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Prismatic Theory and African Administration


Are there prismatic societies in Africa? That such a question can now be asked is as much a measure of changes in the study of administration as it is a recognition of new patterns of government emerging from African independence. During both the colonial and the current period, students of African bureaucracy have contributed little to administrative theory. Before independence, scholars concentrated on formal studies designed to raise efficiency. Since independence the field has been dominated by studies of political parties, trade unions, and voluntary associations, because these organizations carried on the independence struggle, often over the opposition of the bureaucracy. Behavioral studies of colonial administration and independent Afrir can civil services are badly needed.

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1 Diamant Alfred, “The Relevance of Comparative Politics to the Study of Comparative Administration,” in Raphaeli Nimrod, ed., Readings in Comparative Public Administration (Boston 1967), 2545.

2 LaPalombara Joseph, “An Overview of Bureaucracy and Political Development,” in LaPalombara, ed., Bureaucracy and Political Development (Princeton 1965), 15.

3 Riggs Fred, The Ecology of Public Administration (Bombay and New York 1961).

4 Fainsod Merle, “The Structure of Development Administration,” in Swerd-low Irving, ed., Development Administration: Concepts and Problems (Syracuse 1963), 2.

5 “Development Administration: A New Focus for Research,” in Heady F. and Stokes S., eds., Papers in Comparative Public Administration (Ann Arbor 1962), 98.

6 See for example the United Nations Handbook of Public Administration (New York 1961).

7 He was one of the first to call the attention of scholars to this problem in “Public Administration: A Neglected Factor in Economic Development,” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, cccv (May 1956), 7080, reprinted in Administration in Developing Countries: The Theory of Prismatic Society, 243–59.

8 “An Impression” (Book review of Riggs's Administration in Developing Countries), Journal of Administration Overseas v (October 1966), 285.

9 Politicians and Policies (Nairobi 1967), 46. Leys's qualification that it is unnecessary to apply Riggs's analysis when a rational self-interest axiom will explain the behavior in question is dealt with below at fn. 20.

10 The theory is best laid out in Administration in Developing Countries, particularly chapters 1, 7, and 8.

11 It should be kept in mind that it is Riggs and not Parsons who identifies the pattern variables with traditional and modern societies. Riggs suggests mat this is an “hypothesis,” not a definition, so that traces of ascription, etc., might be found in modern societies and vice versa. No actual society, of course, will be likely to embody exactly any of the ideal types. Administration in Developing Countries, 23n.

12 Riggs prefers to use “prismatic” rather than the more common term “transitional” on the ground that use of “transitional” suggests that modern societies are no longer developing—that is, all societies are in fact transitional. For my purposes the terms will be used interchangeably.

13 In a recent article Riggs has broadened his notion of “prismatic” society so that such imagery no longer makes sense (which, perhaps, is the fate of most such coined vocabularies). He now argues that in addition to structural differentiation, the level of performance of a society and its institutions must be taken into account. Thus a highly differentiated society with a low level of performance is also “prismatic.” As this merely broadens the category of “prismatic” societies, I shall not incorporate this distinction into the argument. See Fred Riggs, “Administrative Development: An Elusive Concept,” in John Montgomery and William Siffin, eds., Approaches to Development: Politics, Administration and Change (New York 1966), 237–44.

14 Division of Labor In Society, tr. Simpson George (New York 1965). Both men rely heavily on population growth as one of the factors impelling differentiation. See Riggs, Administration in Developing Countries, 37–38. However, Riggs does not insist that there is any inevitability to the development process. In fact he is quite pessimistic about most developing countries.

15 Riggs's view of modern bureaucracy appears to be based on a rather uncritical acceptance of Weber's ideal type of administrative organization in rational-legal society, in spite of the wide range of criticism to which the latter has been subjected.

16 Riggs's notion that traditional regimes were characterized by great freedom from control underplays the importance of religious and social norms in setting strict and narrow boundaries for the conduct of many traditional rulers.

17 However, to argue that because a department is responsible for a narrow range of policies, the bureaucracy as a whole fails to play much of a role in rule-making is fallacious reasoning. Consider the “confessions” of many U.S. Congressmen that they had to approve uncritically the projects submitted by the Defense Department, because they had no independent source of technical expertise. Dexter Lewis A., “Congressmen and the Making of Military Policy,” in Peabody Robert and Polsby Nelson, eds., New Perspectives on the House of Representatives (Chicago 1963), 305–24.

18 The concept of “efficiency” cannot be applied to traditional bureaucracies, according to Riggs, as officials are given a free hand in applying rules so long as they remain loyal to the king. Thus the efforts of traditional bureaucrats cannot be measured. His notion is confused, however, by his later discussions of the goals implemented by traditional regimes (notably order, unity, and tax collection). See Administration in Developing Countries, 266–67 and 346–47.

19 Esman, “The Ecological Style in Comparative Administration,” Public Administration Review, xxviii (September 1967), 271–78.

20 Politicians and Policies, 47 (italics in original).

21 “The Rediscovery of Politics,” in Siffin Montgomery, eds., Approaches to Development, 4958.

22 Gugin David, “Africanization of the Uganda Public Service,” unpubl. Ph.D. diss., Wisconsin, 1967.

23 “Administrative Change in the New Africa,” African Affairs, LXVI (July 1967), 232–33.

24 B. L. Jacobs, 'The State of the Uganda Civil Service Two Years after Inde-pendence,” University of East Africa Social Science Conference, Kampala (January 1965), 6–7.

25 Dowse Robert, “A Functionalist's Logic,” World Politics, xviii (July 1966), 607.

26 For an example see his reply to Wallis, “A Commentary,” Journal of Administration Overseas, Overseas, v (October 1966), 286–90.

27 See fn. 13. A worse consequence that cannot be ruled out is that further theoretical refinement may be ignored in order to preserve the language.

28 “Administrative Development: An Elusive Concept,” 240. The figure in question is on page 239 and an even more complex one can be found on page 241.

29 Examples can be found in Arthur Banks and Robert Textor, A Cross-Polity Survey (Cambridge 1963). See also Almond Gabriel, “Toward a Probabilistic Theory of the Polity,” in Almond and Coleman James, eds., The Politics of the Developing Areas (Princeton 1960), 5864.

30 “Personnel Processes of the Thai Bureaucracy,” in Heady and Stokes, eds., Papers, 217–18, 224. For more recent development of these themes see Siffin, The Thai Bureaucracy: Institutional Change and Development (Honolulu 1966), 159–64.

31 “Equality, Modernity and Democracy in the New States,” in Geertz Clifford, ed., Old Societies and New States (New York 1963), 180. While Fallers limits his comments to India, they appear to be equally applicable to Thailand.

32 “Personnel Processes of the Thai Bureaucracy,” 218. The official in question had studied under Siffin in the United States. (For Riggs, “attainment” falls midway between “ascription” and “achievement” and is typical of prismatic bureaucracies.)

33 Hunter Guy, “Development Administration in East Africa,” Journal of Administration Overseas, vi (January 1967), 8.

34 Tordoff William, Government and Politics in Tanzania (Nairobi 1967), 85.

35 This conclusion is based on data collected in a study of cooperative organizations in Uganda and general observation of East African bureaucracy.

36 Public Administration: A Comparative Perspective (Englewood Cliffs 1966), 108.

37 “The Role of Traditionalism in the Political Modernization of Ghana and Uganda,” in Hanna William J., ed., Independent Black Africa (Chicago 1964), 254–77. Note, however, that Apter's distinction may be as easily explained by the difference in political position in which the Baganda and Ashanti found themselves during colonialism, as by reference to their traditional cultures.

38 Levy Marion J., “Contrasting Factors in the Modernization of China and Japan,” Economic Development and Cultural Change, 11 (October 1953), 190–94. See also Hirschman Albert O., “Obstacles to Development: A Classification and a Quasi-Vanishing Act,” Economic Development and Cultural Change, xiii (July 1965), 385–93, especially 390.

39 Welch Claude E. Jr., “The Challenge of Change: Japan and Africa,” in Spiro Herbert J., ed., Patterns of African Development: Five Comparisons (Englewood Cliffs 1967), 82.

40 This account of changes in Japanese public education is taken from Robert Holt and Turner John, The Political Basis of Economic Development (New York 1966), 270–71.

41 “Bureaucracy and Political Development, with Particular Reference to Nigeria,” in LaPalombara, ed., Bureaucracy and Political Development, 302–03.

42 “Administrative Change in the New Africa,” 236.

43 “Bureaucrats and Political Development: A Paradoxical View,” in LaPalombara, ed., Bureaucracy and Political Development, 120.

44 See Crozier Michel, The Bureaucratic Phenomenon (Chicago 1964). Many examples from United States administration are collected in Stein Harold, Public Administration and Policy Development: A Casebook (New York 1952).

45 See Long Norton, “Power and Administration,” Public Administration Review, ix. (September 1949), 257–64.

46 Rweyemamu A. “Managing Planned Development,” Journal of Modern African Studies, iv (May 1966), 14, reprinted in Smith Hadley, ed., Readings on Economic Development and Administration in Tanzania (Nairobi 1966), 423. On conflicts within the Tanzanian bureaucracy, see also Pratt R. Cranford, “The Administration of Economic Planning in a Newly Independent State: The Tanzanian Experience 1963–1966,” Journal of Common wealth Political Studies, v (March 1967), 3859.

47 “The Ecological Style in Comparative Administration,” 273.

* An earlier draft of this article was delivered to the University of East Africa Social Science Conference at Dar-es-Salaam in January, 1967. I am grateful to George Von der Muhll and Ali Mazrui for helpful criticism.

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