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Reviewed Work(s): Postmodern Public Administration: Toward Discourse by Charles J. Fox

and Hugh T. Miller; Postmodern Management and Organization Theory by David M. Boje,
Robert P. Gephart, and Tojo Joseph Thatchenkery
Review by: Lisa A. Zanetti
Source: Public Productivity & Management Review, Vol. 20, No. 2 (Dec., 1996), pp. 204-209
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
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Postmodern Public Administration: Toward Discourse, by Charles J. Fox and Hugh

T. Miller. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1995, 175 pp., $42.00 hardcover, $18.50 paper.

Postmodern Management and Organization Theory, edited by David M. Boje, Robert

P. Gephart, Jr., and Tojo Joseph Thatchenkery. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1995, 408
pp., $46.00 hardcover, $23.95 paper.

These two books, written from the vantage points of public administration and
business management, respectively, address the challenges posed to managers by the
postmodern condition. I enjoyed them both for different reasons and found them
particularly useful when read together.
Fox and Miller begin by observing that, as an acceptable approach to governance,
public administration orthodoxy is dead. That combination of neutral public adminis-
tration, scientific management, and hierarchy continues to haunt us, however-not as
a ghost, but as a "legitimizing myth" that provides the underlying assumptions for all
mainstream public administration practice and reform efforts. The problem is that
myths, unlike ghosts, have no prescribed exorcism rituals. They make their presence
known by lurking for generations in the collective unconscious, where they can cause
as much damage as any poltergeist. Postmodern Public Administration offers a new
approach to governance that explicitly tries to free itself from the myth.
The book proceeds in two parts. The first offers a critique of orthodoxy and its two
most prominent alternatives, constitutionalism (neoinstitutionalism) and communi-
tarianism, or civism. The authors suggest a third alternative, discourse theory, in which
reified institutions are transformed into energy fields composed of "malleable demo-
cratic discursive social formations" (p. xv). Building on a foundation of the commu-
nicative ethics of Jurgen Habermas, Hannah Arendt's agonistic democracy, and
constructivism, the authors propose a postmodern public administration that, they
contend, more closely approaches true democratic goals.
Public administration is facing "paradigm anxiety" (p. 4). Orthodoxy was based on
acceptance of the " 'representative democratic accountability feedback loop' model of
democracy" (p. 4)-the procedural model where individual preferences are aggregated
to popular will, codifed into legislation by elected representatives, implemented by
the executive branch (bureaucrats), and then evaluated by informed voters. "The loop"
is a comfortable fiction, neither democratic nor credible. Still, it is the approach that
continues to inform the practice of public administration, contributing to a clash of
cultures in which the tools of modernity continue to be used in a postmodern society.
As in many situations where the wrong tools are used, the result is slipshod at best and
dangerous at worst.

Public Productivity & Management Review, Vol. 20 No. 2, December 1996 204-212
C 1996 Sage Publications, Inc.


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Unfortunately, most governmental reform efforts have started wi

the loop is valid. Operating from the assumption that administration can and should
be politically neutral, bureaucrats were blamed for exercising discretion because this
violates the "ethics of authoritative command" (p. 21). Unethical behavior is defined
as not following the rules and can be checked by writing more rules (as in conflict of
interest regulations). Because bureaucrats have only an instrumental-rational role in
the loop, any action that goes beyond competent execution of the will of elected
representatives is, put simply, out of line.
But because the loop is mythical, so also is the need to command bureaucratic
neutrality. Constitutionalist and communitarian models have been offered as discre-
tionist alternatives to "command and control" public administration. The constitution-
alist approach, laid out in the "Blacksburg Manifesto" (Wamsley et al., 1990), looks
to legitimize the administrative state on the basis of constitutional principles. Com-
munitarianism is more diffuse, but communitarians generally reject the atomistic,
unencumbered self that is the basis for philosophical liberalism, reaching back to the
Aristotelian ideal of citizenship where individuals fulfill themselves through partici-
pation in the polis. Decision making in such a community relies less on "rational"
models than on the concept of phronesis, or practical wisdom.
Fox and Miller, although they profess to admire many aspects of constitutionalism,
conclude that it is too conservative, too closely tied to current, inadequate structures
of governance. Similarly, the authors are troubled by some aspects of comunitarianism
that they feel have not been adequately addressed: the assumption that all communities
are benign, the inherent authoritarian possibilities, and the problem of citizen apathy.
Communitarians, they admonish, have a tendency to be too optimistic.
Fox and Miller propose to overcome the perceived shortcomings of constitutional-
ism and communitarianism through their version of discourse theory. Specifically, they
argue that orthodoxy, constitutionalism, and communitarianism cannot adequately
address the conditions of postmodernism, characterized primarily as "the growing gap
between words and deeds" (Chapter 3) that has stretched and agitated reality ("hyper-
reality") and contributed to the "logoistic" politics of symbols without referents.
Modernism was characterized by metanarratives emphasizing the atomistic self and
the primacy of instrumental reason. Postmodernism represents the "revenge of the
different" (p. 45)-the emergence of separate, often incommensurable, identity groups
that actively resist merging in the melting pot.
The authors contend that their discourse theory is more suited to address postmod-
ern politics and public administration because of its ability to sustain interaction and
avoid imposing solutions. Drawing on the intellectual resources of phenomenology,
constructivism, and structuration theory, and then combining these with the commu-
nicative theories of Habermas and Arendt's concept of agonistic tension, Fox and
Miller construct a discourse theory that allows a plurality of standpoints. They ask
only that participants in the discourse be sincere, transcend (but not deny) their own
agendas, participate willingly, and offer a substantive contribution (broadly defined).
These requirements become the standards by which they judge some current
practices in public administration-opinion surveys, citizen panels, and policy analysis-
and find them wanting. A true discourse approach to public administration would avoid

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206 PPMR / December 1996

monologic (one-way) interaction between administrators and the public. Surveys,

policy analysis, and even citizen panels, by virtue of their design, must determine
beforehand what issues will be addressed or how questions will be asked. These
instruments do not meet the authors' discourse criteria of sincerity, situation-regarding
intentionality (transcending self-interest), willing attention, and substantive contribu-
tion. Furthermore, these approaches have the perverse effect of legitimizing elite
domination because elites can now claim to have solicited citizen input, thereby
validating the "democratic" policy outcome.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Fox and Miller draw on a provocative combination
of intellectual resources and write in a manner that is conversational, engaging, and
easy to follow. They present clear, eminently readable summaries of such complex
traditions as phenomenology, constructivism, critical theory, and agonistic democracy,
and their critiques of orthodoxy and its current alternatives are succinct and persuasive.
As a former public servant, I particularly appreciated their advocacy of bureaucratic
discretion. Although junior members of most organizations tend to have less influence,
I can well remember the frustration of having the greatest substantive knowledge of a
subject only to have that insight dismissed for "political accountability" reasons.
As a former practitioner, however, I was also frustrated by the absence of concrete
recommendations for implementing discourse theory as postmodern public adminis-
tration. Like Habermas, who intends his theory to be diagnostic rather than therapeutic
(Braaten, 1991), Fox and Miller offer a compelling critique of current practice but
leave us stranded on how to accomplish change. They have rightly criticized many
common tools but offer no substitute instruments. Listening is a necessary first step
(p. 158), but having listened, are we obligated to act? If so, where does administrative
discretion come into play? If we are bound unquestioningly to follow citizen prefer-
ence, then have we simply inverted the old "ethics of authoritative command"? At any
rate, given the postmodern condition, it seems highly unlikely that citizen preference
will be uniform and easily discernible. Once we, as administrators, look at policy
networks through the "lens of discourse theory" (p. 150), what follows next? "Para-
digm anxiety" can lead either to innovation or to paralysis.
In all fairness, a discussion of the practical conduct of postmodern public admin-
istration may well have been outside the scope of this book. The authors recognize
that for some issues, and for many kinds of public services, discursive will formation
is neither necessary nor applicable. Still, I found the lack of discussion disappointing.
Perhaps the proper tools are still waiting to be invented. If so, then this would seem to
be a research area particularly ripe for academic-practitioner interaction.
On a theoretical level, I disagree that the only ethical model currently operating in
public administration is one of procedural utilitarianism. Surely deontological ap-
proaches deserve some discussion, because the debate over whether to privilege the
right or the good has been central to the liberalism-communitarianism exchange. I also
was bothered by the authors' rejection of foundationalism. I understand the reasoning-
in the interests of free speech, we cannot censor particular views, and the requirements
for sincerity and so on will sift certain undesirable elements out of the discourse. Still,
I was not convinced that their discourse theory would avoid the reactionary possibili-
ties that the authors criticize in the communitarian literature. Communities have the

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potential to be both benign and authoritarian; similarly, discourse h

be both positive and negative, constructive and destructive. How do we insure against
this? Perhaps I am still a modernist at heart, but I found the foundationalism dilemma
Postmodern Management and Organization Theory, edited by Boje, Gephart, and
Thatchenkery, has a very different feel. To begin with, it is a collection of 16 essays
by 23 authors, most of whom are lecturers or professors in departments of management
or business. The essays are grouped by five categories: deconstructing organizational
analysis; gender, discourse, and organizational voices; epistemological issues in
environmental management; postmodern pedagogy; and critical issues in global
organization studies. The collection evolved from a 1992 symposium on postmodern
management sponsored by the Academy of Management.
Interestingly, the book is more overtly political, beginning with a nice discussion
of the crises of late capitalism, in which the privatization of social services and benefits
contributes to the state's abandonment of its role as mediator, ensuring a just distribu-
tion of societal resources. Related to this phenomenon are the commodification of
education and knowledge and the loss of grand theory in all disciplines.
The first section offers broader, reflective essays on the challenges presented to
organization theory and management by the postmodern condition. Particularly inter-
esting is the suggestion in several places that combinations of ethnography and
deconstruction can offer greater insights on alternative organizational strategies. The
essay by Boje, Dale E. Fitzgibbons, and David S. Steingard offers helpful distinctions
among the various postmodern approaches, and the one they advocate, critical post-
modernism, seems to mesh well with the approach taken by Fox and Miller.
In the second section, the various essays address questions of gender (Patricia
Bradshaw), inclusion (Ian Atkin and John Hassard), mind/body separation (David
Barry and Mary Ann Hazen), and stakeholder voice (Jerry M. Calton and Nancy B.
Kurland). The Atkin and Hassard essay has some implications for the Fox and Miller
argument. Atkin and Hassard argue that radical organization theory has been unable
to achieve its goals because it unwittingly plays into dominant systems-theory views,
ultimately failing to bridge or disrupt the inside or outside boundaries of conventional
organization theory (p. 139). It occurred to me that a discourse theory of public
administration might encounter a similar fate, inadvertently marginalizing itself in the
political arena rather than constructing a transcendent dialogue, particularly if we make
distinctions between when discourse theory is or is not applicable.
Calton and Kurland's essay, although it refers to stakeholder theories in a private
sector context, also has applicability to public administration. The need to reconcile
the tensions between a private manager's fiduciary responsibility (to profit maximi-
zation) with responsiveness to stakeholder claims (shareholders, lenders, employees,
suppliers, customers, and community groups) is clearly reminiscent of the situation in
which many public managers find themselves: caught between obligations to political
superiors and the need to serve the citizenry (who agree with the elected officials in
Fox and Miller's mythical loop model but not necessarily in actual practice). Calton
and Kurland note that because postmodern organizational forms are still emerging,
they often must coexist with hierarchical arrangements in the near term and may

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208 PPMR / December 1996

paradoxically reinforce them. The authors discuss GM's Saturn Corporation to illus
trate the dual possibilities of stakeholder inclusion: the "bright side" of postbureau-
cratic, decentralized, interactive organizations and the "dark side" of discourse and
interaction used to extend organizational control and manipulation in a form of
"organizational seduction" (p. 171). I think it is a distinction well worth noting.
The third section examines epistemological issues in environmental management,
seeking to reconcile the tendency of postmodernism to retreat from nature with the
simultaneous emergence of the ecology movement in postmodern politics. The fourth
section addresses the challenge of teaching and learning postmodern techniques in
conventional faculties of business and management. This section should be of interest
to both practitioners and professors of public administration. How can management
(or postmodern public administration) be taught in departments that emphasize "man-
aging by the numbers" without either succumbing to the quantitative approach or
focusing exclusively on cultural (organizational) critique, which further delegitimizes
the field? Essays in this section attempt to reconcile the paradox. The essay by Ghazi
F. Binzagr and Michael R. Manning advocates a participatory pedagogy. The authors
offer the example of a doctoral seminar in which the students spent an entire semester
reading classic works of management (Fayol, Taylor, Follett, Barnard, McGregor,
March, and Simon), deconstructed these works, and then reconstructed Fayol's clas-
sical functions into five new roles: invention, proactive reorganizing, persuading,
cocreating, and covalidation. The implications for applying this approach to public
administration education are intriguing.
The final section addresses globalization as an integral element of postmodernism.
Essays in this section grapple with issues of transcending the neoclassical economics
paradigm, avoiding privileged discourse and the dispersion of power (especially
through electronically disseminated discourses) in the global context. Gephart,
Thatchenkery, and Boje conclude with a summary essay calling for a positive recon-
struction of organizations.
Overall, this book was somewhat more difficult to read. The editors acknowledge
that the subject matter makes it difficult to avoid academic language and style. They
anticipate an audience of graduate students in management and organization theory
and "thinking managers"-those concerned with future issues and directions and
interested in nontraditional approaches. The emphasis is exclusively on private sector
management. Still, I found the collection relevant for the public sector manager.
Reading these two books in conjunction reveals how provokingly unpostmodern
our disciplines remain. Aside from references to major philosophical figures, there
was very little overlap in the bibliographies. The two books draw from almost entirely
separate bodies of literature. To the extent that public and private management face
different challenges (accountability to profit vs. accountability to constitutional
norms), this separation is understandable. Given, however, that one of the critiques of
modernity is the tendency to separate, classify, and divide the world into categories,
it would be gratifying to see the boundaries begin to blur a little more.

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Braaten, J. (1991). Habermas'critical theory of society. Albany: SUNY.

Wamsley, G., Bacher, R. N., Goodsell, C. T., Kronenberg, P. S., Rohr, J. A., Stivers, C. M., White, 0. F., &
Wolf, J. F (1990). Refounding public administration. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Lisa A. Zanetti
Department of Political Science
University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Big Bets Gone Bad, by Philippe Jorion. San Diego: Academic Press, 1995, 176 pp.

Philippe Jorion has crafted a concise guide to the recent Orange County Investment
Pool debacle that features a whirlwind tour of investment markets, instruments, and
concepts. His narrative also spotlights the elemental dilemma of professional public
management: the public's desire for the economy, efficiency, and effectiveness prom-
ised by professional management versus its demand for controls on the discretion those
managers require to pursue that promise. The dynamic tension between the expert's
claim to autonomy and democracy's demand for accountability pervades the environ-
ment of public management, as well as this book. According to Jorion, Orange County
Treasurer Robert Citron's claim to autonomy was based on a false claim of expertise,
and the Board of Supervisors abrogated its responsibility to maintain adequate controls
on his discretion in the wake of his apparent successes.
Jorion states that no background in financial management is required of the reader
of his book, but his descriptions of the finer points of investment instruments, such as
derivatives, repurchase agreements, and structured notes, may not be readily accessible
to laypersons. The "impatient reader" is invited to skip these chapters, and perhaps
succinct, workable definitions of these instruments are too much to ask for-even
Citron apparently did not understand them. Jorion is much more successful in con-
trasting general concepts, such as maturity with duration, credit risk with market risk,
and risk minimization with risk management. This case study would serve as an
excellent second text in a graduate course in financial management that dealt with
investing public funds.
Citron was elected to the Orange County treasurer's office seven times in his
24-year career, although he had no college degree. For Jorion, Citron's ignorance of
financial markets and investment instruments was the key element leading to Orange
County's Chapter 9 bankruptcy proceedings and the liquidation of the investment
pool's holdings. Indeed, ignorance and ego are presented as the only possible expla-
nations for anyone taking such enormous investment risks in the absence of any desire
for personal monetary gain (none of the six felonies to which Citron eventually pleaded
guilty involved personal gain). When the red flags began to unfurl, however, Citron
may have had no option other than to stay the course that had been so successful in

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