Taking Language Seriously

cover art
232 pp., 6 x 9
ISBN: 9780878408788 (0878408789)

December 2001
LC: 99-17507


Table of Contents

Taking Language Seriously
The Narrative Foundations of Public Administration Research
Jay D. White
The logic of research in public administration, argues Jay D. White, may be more like that of storytelling than of conventional social science research. In Taking Language Seriously, he examines the linguistic, discursive, and narrative foundations of public administration research and develops a narrative theory of knowledge development and use for the field.

White builds his case for this narrative theory by showing how research on complex problems is grounded in language and discourse. He then explains how a variety of recent developments in philosophy and the humanities—positivism, postpositivism, hermeneutics, critical and legal theory, postmodernism, and poststructuralism—can contribute to our understanding of public administration research.

Focusing on the logical structures of three modes of research—explanatory, interpretive, and critical—White shows how each is equally legitimate, depending on the nature of the research questions.

This comprehensive yet clear discussion of the philosophical foundations of research in public administration advances an alternative theory of knowledge development that will be valuable for everyone in fields seeking to affect social, political, economic, and organizational change.
Jay D. White is a professor of public administration at the University of Nebraska, Omaha and coeditor of Research in Public Administration: Reflections on Theory and Practice (Sage Publications, 1994). He is editor of the annual, Research in Public Administration.
"This serious, demanding book provides a valuable service to advanced students of public administration and their professors. . . . [Jay D. White's] success is due primarily to his impressive command of the literature in [public administration and the philosophy of science] and his skillful integration of this literature into his overall argument."—American Political Science Review

"Challenges public administration scholars to recognize the philosophical underpinnings of our work and to produce research that deepens our understanding of the human interactions that define our field. Long overdue, this work will lead public administration into the interpretive turn and toward a more critical perspective on the role of administration in society."—Danny L. Balfour, associate professor and director, School of Public and Nonprofit Administration, Grand Valley State University

"Provides a clearly written, useful introduction to the philosophical foundations of public administration theory. Readers will learn from every page of this well-organized and judicious work."—John Forester, professor and chair, Department of City and Regional Planning, Cornell University

"An imaginative and important piece of work that advances our thinking about research in public administration. . . . must reading for any serious scholar or student in public affairs."—Curtis Ventris, professor of political science and natural resources policy, The University of Vermont

Table of Contents

1. A Narrative Theory of Knowledge for Public Administration Research Knowledge as Storytelling
The Nature of the Arguments
A Few Words about Positivism
A Preview

2. Knowledge as Storytelling, Interpretation, and Critique
Applied Research as Storytelling
Public Administration's Dissatisfaction with Explanation
What Is Going on in Other Fields?
A Turn to Interpretation?
Critical Research

3. Three Modes of Research
Explanatory Research
Interpretive Research
Critical Research

4. Administrative and Legal Reasoning: Understanding Explanatory, Interpretive, and Critical Rationality
Instrumental Reasoning
The Structural Limits of the Rational Model
Legal Reasoning
Interpretive and Critical Reasoning
Implications for Knowledge Development and Use

5. From Positivism to Postpositivism: The Linguistic Turn in the Philosophy of Science
Philosophy and Science
The Cartesian Anxiety
The Myth of the Given
The Correspondence Theory of Truth
The Critique of Explanation
The Critique of Interpretation
The Linguistic Foundation of Knowledge
The Practical Rationality of Theory Choice

6. The Action Movement in Administrative Research: Examples of Interpretive and Critical Research
Action Theory
A Case Study of Action Theory
Action Research
Action Science

7. Social Action, Administrative Research, and Literary Interpretation: The Logic of Interpretation and Critique
Literary Interpretation
Positions in Interpretation
The Relevance of the Author or Actor
Meaning and Significance
The Canons of Interpretation
Criteria for Validation
Summary: A Melding of Genres

8. Taking Language Seriously: Some Postmodern Themes
The Loss of Grand Narratives
Knowledge and the Linguistic Basis of Local Narratives
Knowledge as Conversation
The Local Narratives of Public Administration

9. Language, Discourse, and Rationality: The Foundations of a Narrative Theory of Knowledge