Public Administration & Political Science

The Relationship Between Both Social Sciences

Political science is the study of state and systems of government. It is concerned with powerOpens in new window, authorityOpens in new window and influence. It ensures authoritative allocation of values to the various sections in societyOpens in new window.

Public administration is very closely, if not indistinguishable, connected with political science. Whereas political science is concerned with government, public administration is government in action.

An eminent author had pointedly observed the relationship between the two disciplines in the following word:

  • “The interface between the two (political science and public administration) becomes clear and vivid if we concur that both deal with the political system (or substantially state) but from different positions: Political science activates and energizes the state: it deals with the input part, while Public administration deals with output”.

Being the study of stateOpens in new window and governmentOpens in new window, political science provides the fundamental framework within which public administration functions. Public administration is government in action and as such concerned with the use of power given to it in order to achieve the policy goals of government. It concerns itself with the study of the nature of problems involved in implementing the will of the State.

What's this?

There are many common areas of study which makes Public administration and Political science more of a sister-brother connection. Public policyOpens in new window studies, constitutional law, administrative law, delegated legislation, government budgeting, local government and the like are such common areas which are studied in both political science and public administration.

Furthermore, there exists another point of close connection between the two disciplines. The political environment of a nation shapes largely the nature and activities of its administrative system. The volume of administrative activities is determined by the scope of government functions, which is decided politically.

Public administrators work with and under the direction of politicians. Since Public administration functions in the context of politics and governmental system, its study calls for a good deal of preliminary knowledge of political institutions and governmental activities. Hence, DimockOpens in new window rightly points out that “an understanding of politics is the key to an understanding of Public administration”.

The Distinction

The founding father of Public administration Woodrow WilsonOpens in new window propounded politics-administration dichotomy theory which made a sharp distinction between politics and administration. According to this theory, the business of politics is policy-making and that of administration is policy implementation. In other words, politics is concerned with laying down of policies, whereas administration is concerned with executing these policies with view to cost-effective measures.

Woodrow Wilson opines that “Administration lies outside the proper sphere of politics. Administrative questions are not political questions. Although politics sets the task for administration, it should not be used to manipulate its offices. The field of administration is a field of business, it is removed from the hurry and strife of politics; and at the most, stands apart even from the debatable ground of constitutional study”.

In brief, the various points of distinction between these two disciplines are penned below:

  • The scope of Political science is wider than the scope of Public administration because Public administration is a branch of Political science.
  • Public administration is practical, while Political science is largely theoretical. In other words, Public administration is the real world of governance, while Political science is the analysis of government.
  • Public administration is concrete, while Political science is abstract.
  • Political science deals with struggle for securing and retaining power, whereas Public administration concerns itself with the use of power in realizing the goals of state policy.
  • Political science is ethical and hence value-loaded. On the other hand, Public administration is factual and technical.

Notwithstanding the distinctions, one cannot ignore the close relationship between these two disciplines. One can argue that political science was a salutary former of the field of Public administration in laying it philosophic and normative foundations.

We can affirm that the relationship between Public administration and political science consists in the fact that the two disciplines are species of the same genus. There is a great give and take between the two. However, despite the intimacy between them we should not overlook the limits of their fields.

Using the words of John M. GausOpens in new window, “There is no denying the fact that there is difference between the duties of political officers and those of administrative officers, but the difference is more of a degree rather than of a kind. If we look to the top administrators, we will find that most of what they do is political in nature.” To some scholars, Public administration and politics are like light and shade. One follows the other, and each influences the other.