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Universality of Public Administration Knowledge: A Critical Asian Perspective

A highlight for the end of the month of June, the Department of Social Sciences and the International Master’s Program of Asia-Pacific Studies (IMAS) had the honor to welcome Professor M. Shamsul Haque from the political science department of the National University of Singapore. It was the first event of a series of two lectures and two seminars on the topic of public administration in Southeast Asia. In his first event, called “A Critical Asian Perspective”, Professor Haque talked about existing theory models for public administration and its applications in Southeast Asia. While there is a broad variety of established theories with a certain degree of diversity, they are still vastly incoherent and inconsistent.

The main problem with these theories is the context under which they were developed. All of these models were developed by and for Western societies, often due to the colonial history between Western and Southeast Asian countries, forced onto the colonies. Professor Haque therefore establish the hypothesis, that the classical public administration models do not fit Southeast Asian countries. It is therefore essential for the Southeast Asian region to begin developing its own models. However, this indigenization faces several obstacles. First of all, the ideational constraints. These include historical legacies and its existing stock of existing knowledge, which is hard to just abolish. Second, the so called “epistemological” constraints, meaning that many scientists believe in the uniting nature of science, and therefore assume that a once established, a proven model has universal validity. Nevertheless, with this very strong assumption of universality, these epistemological thoughts decontextualize the problem.

And last mentioned was structural obstacles, including the cross-regional divides and inequalities. With over 90% of the articles of social sciences coming from the US and Europe, there is hardly any representation of Asian countries in these papers, making it even harder for countries of Southeast Asia to receive new insights into their problems regarding public administration. Professor Haque concluded, that if the countries of Southeast Asia want to overcome these obstacles, they need to begin to cooperate in order to even the unequal ownership of knowledge in the world, and to start building their own models instead of just testing existing ones. Without the colonial constraints and the recent rise of Asia and its confidence, Haque is convinced Southeast Asia will be able to do just that very soon.