Administrators and Politicians: from dichotomy to complementarity


Ion Georgiou



Research in focus: Seeing the forest for the trees: a map of the politics-administration dichotomy.

Recent studies in public administration adopt a more complementary perspective toward elected politicians and those responsible for introducing policies while still assessing conflicting aspects

Objective: To map out a century of research on the key subject in the area of public administration: the dichotomy between administrators and politicians. In other words, to determine how to balance relations between elected politicians and the administrator responsible for policies.


• Construction of a network of 165 articles covering the 1887–2010 period. 

• Identification of the most important articles and the development of maps that trace the development of this area by decade.

• Extraction of the key reading list for the politics-administration dichotomy.


• Four of the five most-cited articles are characteristic of a time in the mid-1980s when a perspective that considers the relationship between politicians and administrators in a complementary and not antagonistic way gained in importance. Even so, six studies, including pioneering work by Woodrow Wilson (1887), all published before the mid- 1980s, are still receiving considerable attention, which shows the perennial conflict between efficiency and democracy.

• The integrating and complementary perspective, which was explored by James Svara, continued to gain strength in the 2010s. However, complementarity cannot ignore the discoveries of other authors in the area, particularly the need for some institutionalized dichotomy that serves to control and minimize corruption and for discussion of political interference in government contracts.

• A relatively new body of literature is appearing that tries to examine the nature and relevance of the politicsadministration dichotomy in developing regions.

What's new

• Since the 1980s, research has tried to understand the accumulated knowledge about the politics-administration dichotomy from different perspectives: historical, schools of thought, empirical observation and development of a new model of interaction between politicians and administrators. The contribution of this article is to analyze all of the literature using a structural approach and a new and complete methodology addressing the development of knowledge networks.

• This study shows that a new perspective that sees politicians and administrators in a complementary way is gaining ground, but it is not possible to ignore some of the dilemmas of the dichotomist view.

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