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Public Administration and the Search for Meanings of 9/11

Author: ZAHID SHARIFF
Published in PAM, Vol. 9 No. 1

This paper presents, first, a critique of the response of the literature in
public administration to the enormous tragedy of 9/11/01. That literature—more
accurately, a proxy that was selected for that literature—reflects several flaws.
Public administration’s focus, the paper suggests, is narrow and rigid, it tends not
to generate creative frameworks with which to view a significantly changed policy
environment. It continues, instead, to be fascinated with policies as they are
handed down and reveals no curiosity about the pressures that shape them. In its
response to 9/11, it remains largely concerned with the description of how public
agencies reacted to that tragedy and presentation of thoughtful proposals for
organizational coordination that might improve performance and produce better
results at a lower cost in the future. Second, the paper provides alternative ways of
interpreting the tragedy of 9/11. The motivations of terrorists that the dominant
view expresses, and public administration literature accepts, may not be
definitively known for some time. It is possible that they were neither impressed by
American material goods nor its political freedoms, but infuriated by its
accumulated record of foreign interventions. The paper identifies the consequences
of this and other alternative interpretations for public administration. And, third,
the paper reveals that, with the exception of one article, the treatment of civil
liberties in recent public administration literature leaves a lot to be desired. It is
remarkably abstract and distant, and the minority whose civil liberties were most
threatened remains virtually invisible.

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