Rediscovering the Taproot: Is Classical Pragmatism the Route to Renew Public Administration?


Patricia M. Shields is director of the master of public administration program and professor of political science at Texas State University–San Marcos. In 2002, she was awarded the Leslie A. Whittington Excellence in Teaching Award by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration. She has published articles in journals such as Administration & Society, American Review of Public Administration, Administrative Theory and Praxis, Journal of Public Affairs Education, Armed Forces & Society, Journal of Military and Political Sociology, and Society. She has been the editor of Armed Forces & Society since 2001.


The origins of the influential American philosophy classical pragmatism and of American public administration overlap. On the surface, it appears that classical pragmatism had no influence on the emerging field of American public administration. Why were the two never properly wed? This essay first traces the historical connections that link public administration and classical pragmatism. Second, using a framework that is simple to remember, the tenets of classical pragmatism—practical, pluralistic, participatory, and provisional—are explored and applied to public administration. The marriage of classical pragmatism and public administration should prove endlessly fertile.