Virtual Special Issue on Current Administrative Rhetoric Administrative Theory & Praxis

Administrative Theory & Praxis

In this virtual special issue, we highlight articles related to today’s administrative and political climate. We read and see daily how the politics of fear grips society, reducing the chance for meaningful political debates and increasing the fear of the other. An “us versus them” mentality is not new in public administration, but today’s political climate is rife with leaders who view compromise as a dirty word and administrators who are going rogue to fight back against these transgressions.

What undergirds today’s divisive rhetoric is the politics of fear. Staniševski (2011) explores how national identities become what he calls binding authorities that simultaneously link and separate people. He suggests we need to imagine our different “selves” as a mechanism to interact with people who are pegged as The Other – to grow our acceptance of both themselves and ourselves at once. We also hear in the news two hot-button issues: terrorism and border security. Taking a phenomenological approach, Zingle and Hummel (2008) ask us to consider not the grand-scale acts of terror but the effects of terror that occur every day – those that sadly become the norm rather than the exception. They ask: How do you fight something that is usual rather than unusual?

A physical manifestation of this fear is the wall along the US-Mexico border. Garrett and Storbeck (2011) explain how the border wall provides only a feeling of protection rather than actual protection. The wall, with its many gaps and flaws, becomes only a symbol that misses real, on-the-ground concerns of those communities along the border that are directly affected by social, political, and economic upheavals.

But is all hope lost? No, assuming we can return to dialogue and discussion within American political life. Spicer (2001) and Zanetti and King (2013) offer us two ways forward: value pluralism and empathy. For Spicer (2001), value pluralism means our values often conflict with each other. The questions that guided Spicer’s work back then are incredibly pertinent today: “… What are public administrators to do in the midst of deep political fragmentation and value conflict? How can they act in ways that might help ameliorate rather than exacerbate such conflict” (p. 508). He advocates for a constitutionalist view that builds checks and balances into the system so one group (or faction, if you will) cannot obtain absolute power.

Zanetti and King (2013) offer empathy as another way forward. Empathy allows us to see how we are all connected rather than separate. Even though there is a stereotype about administrators and bureaucracy, many are and strive to be empathetic. As professors, we can teach these values in our classes as well (Blessett et al, 2016; Hayes, 2016; Lopez-Littleton; 2016; Marshall, 2016; Williams & Conyers, 2016).

Overall, these articles walk us through the evolution of fear and strategies to help overcome them in our personal and professional lives.