest NPM-like reforms have affected administrative culture in China while Pollitt and Bouckaert (2011, 291-293) make a similar case for Western European and Anglo-Saxon countries. According to Xue and Zhong (2012, 284-285), “China has learned a great deal from international experiences in public administration reform” and is transitioning from “a public administration system based on personal will and charisma to one that is increasingly based on rule of law”.

Some even claim such a system is preferable to achieve better governance (e.g., Zheng 2009; Guo 2008; Wei 2010); implying Western-inspired transition should be embraced rather than rejected on particularistic grounds. Conversely, in Western Europe NPM-based approaches are often seen as detrimental to “classical” Weberian principles and values such as expertise, lawfulness, and loyalty (Kernaghan 2000; Van der Wal 2011).

At the same time, there are vast differences within the Eastern and Western hemispheres as research shows (Lynn 2006; Painter and Peters 2010; Pollitt and Bouckaert 2011). More so, even countries that are generally classified as belonging to a ‘Confucian tradition’ – such as China, Singapore, Japan, and South-Korea – differ tremendously in terms of how their systems have evolved, how their governments function and perform, and how individual civil servants behave (Berman 2011; Chen and Hsieh 2015; Drechsler 2014, 2015; Walker 2011). The same goes for countries with a ‘Weberian’ or rechtsstaat tradition (Drechsler 2005; Van den Berg, Van der Meer and Dijkstra 2016; Van der Meer, Steen, and Wille 2015).

In short, in the majority of debates on how public administration compares between the East and the West statements and assumptions are intertwined on how systems, values, and practices actually look like and how they should look like. Empirical comparative data is almost non-existent, with some recent exceptions (e.g., Berman 2011; Berman et al. 2013; Haque 2013, 2015; Van der Wal 2015). However, increasing interconnectedness, collaboration and both converging and competing interests between Asia and the West in what some call the ‘Asian century’ (Bice and Sullivan 2014; Mahbubani 2008; Vielmetter and Sell 2014), necessitates deeper understanding of how public sectors in both regions work, how and why they differ, and what that means for collaborative potential and performance.

Call for papers

In most debates on how public administration compares between the East and the West statements and assumptions are intertwined on how systems, values, and practices actually look like and how they should look like. Empirical comparative data is almost non-existent, with some recent exceptions.

However, increasing interconnectedness, collaboration and both converging and competing interests between Asia and the West in what some call the ‘Asian century’, necessitates deeper understanding of how public sectors in both regions work, how and why they differ, and what that means for collaborative potential and performance.

Many intriguing – theoretical, empirical, conceptual, and methodological – questions lay bare. For this panel, we invite exciting and novel empirical as well as theoretical work on administrative systems, values, and practices in Eastern and Western countries, with a particular focus on how (countries in) both regions compare.

Topics and questions our panel seeks to address include (but are not limited to):

  1. To what extent do administrative traditions (still) characterize cultures, values, and practices in public sector organizations in the East and the West?
  2. How do public sectors in both parts of the world compare in terms of practices, values, accountability and performance regimes, HRM systems, etc.?
  3. What are real-life experiences, challenges, opportunities in terms of collaboration within and between public sector organizations in both parts of the world?
  4. How do we design meaningful comparative research efforts between public sectors in countries with different traditions, cultures, and languages? Should we reconsider or completely re-design existing instruments and approaches?
  5. What is the potential of an “Asian public administration” approach to teaching and research in a field dominated by Western scholars, concepts, and assumptions?
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