August 23, 2019


Open Access Publishing

High angle view of many hardback books. Library or school.

Alex Pettifer, our Editorial Director, discusses Elgar’s approach to assessing and publishing new Open Access titles.

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November 24, 2020


Philosophy and Public Administration: An unlikely marriage with a happy-ending?

by Edoardo Ongaro.

There is a sense in which ‘Public Administration’ – and its key variations on the theme, namely ‘Public Management’ or ‘Public Governance’ –  are seen as a ‘technical field’, an area of study and professional practice which should have grown into a purely scientific endeavour, but for some weird reason has not yet fully achieved that status. Akin to other fields like environmental studies or labour psychology, also Public Administration would be amenable – this line of reasoning goes – to being studied as a technical-scientific subject. Certain ‘solutions’ would then be found, and any reasonable government in the world would then adopt them – or be held to account by its citizens if it failed to do so.

But is this narrative convincing? The answer looks a bit like a sophism: both yes and no; indeed, surely ‘yes’ and definitely ‘no’ at the same time. ‘Yes’, because Public Administration can be studied with scientific means, and there is a strong technical component to it – after all, it is about addressing ‘how to’ problems, like: how to deliver better public services at lesser costs? And yet the answer is also a round ‘No’, because Public Administration is a human-made world, a social world fraught with value-laden decisions, a system of interacting human beings trying to incorporate the others’ behaviours, decisions and even thoughts into their own decision-making (‘reflexivity’). Public administration belongs to the ‘sciences of the spirit’ (copyright of the philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey) as much as it also partakes of the ‘socio-technical sciences’ insofar as it can be seen as an area of interdisciplinary quasi-technical investigation.

Talking about public administration, public governance, public leadership or public services management is to some extent entering a technical area, but at the same time it demands to engage with key issues that are ultimately philosophical in nature; questions like: how can the ‘welfare’ of the people be improved? How can we organise ourselves so that we can live together in better ways than we currently do? These are inherently philosophical questions, inextricably intermingled with socio-technical questions. And the importance of the topic can hardly be overestimated, as shown so clearly by the crucial role performed by public administrative systems in enabling (or not) countries and regions of the world to cope with terrible challenges like the one posed by the covid-19 pandemic.

It is for this reason that the book “Philosophy and Public Administration: An Introduction” – published by Edward Elgar and whose second edition in open access format has been supported by the Open University – can provide, I hope, a much-needed bridge to connect two worlds that are deeply linked, but rarely seen so: philosophical wisdom and public administration. The former is deemed ‘lofty’ and ‘abstract’, but it is not. The latter is deemed technical, even a bit arid, and not that fashionable since an ill-conceived rhetoric starting in the 1980s belittled the standing of the public sector and public services under the derogatory label of ‘bureaucracy’; but this is not the case. Indeed, philosophical wisdom, far from being ‘lofty’ and ‘abstract’, is about very concrete and the most important things of life. And public administration is both very important for attempting to improve at least some of the things that matter in life – for example: how to live together well – and a very exciting topic. The challenge is how to bridge the two, as these two fields have over the recent decades grown in almost complete isolation from one another (though this was not the case in the past, when indeed scholars and practitioners of public administration used to be trained in philosophy and the humanities). A book is not enough to remedy this lack of interconnections – unless it can be the sparkle that kindles a re-engagement of public administration people with philosophy and the humanities, and vice versa, by also getting philosophers into seeing social problems also as public services problems, and constitutively so. My hope is this book may contribute its small bit to help re-activate these connections and elicit a much-needed dialogue.

The publication open access of this book has been made possible by a collaboration between the Open University and Edward Elgar Publishing. It is the mission and in the best tradition of an innovative university like the Open University to support the diffusion of knowledge that may change lives, and in the best tradition of a leading publisher as Elgar to courageously publish challenging books on innovative topics. I am grateful to both, and I hope you may find this book great reading.

Edoardo Ongaro, Professor of Public Management, The Open University, UK

Philosophy and Public Administration is out now. The book has been published under our Open Access programme and is freely available to read on Elgaronline.

Find out more about our Open Access publishing

October 16, 2020


How Neoliberalism Mutated into Crony Capitalism

Nicholas Low, analyses how Neoliberalism has evolved.

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September 18, 2020


Does Health Affect Social Capital?

In the latest in a series of blogs from the Contributors to the Elgar Companion to Social Capital and Health, Hope Corman, Kelly Noonan, and Nancy E. Reichman examine the relationship between health and social capital.

Many people expect and believe that social capital (SC) in a community benefits their health.  This would imply that the direction of causation is from SC to better community health. Many studies support this hypothesis, but this does not rule out the possibility of the reverse direction, that better health in the first place also stimulates activities that bring improvements to the family’s social capital. This would require beneficial effects on the SC elements, for example: Trust among the residents, a sense of this community and an empathy for other people, active participation in the community, family, and local culture. Corman, Noonan, and Reichman (Ch 12) have done research in the publications reviewed by themselves in the chapter on the reverse causation experiments on the random and unexpected disorders in the newborn’s health, and secondly on the ill effects of maternal depression in the postpartum year. These are empirical experiments on carefully devised models.

Effects of Family Health Shocks on Parent’s Social Interactions

Random health shocks from newborn disorders, such as Down Syndrome, (Schultz et al, 2009) were assessed by pediatricians as well as from parental reports in the ensuing months. These found no significant effects on the parent’s social interactions.

Similarly a mother’s postpartum depression showed no effect on the family’s social capital experiences  (Corman et al, 2014). A connection with the mother’s family experience with depression appeared, but a careful investigation indicated that there were no bias effects from this.

Effects of Family Health Shocks on Parent Relationships

In contrast, unexpected health shocks in the newborn affected parent relationships surveyed 12 –18 months later. The authors (Reichman et al, 2004) found the parents couple were 10 percent less likely to live in the same household, suggesting that some felt a lower benefit from the family experience.

The effects of a mother’s postpartum depression were heavier. Among non-marital  birth couples three years later the probability of having gotten married was reduced (by 20 – 26 percent). For cohabiting or married couples three years later the likelihood of still living together was reduced (by 16-28 percent).. The emotional event apparently lowered their commitment toward living together.

The Effects of Family Health Shocks on Residential Instability

There were measured increases in family homelessness, but also of residential instability defined more widely to include: having been homeless, having been evicted, living with family or friends and not paying rent, or having frequent residential moves. The papers reported (Curtis et al, 2013, and Curtis et al, 2015) found that maternal postpartum depression increased homelessness, residential instability and housing inadequacy.

Effects of Adolescent Body Weight on Risky Sexual Behavior

Averett et al, (2013) define risky sex as: that influenced by alcohol, vaginal sex without a condom, and anal sex. The logic here is that girls with lower ability to match with an attractive male will be willing to take more sexual risks. The key is to measure the girl’s weight in relation to average weights of girls in their school. The empirical findings support the hypothesis that overweight or obese girls are more likely to have risky sex by engaging in anal sex. No significant effects were found for either sexual intercourse without a condom or sex with the influence of alcohol.

Comments: The authors’ direct involvement in researching these issues, their demonstration of reverse causality, their development of this research area, as well as its introduction to social capital economics. The complete references to the noted articles are provided in their article (Ch 12) in the Elgar Companion to Social Capital and Health

Hope Corman is Professor of Economics and Director of Health Administration, Rider University and Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, USA.

Kelly Noonan is Professor of Economics affiliated with Princeton University, Rider University and the National Bureau of Economic Research, USA.

Nancy E. Reichman is Professor of Pediatrics, Rutgers University’s Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, USA, and Status Professor at the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation at the University of Toronto, Canada.

Elgar Companion to Social Capital and Health edited by Sherman Folland and Eric Nauenberg is out now.

Read chapter one free on Elgaronline

Also on ElgarBlog:

Why Trust is Good for your Health by Martin Ljunge. Read Martin Ljunge’s chapter Trust promotes health: addressing reverse causality by studying children of immigrants 

The Importance of being Social –Sherman Folland investigates the influential role social capital plays in mental health and physical wellbeing.

Religious Capital, Social Capital and Health Ephraim Shapiro and Chen Sharony explore the link between religion and health

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