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Public Administration and Organizational Theory: Prescribing the Proper Dose


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.

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  1. 1.

    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.


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Author information

Correspondence to Étienne Charbonneau.


Appendix 1

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.

Appendix 2

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.

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Charbonneau, É., Bromberg, D. & Henderson, A.C. Public Administration and Organizational Theory: Prescribing the Proper Dose. Public Organiz Rev 20, 63–78 (2020).

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  • Public administration
  • Organization theory
  • Organization studies
  • Generic management
  • Discipline