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Repositioning American Public Administration? Citizen Estrangement, Administrative Reform, and the Disarticulated State



Levels of citizen estrangement from government in the United States have risen rather consistently since the late 1960s and have reached all-time highs in recent years. Evidence is accumulating in political science research to suggest that public administrative theory may have contributed to this trend since the Progressive Era in the early 1900s. The authors develop this thesis by arguing that administrative theory in the United States has persistently portrayed public managers as “bridge builders” who link an expertise-challenged citizenry to government in ways that emphasize bureaucratic over democratic administration. Moreover, despite claims of yet another “new” paradigmatic shift for the field, collaborative governance scholarship to date exhibits similar tendencies. To support this argument, the authors assess the common citizen-marginalizing tendencies of three sets of administrative reforms in American public administration: the progressive, associationalist, and polycentric heritages. They offer counterarguments to this thesis and call for critical self-reflection by the field and a more empirically robust research agenda on this topic.