Since the founding of the field of public administration, scholars have struggled with questions related to the “publicness” of public organizations (Bozeman 1987). In this article, the extent of this “publicness” in organizational studies research is investigated by examining articles published in the most cited journals in the disciplines of business, management, and public administration. Specifically, the analysis seeks to determine whether research in generic management journals is actually generic or if sector-specific studies remain the norm. Previous researchers have sought to answer this question using citation analysis as a preferred method. Instead, this study turns its attention to the samples employed by the articles’ authors, enabling a deeper understanding of the current state of the organizational studies scholarship. The findings suggest that a preference for public or private samples remains, and that this preference is largely dependent on the disciplinary journal in which studies were published.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
The use of the word “theory” throughout this manuscript is meant to point to both formal theories and collections of ideas or concepts normally labeled as “theories” for all of the fields examined here, including public administration, generic organizational studies, or private sector management.
Althaus, C. (2015). What do we talk about now? Reflecting on publications in AJPA 1970–2015. Australian Journal of Public Administration, 74(2), 227–238.
Andrews, R., & Esteve, M. (2015). Still like ships that pass in the night? The relationship between public administration and management studies. International Public Management Journal, 18(1), 31–60.
Andrews, R., Boyne, G. A., & Walker, R. M. (2011). Dimensions of publicness and organizational performance: a review of the evidence. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 21(s3), i301–i319.
Arellano-Gault, D., Demortain, D., Rouillard, C., & Thoenig, J. (2013). Bringing public organization and organizing back in. Organization Studies, 34(2), 145–167.
Ashworth, R., Ferlie, E., Hammerschmid, G., Moon, M. J., & Reay, T. (2013). Theorizing contemporary public management: international and comparative perspectives. British Journal of Management, 24, s1): s1–s1):s17.
Bozeman, B. (1987). All organizations are public: Bridging public and private organizational theories. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Bozeman, B. (2013). What organization theorists and public policy researchers can learn from one another: Publicness theory as a case-in-point. Organization Studies, 34(2), 169–188.
Christensen, T. P., Lægreid, P. G. R., & Røvik, K. A. (2007). Organization theory and the public sector: Instrument, culture and myth. NY: Routledge.
Davis, G. F. (2015). What is organizational research for? Administrative Science Quarterly, 60(2), 179–188.
Denis, J.-L., Ferlie, E., & Van Gestel, N. (2015). Understanding hybridity in ‘avoiding theoretical stagnation: a systematic review and framework for measuring public organizations value’. Public Administration, 92(3), 273–289.
Faulkner, N., & Kaufman, S. (2018). Avoiding theoretical stagnation: a systematic review and framework for measuring public value. Australian Journal of Public Administration, 77(1), 69–86.
Glick, W. H., Miller, C. C., & Cardinal, L. B. (2007). Making a life in the field of organization science. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 28(7), 817–835.
Henry, N. (1975). Paradigms of public administration. Public Administration Review, 35(4), 378–386.
Joyce, P. (2016). The perils of evidence-based government: It’s a powerful tool, but sometimes it might really be better to reinvent the wheel. How academia is failing government, August 31. Governing Magazine.
Kelman, S. (2007). Public administration and organization studies. Academy of Management Annals, 1(1), 225–267.
Lindquist, E. (2009). Public administration research and organization theory: Recovering alternative perspectives on public service institutions. In O. P. Dwivedi, T. A. Mau, & B. Sheldrick (Eds.), The evolving physiology of government: Canadian Public Administration in transition (pp. 40–71). Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press.
Mainzer, L. C. (1994). Public Administration in Search of a theory: The interdisciplinary delusion. Administration and Society, 26(3), 359–394.
Meier, K. J. (2015). Proverbs and the evolution of public administration. Public Administration Review, 75(1), 15–24.
Michael, B., & Popov, M. (2014). The failure of theory to predict the way public sector organization responds to its organizational environment and the need for a mosaic-view of organizational theory. Public Organization Review, 16(1), 55–75.
Miller, D., Greenwood, R., & Prakash, R. (2009). What happened to organization theory? Journal of Management Inquiry, 18(4), 273–279.
Nesbit, R., Moulton, S., Robinson, S., Smith, C., DeHart-Davis, L., Feeney, M. K., Gazley, B., & Hou, Y. (2011). Wrestling with intellectual diversity in public administration: avoiding disconnectedness and fragmentation while seeking rigor, depth, and relevance. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 21(s1), i13–i28.
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). (2016). General government spending (indicator). https://data.oecd.org/gga/general-government-spending.htm. Accessed 27 April 2016.
Osborne, S. P., Radnor, Z., & Nasi, G. (2013). A new theory for public service management? Toward a (public) service-dominant approach. The American Review of Public Administration, 43(2), 135–158.
Perry, J. L. (2016). Is public administration vanishing? Public Administration Review, 76(2), 211–212.
Perry, J. L., & Rainey, H. G. (1988). The public-private distinction in organization theory: A critique and research strategy. Academy of Management Review, 13(2), 182–201.
Pollitt, C. (1998). Managerialism revisited. In B. G. Peters & D. J. Savoie (Eds.), Taking stock: assessing public sector reforms (pp. 44–77). Montréal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.
Rainey, H. G. (2012). Organizations, politics, and public purposes: analyzing public organizations and public management. Political Science & Politics, 45(1), 9–16.
Rainey, H. G., Backoff, R. W., & Levine, C. H. (1976). Comparing public and private organizations. Public Administration Review, 36(2), 233–244.
Rousseau, D. M. (2007). Standing out in the field of organization science. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 28(7), 849–857.
Van de Walle, S., & van Delft, R. (2015). Publishing in public administration: issues with defining, comparing, and ranking the output of universities. International Public Management Journal, 18(1), 87–107.
Visser, M., & Van der Togt, K. (2016). Learning in public sector organizations: a theory of action approach. Public Organization Review, 16(2), 235–249.
Vogel, R. (2014). What happened to the public organization? A bibliometric analysis of public administration and organization studies. American Review of Public Administration, 44(4), 383–408.
Wright, B. E. (2011). Public administration as an interdisciplinary field: assessing its relationship with the fields of law, management, and political science. Public Administration Review, 71(1), 96–101.
Zalmanovitch, Y. (2014). Don’t reinvent the wheel: the search for an identity for public administration. International Review of Administrative Sciences, 80(4), 808–826.
Business covers resources concerned with all aspects of business and the business world. These may include marketing and advertising, forecasting, planning, administration, organizational studies, compensation, strategy, retailing, consumer research, and management. Also covered are resources relating to business history and business ethics.
Management covers resources on management science, organization studies, strategic planning and decision-making methods, leadership studies, and total quality management.
Public Administration covers resources concerned with the management of public enterprises, implementation of governmental decisions, the relationship between public and private sectors, public finance policy, and state bureaucracy studies.
Social Science Citation Index. 2012. Scope Notes. Journal Citation Report. Retrieved December 2012.
Sample details of the 577 research articles were frequently limited, preventing us from classifying the samples along ownership, funding, and control. Firms and S&P 500 companies were categorized as “private.” Thus, an article stating, “[w]e collected these data for 52 large pharmaceutical firms. The final data set consists of 432 observations, that is, on average 8 yearly observations per firm” was coded “private.” The same is true of employees of firms. A sample of the Environmental Protection Agency and firms was categorized as “public and private.” A state or provincial agency was categorized as “public.” Hence, an article stating, “The KCSS was conducted between September 9, 2009, and October 9, 2009, for 800 central government bureaucrats in 40 ministries” was coded as “public.” Teachers from a public school district were coded as “public”; teachers from public, private, and nonprofit schools were coded as “public, private, and nonprofit.” References to “citizens” were coded as “public,” while “customers” were coded as private. Undergraduate students submitted to a psychology experiment were not coded as “public” or “private,” but rather as “individuals.” When the article authors described their samples in such a way that the organizations could not be identified, we coded them as “not mentioned.” For example, “An 18-month focused ethnography at an internationally renowned British Business School” was coded as “not mentioned.” To compare the characteristics of the samples of each journal, we conducted an analysis of variance or Pearson’s chi-square test. Both the Pearson’s chi-square results and descriptive statistics are presented below.
About this article
Cite this article
Charbonneau, É., Bromberg, D. & Henderson, A.C. Public Administration and Organizational Theory: Prescribing the Proper Dose. Public Organiz Rev 20, 63–78 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11115-018-0430-x
- Public administration
- Organization theory
- Organization studies
- Generic management