War Narratives: Framing Our Understanding of the War on Terror


Kathe Callahan is an assistant professor of public administration at Rutgers University–Newark. She has published work on the topics of citizen participation, government performance, and accountability. Her most recent book, Elements of Effective Governance: Measurement, Accountability and Participation, will be published this fall by Auerbach Publications. E-mail: kathe@andromeda.rutgers.edu.

Melvin J. Dubnick is a professor of political science and director of the MPA program at the University of New Hampshire. He is a recipient of the Mosher Award for a coauthored article in PAR (1987) and the Burchfield Award for the best book review published in PAR (2000). He has coauthored textbooks on public policy analysis, public administration, and American government. E-mail: m.dubnick@unh.edu.

Dorothy Olshfski is an associate professor in the Graduate Department of Public Administration at Rutgers University–Newark. Her work has appeared in PAR and other leading journals. Her most recent book, Agendas and Decisions: How State Government Executives and Middle Managers Make and Administer Policy, with Robert Cunningham, will be published by SUNY Press this year. E-mail: olshfski@andromeda.rutgers.edu.


Unlike past American wars, the current war on terror has not been associated with a centrally proffered narrative providing some guidance and orientation for those administering government services under state-of-war conditions. War is as much a cultural endeavor as it is a military undertaking, and the absence of a clear sensemaking narrative was detected in this study of public administrators from three agencies with varying proximity to the conflict. Q-methodology was used to explore the way individuals processed the war narratives put forth by the Bush administration and reported in the media immediately following the September 11 attacks. Though no distinct state-of-war narratives were found among the public administrators in this study, there are clear indications that latent narratives reflecting local political and organizational task environments have emerged.