The Security Problematic of the Third World by Mohammed Ayoob — A Summary

Ayoob, Mohammed. 1991. “The Security Problematic of the Third World.” World Politics 43 (2). Cambridge University Press: 257-83.


The postwar world has been marked by (a) the doctrine of mutually assured destruction of MAD (thanks to the rise of the “awesome destructive capability” of nuclear weapons) and (b) the entrance of many new members, Third World states, into the system of states (thanks to the decolonisation process). The former has, thanks to MAD, stabilised the global balance of power while the latter has, by spawning a group of “floating” states which were “up for grabs”, introduced instability in to the system of states. In addition, the former has received much attention in international relations literature while the latter has not. Even if the security of Third World states is considered, it is done so from a distinctly Western perspective. This article is a review paper of four volumes which seek to fill this gap in the literature. (Note: There will be no explicit reference in this summary to the books reviewed although the paper draws upon and quotes from them frequently.)

“The[] … issues that … need to be addressed from both historical and comparative perspectives [are] as follows:
(a) How does the concept of security as applied to the Third World context differ from its traditional use in the international relations literature?
(b) What are the factors that inhere within Third World states that can help explain this difference?
(c) In what ways does the interaction of Third World states with the international system affect the security of the former?
(d) Are there specific factors related to technology in the late twentieth century that affect the security of Third World states in ways that are unique to the developing countries?
(e) What is the relationship between the security and developmental concerns of Third World states, and how does the interaction between these two preoccupations of Third World state elites affect the levels of legitimacy enjoyed by Third World states and regimes?”

The following sections will tackle each of these five questions in turn.


(a) How does the concept of security as applied to the Third World context differ from its traditional use in the international relations literature?

The traditional use of the concept of security has assumed the (a) military nature and (b) external origin of threats to state security. These assumptions are upheld even by those who insist on international security and are unwilling to accept the centrality of the state.[2] These assumptions are the natural result of a particular intellectual tradition that grew — from 1648 to 1945, to use symbolic dates — in the context of interaction among sovereign states and the identification of individuals with their respective (sovereign) states. The sovereign state thus became the unit object of security. After 1945, the Western world (“Europe and its offshoots”) was divided into two halves which were stabilised by a mutual balance of terror, i.e., by MAD. Alliance security, established in both halves, became superimposed upon state security. The essential assumptions, however, remained unchanged.

This understanding of security faces problems when applied to the Third World. The idea of security as (a) external, (b) systemic (or international), and (c) alliance-based are “thoroughly diluted” in the Third World.  Firstly, in the Third World, security threats substantially emanate from within states. External threats do exist but often they gain salience precisely from those insecurities that already abound within. Secondly, the Third World is relatively unimportant to the central strategic balance. Conflicts have proliferated in the Third World with the participation and even encouragement of the superpowers but without undermining the overall strategic balance. Thirdly, the notion of alliance security is absent for states in the Third World which, even if they are allied with the superpowers, receive a qualitatively different form of commitment to that accorded to Western states. The security of Third World states is not considered synonymous with the security of the alliance.


(b) What are the factors that inhere within Third World states that can help explain this difference?

Third World states are different from Western states. The mere possession of “juridical statehood” is insufficient ground for treating Third World states on par with Western states. The latter possess features such as strong state structures including rational-bureaucracies, infrastructure and internal cohesion which are largely absent in the former. The relevant factor for this discrepancy is time. The stable Western states are the finished products of centuries of unhappy historical experience. Third World states, on the other hand, are only a few decades old and have not had enough time to mature their institutions and societies.[3] It is this fact, the lack of the “software” of security, that makes recourse to military measures, “hardware” instruments of security, to deal with political challenges attractive for Third World regimes.

The current security predicaments of the Third World are partly explained by their similarity to the Western experience of state-making in its early stages.[4] This similarity is not merely coincidental. As such, the security problems faced by Third World countries today is not that astounding. The rest is explained by the telescoping of the state making process into a drastically shortened time period, and the low level of state power and legitimacy in Third World states.


(c) In what ways does the interaction of Third World states with the international system affect the security of the former?

The contemporary era of international linkages, whether military, economic, political, or technological, have substantial implications for Third World state making enterprises. This is particularly relevant for current technologies of communication and destruction.

In addition, the colonial experience has ensured that external factors have had serious impacts on Third World polities and their security environments. First, the decisions of colonial powers made for administrative purposes have resulted in the ethnic mix that Third World states possess in this day. This has major, often adverse, consequences for internal cohesiveness. Second, colonial legacies are responsible for many postcolonial interstate conflicts (Kashmir, for example).

Another aspect of the colonial experience is the transfer of the weakness and vulnerability of the colonies in relation to the colonial powers which is reproduced the postcolonial era in the form of the periphery-core dichotomy. The conflicts of the core, the superpower rivalries, are exported to the periphery, the Third World. Third World states are unable to prevent the occurrence of these conflicts or the intrusion of these conflicts into their polities.


(d) Are there specific factors related to technology in the late twentieth century that affect the security of Third World states in ways that are unique to the developing countries?

The propensity to engage in interstate conflict is increased by the transfer of modern weapons and weapons technology from the Western to the Third World. It is not just the instrumental value of weapons but often the mere fact of possession, especially if they are sophisticated weapons, that can increase the prospects of conflict. The transfer of these weapons happens at great economic cost.

Recently, it is transfer of weapons technology which has overtaken the transfer of weapons themselves. This shift could underlie either a movement towards military independence or could simply be replacing one form of dependence by another.  Either way, the effect on the overall security of the Third World is negative. If the former is true, the war-fighting capacity of Third World states in increased. If the latter is true, the feeling of insecurity and vulnerability among Third World elites is intensified.

One dramatic subset of the transfer of sophisticated weapons technology is nuclear proliferation. Emerging Third World states see nuclear weaponry as essential to their promotion to influence in the world stage and there are credible if unacknowledged instances of Third World states developing nuclear weapons. The problem of maintaining security is not just limited to the management of dozen or so nuclear powers but the practical implications of having a number of those powers involved in regional conflicts.


(e) What is the relationship between the security and developmental concerns of Third World states, and how does the interaction between these two preoccupations of Third World state elites affect the levels of legitimacy enjoyed by Third World states and regimes?”

In most Third World states, military spending is dominated by operational costs (mainly salaries for troops) rather than by costs of sophisticated weapons. This indicates the high level of manpower required to maintain internal control (taxation, policing, and warfare for attaining state power). In this context, it is safe to say that development as a serious objective comes only after power accumulation (political legitimacy) and meeting regional threats (securing regime security) in the policy consideration of Third World leaders.


“In the final analysis, however, most of the deep-seated sources of conflict and violence in the Third World … cannot and will not be fundamentally determined by superpower actions and interactions…. Therefore, although changes in superpower relations may continue to affect some of these sources of conflict and insecurity in the Third World, these changes alone are not capable of transforming the basic nature of the security predicament of the Third World states. As it stands, the existing parameters of the security problematic of the Third World can be altered only if Third World states have adequate time to complete the twin tasks of the state making and nation building, plus enough political sagacity on their leaderships’ part to attempt to accomplish these tasks in as humane a manner as possible.”

End Notes

[1] The ideas of Section II and III are more fully argued for in Mohammed Ayoob, “Security in the Third World: The Worm About to Turn?”, International Affairs 60 (1): 41–51.

[2] The system-centric idea of security draws its inspiration from the English School of International Relations which insists on the relevance of the “international society”.

[3] The experience of India in maintaining a robust democracy is an exception.

[4] “Th[e] European experience … cost tremendously in death, suffering, loss of rights, and unwilling surrender of land, goods, or labor…. The fundamental reason for the high cost…. Building differentiated, autonomous, centralized organizations with effective control of territories entailed eliminating or subordinating thousands of semiautonomous authorities…. Most of the European population resisted each phase of the creation of strong states.”



Security in the Third World: The Worm About to Turn? by Mohammed Ayoob — A Summary

Ayoob, Mohammed. 1983. “Security in the Third World: The Worm about to Turn?” International Affairs 60 (1): 41–51.

Security has traditionally been defined as immunity of a state to threats from outside its borders. This is the traditional realist perspective. However, some writers see security in terms of the “international society” as a whole (and not in terms of individual states or nations).[1] They argue that the security of each state is inextricable intertwined with the security of the whole system. Yet, even if these two approaches — the first, state-centric and the second, system-centric — disagree on the relevant object of security, they nevertheless conceptualise security by reference to external threats to the state.

This view of security can be traced back at least to Westphalia. The evolution of the European system of states, from 1648 to 1945 to use symbolic dates, was marked by (a) the interaction among sovereign states and (b) the identification of individuals with their own states (thanks in no small part to the correspondence of state and national boundaries). These two processes laid the foundation for the intellectual tradition that came to see security as synonymous with the protection of the state from external threats.[2]

The division and stabilisation of the Western world into two blocs since 1945 has only strengthened this connotation of security. In fact, the superimposition of alliance security (whether the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation or the Warsaw Pact) has increasingly obliterated even the difference between state-centric and system-centric approaches to security.

“The three major characteristics of the concept of state or national security in Western states … are (a) its external orientation, (b) its strong linkage with systemic security and (c) its binding ties with the security of the two major alliance blocs … [However,] in the Third World,[3] [they are,] if not totally absent, so thoroughly diluted as to be hardly recognizable. The primary aim of this paper is to analyse how and why they are radically different in the context of the Third World and what are the implications for the international system as a whole that follow from these differences.”

Third World “Insecurity”: The Worm Within

Threats to Third World states emanate substantially from within. External threats exist but they remain marginal.[4] These external threats serve to augment internal problems and would not be effective without the latter.

Security problems in Third World states are largely internal mainly due to (a) their history of state formation and (b) the pattern of elite recruitment, regime establishment and maintenance.  Both of these differ starkly from Western states.

Firstly, Western states have achieved a level of “unconditional legitimacy” thanks to centuries of political and institutional development. Western societies have, through centuries of conflict and upheaval, reached a high level of consensus on fundamental issues of social and political organisation. They are thus strong as states.[5] In contrast, Third World states are extremely young and have not had time to develop strong state structures. In addition, in Third World societies, issues of political, social and economic organisation are matters of life and death contested at every level. There is no consensus. As such, they are weak as states.[6]

Secondly, as a natural consequence of the lack of consensus on fundamental issues, most Third World states are ruled by regimes with narrow support bases which hold on to power tenaciously and which are prone to disallow political debate. Security, naturally, comes to be defined in terms of maintaining the regime. This does not preclude disagreements in Western states. It means simply that the difference in scale and intensity is what makes disagreements critical to security in the Third World. In addition, the operation of the international economy which increases economic disparities has compounded the problem in Third World states by alienating the masses from the elite who rule. This poses a threat not just to the legitimacy of the rulers of these states but also the state structures through which the working of the international economy is translated.

The International Context: War by Proxy?

The link between the security of Third World states and the security of the world as a whole is “very fragile, if not totally non-existent”.[7] Conflict within and among Third World states is permitted or very often even encouraged. It is the fragility of political institutions and state structures in Third World states that enables this encouragement. Fragile polities facilitate intervention. Third World states serve as theatres where the drama of superpower rivalry can be safely acted out without drawing the superpowers into direct confrontation. The result is the exacerbation of the security problem in the Third World.

Other factors contribute to this state of affairs. Conflicts in the Third World (a) keep the arms industry in the developed world in business, (b) provide grounds for weapons testing, (c) enable superpowers to test each other’s tolerance, (d) serve as linkages between issues that superpowers can exploit, (e) provide opportunities to superpowers to demonstrate their credibility to allies, and (f) provide a way of ensuring access to strategic raw materials. In short, systemic inputs diminish security in Third World states whereas they augment security in Western states.

Given the fragile link between security of Third World states and the central issues of global security, war as an instrument of policy remains attractive to many Third World regimes. Not only that, proxy wars in the Third World remains a realistic option for the superpowers. A corollary of all these is that both superpowers have a vested interest in maintaining insecure regimes. However, the commitment towards Third World regimes are rather thin and extends greatly in terms of political and military investments but fall short of final commitment to save regimes (which would not be the case for “core” allies). Regimes, mistaken about the commitment of the superpowers, tend to be reckless, more repressive and less flexible. This adds to the problem of insecurity.

Implications of a Shifting Balance

The insulation of the Third World conflicts has been largely due to the stability of the strategic Cold War balance. This stability, maintained by the equilibrium of military technology, seems likely to enter into disequilibrium. The Soviet Union may with spirited military investment and political initiative make serious inroads into Western Europe or the United States may gain a strategic edge due to its technological and economic superiority. In any case, uncertainty would be introduced into superpower calculations making perceptions of situations as important as, if not more important than, actual situations. It is easy then to imagine that a period of transition — which the world seems to be moving towards at the moment — from the equilibrium would involve a “state of nerves” in which conflicts in the Third World which would otherwise be considered by the superpowers as routine would come to be treated as significant. This could be an entry point through which hitherto insulated Third World security concerns could affect the dominant stability of the strategic Cold War balance.

End Notes

[1] Reference to an international “society” is most obvious in what is known as the English School of International Relations.

[2] Put in a different way, the “external-directedness” of the concept of security — which, in one sense, is the fundamental attribute of the Western concept of security — is a corollary of the doctrine of state sovereignty in its pure and pristine form.

[3] “The term “Third World” is used in this article in a generic sense, and deliberately so. It is undoubtedly true that there are diverse elements within the Third World; it is also true that there are intramural problems, conflicts and antagonisms within it. However, these countries share enough in terms of their colonial past and their unequal encounter with the European powers following the Industrial Revolution to set them apart from the European states which have traditionally formed the “core” of the modern system of states.”

[4] “Any perceptive observer of the South Asian scene in 1970-1 would have realized that the Indian ‘threat’ to Pakistan was very secondary to that posed by East Bengali nationalists; also that the Indo-Pakistani war of 1971 would either not have been fought, or, if fought, would have had a very different outcome if the bulk of the East Bengali population had not been disenchanted with the then existing structure of the Pakistani state.”

[5] This does not imply that they are necessarily powerful states. Here, the emphasis is on the strength of the structures of state.

[6] Again, this does not imply that they are powerless states.

[7] The exceptions to this are the major oil exporters and Israel which even if it is “physically located in the Third World it is not of the Third World”.


Security and Emancipation by Ken Booth — A Summary

Booth, Ken. 1991. “Security and Emancipation.” Review of International Studies 17 (4). Cambridge University Press: 313–26.

The fun lies in reading the paper. It is not often that the dour topic of Security receives such entertaining treatment.

Word Problems and World Problems

The words we use to talk about International Politics — itself a “misleading label” — are becoming worn. But words are all we have. We need sharp words and sharp concepts to deal with sharp subjects. “We cannot expect to deal successfully with world problems if we cannot sort out our word problems.”

The Interregnum

Long standing patterns are declining and giving way to a more complicated global order where there is a simultaneous development of both local and global identities which overlap each other. Statist categories are breaking down.

How do we describe the current stage of world affairs [the period after the “fall” of the USSR; this paper was written in 1991] We need to name things correctly. Perhaps this is an interregnum. How we go beyond this interregnum will depend on our “images and vision”. In order to make a new future, old “images” will have to be discarded.

A Turning Point for Inter-State War

A “350-year span of history dominated by … military competition” is coming to an end. Military questions are no longer the main agenda of international politics. What new security game shall be played from now on?

Security in Our Times

The new security game can be characterised as a “utopian realism”. This perspective is, unlike the traditional realist perspective, holistic in character and non-statist in approach. Such a perspective is necessary because of the grave limitations of traditional thought about security. Its narrow military focus is highly problematic. Simply consider, to name but one example, the security dilemma. Also, it is apparent that issue areas like economic collapse, scarcity, overpopulation, environmental degradation etc. which lie outside the scope of traditional security thinking must be included in the new security agenda.

What we are seeing today is the recession of war among “communities that are wealthy and have a significant level of social justice”, loosely democratic societies. Unlike the centuries that preceded it, there has been no war among the “44 richest countries since 1945”. This points to a correlation between democracy and warlessness. Order, then, might lie in ensuring at least minimal levels of political and social justice.

Emancipation vs Power and Order

Order and power come at somebody’s expense. Hence, they are unstable. For this reason, emancipation must take precedence.

“‘Security’ means the absence of threats. Emancipation is the freeing of people (as individuals and groups) from those physical and human constraints which stop them carrying out what they would freely choose to do. War and the threat of war is one of those constraints, together with poverty, poor education, political oppression and so on. Security and emancipation are two sides of the same coin. Emancipation, not power or order, produces true security. Emancipation, theoretically, is security.”

People should be treated as ends and states as means. Individual humans, not states, are the ultimate referent. States are “unreliable, illogical and too diverse in their character” to be uses as the primary referents. Unreliable because some states are in the business of security while others (those of Hitler, Stalin, Saddam) are not. Illogical because states are only means and not the ends of security. Also, the historical variety of states makes a theory of state misplaced.

Consider the confrontation between the women of Greenham Common and Margaret Thatcher in the early 1980s. While the former saw nuclearization as a threat to their security and protested the building of the Greenham missile base, the latter saw the Soviet Union as a threat and the missiles as the guarantors of security. The utopian realism of the former can be contrasted with the neo-realism of the latter. The Greenham women were right. It is not that denuclearization will be easy or guaranteed. But it is rational to act as though it is.

The Case for Emancipation

The struggle for emancipation is concurrent with the spirit our times. It is necessary to go beyond the important but limited insights of neo-realism. Politics is open-ended and based in ethics. The preoccupation with technological variables must be superseded by an engagement with moral philosophy. Critical theory helps in achieving this movement from the neo-realist framework to critical philosophy.

This requires a rethinking of traditional ideas about liberty. Emancipation implies liberty but of an egalitarian character. “[L]iberty without economic status is propaganda.” Emancipation also requires the integration of reciprocal rights — the idea that ‘I am not truly free until everyone is free’. This will result in the breaking down of the barriers between the domestic and the foreign. The distinction between the two although convenient is an “unhelpful dichotomy”.

Teaching and Practice: What is to be Done?

Freedom eradicates violence. There is an inverse correlation between the political rights and civil liberties in nations, and both internal violence and war. “Emancipation, empirically, is security.”

Traditional thinking about security in so far as it is characterised by superpower nuclearism is a “non-returnable timebound curiosity”. In its stead, a new breed of students trained in defence, of course, but also in human rights, environmental issues, economic development, and comparative politics.

In practice, emancipation enables community building upon the debris of the barriers between “us” and “them”. With it as the “utopian” goal, the processes practiced and implemented towards attaining it, in a very real sense, become significant achievements themselves. In other words, the means become the ends. The aim is not so much on distant utopian goals but on reformist steps and processes. Such processes have already been underway not just in governments but also in non-state actors. The outlook is encouraging.

Critical theory falls short when it comes to policy recommendations. But so does realism. In any case, it should not be expected to guide action in all circumstances.

Conclusion as Prologue

“The implementation of an emancipatory strategy through process utopian steps is, to a greater or lesser extent, in the hands of all those who want it to be — the embryonic global civil society. In a world of global communications few should feel entirely helpless. Even in small and private decisions it is possible to make choices which help rather than hinder the building of a world community. Some developments depend on governments, but some do not. …[I]n pursuing emancipation, the bases of real security are being established.


The Proverbs of Administration by Herbert Simon — A Summary

Simon, Herbert A. 1946. “The Proverbs of Administration.” Public Administration Review 6 (1). [American Society for Public Administration, Wiley]: 53–67.

Such a badass title!

Proverbs are useful for persuasion especially when used retrospectively. One can always find a proverb to prove one’s point — or the opposite point for that matter. But when they are used in scientific theories, they are less useful and more harmful. Given their very nature they can both prove or disprove anything. If Newton had announced that all matter both attract and repulse each other, he would not have contributed anything useful. But sadly, most of the propositions of administrative theory today possess that property of proverbs. The paper will substantiate this sweeping criticism.

Some Accepted Administrative Principles

Among the common accepted “principles” of administration are:


Administrative efficiency is increased by a specialization of the task among the group.

But does any increase in specialisation lead to increase in efficiency?

Consider two plans of nursing the first of which requires nurses to specialise by place — nurses are assigned to districts and do all the work in that district — and the second of which requires nurses to specialise by function — nurses are assigned to specific functions, TB nursing for example, which they perform in multiple districts.

The proverb of specialisation is useless in helping decide which of these alternatives should be chosen. As it turns out, specialisation is not a condition of efficiency but is the inevitable result of all group activity for the simple reason that a person cannot be doing two different things at the same time.

Unity of Command

Administrative efficiency is increased by arranging the members of the group in a determinate hierarchy of authority.

This proverb requires that a subordinate should not have multiple superiors from whom he receives orders. This is clear enough.

However, if unity of command is observed strictly, there will be inefficiency in situations that require multiple forms of specialised expertise. For example, should the accountant in a school department who is subordinate to an educator never listen to the orders of the finance department regarding the technical aspects of his work? Of course, some irresponsibility and confusion will ensue if unity of command is not followed. What is needed is a principle that helps weigh the advantages and disadvantages of both courses of action.

Span of Control

Administrative efficiency is increased by limiting the span of control, at any point in the hierarchy to a small number.

But administrative efficiency is also enhanced by keeping at a minimum the number of organizational levels through which a matter must pass before it is acted upon. This equally plausible proverb contradicts the other proverb.

In large organisations, restricting the span of control inevitably creates excessive red tape as more levels are added to the organisational structure. But increasing the span of control beyond a certain point will weaken the authority of the supervisor. Where then lies the appropriate span of control lie? The proverbs are useless again in providing an answer to this critical question.

Organization by Purpose, Process, Clientele, Place

Administrative efficiency is increased by grouping the workers, for purposes of control, according to (a) purpose, (b) process, (c) clientele, or (d) place.

As is clear from the discussion on specialisation, these purposes of control are contradictory and the achievement of the first kind of specialisation can come only at the cost of the other three. It is also naïve to see the kinds of specialisation as separable. On examination, it will be found that the difference between “process” and “purpose” is only one of degree. Purposes are generally arranged in a hierarchy and the purpose of one process may be the process for another higher purpose and so on. Consider a typist who moves his fingers in order to type; types in order to reproduce a letter; reproduces a letter in order that an inquiry may be answered. “Clientele” and “place” are part of purpose, not apart from it. Any complete statement of purpose will have to specify “place” which integrates “clientele” with it. The purpose of a fire department, for instance, would have to include the area (the place) served by it which would necessarily include the people living in the area (the clientele).

It is therefore not legitimate to speak of a “purpose” organization, a “process” organization, a “clientele” organization, or an “area” organization. The same unit may be any of these depending on the nature of the larger organisational unit where it is located. It is correct only to say a certain bureau is a process bureau within a certain department. Even when the ambiguities with the usage of the terms are clarified, the “principles” of administration, needless to say, give no guide as to determining which of the competing bases of specialisation is applicable.

The Impasse of Administrative Theory

The problem with the “principles” is that they are treated as such when they are actually only criteria for describing and diagnosing administrative situations. Closet space is an important criteria for the design of a house but a design made on the principle of having maximum closet space will be quite unbalanced.

In administration, it is necessary that “all the relevant diagnostic criteria be identified; that each administrative situation be analysed in terms of the entire set of criteria; and that research be instituted to determine how weights can be assigned to the several criteria when they are, as they usually will be, mutually incompatible”.

The Description of Administrative Situations

Just as the concepts of “acceleration” and “weight” were developed before a law of gravitation could be intelligibly formulated, administrative theory needs to develop operational concepts — that is, terms whose meanings correspond to empirically observable facts or situations — before it can recommend sweeping principles.

Most descriptions of organisations in administrative theory fall short of scientific standards by confining themselves to “allocation of functions and the formal structure of authority”. A description of the functions — generally, that a bureau performs this function while another performs that function — provides little to no information about the manner in which the organisations work.

“Administrative description suffers currently from superficiality, oversimplification, lack of realism.” Until it undertakes the tiresome task of studying actual allocation of decision-making functions, there is little hope for rapid progress towards identifying and verifying valid administrative principles.

A purely formal description of administrative organisation might be impossible for the simple reason that real-world content plays a greater role in the application of administrative principles than formal precepts.

The Diagnosis of Administrative Situation

Propositions of administrative theory are concerned with the “principle of efficiency” — that is, the greatest accomplishment of administrative objectives for a given level of expenditure or the minimum expenditure of resources for achieving a given objective.

But the “principle” of efficiency should be considered not as such but only as a definition because it does not tell how the accomplishments are to be achieved but only that maximisation is the aim of administrative activity.

How to attain the level of efficiency or maximise the attainment of administrative objectives? Consider a single member of the organisation and see what the qualitative and quantitative limits to his output are. He may be limited by skills, habits, and reflexes that are not in his consciousness — for instance, manual dexterity, strength or reaction time. He may further be limited in his decisions by his values and his conceptions of what the purpose of the organisation is — his greater loyalty to the bureau may compel him to make decisions that are inimical to the larger organisation. He may also be limited by the extent of his knowledge of things relevant to his job. The first is a limit on his ability to perform and the other two are limits on his ability to make rational decisions. There may be other limits too but the point is that administrative theory must consider such limits as are present and come up with valid and non-contradictory principles. Only the first, thanks to the Scientific Management of Frederick Taylor, has been satisfactorily examined.

The limits of rationality are variable and may be influenced by consciousness of that very limitation. Rationality makes sense only when seen in terms of the larger objectives of the organisation and not the specific objectives of the individual administrator. Also, administrative theory is concerned with the non-rational limits to rationality. The greater the rationality, the lesser the importance of the exact form of organisation.

Assigning Weights to the Criteria

First, an operational (see under The Description of Administrative Situations) vocabulary for describing administrative organisations must be developed. Second, the limits of rationality in making decisions must be studied to understand the criteria that have to be weighed in evaluating an administrative organization.

It is not enough to identify the criteria (that the span of control must be decreased). But it is more important to weigh its benefits with the possible adverse effects it might bring about (how adversely will reducing the span of control affect the culture of contact between higher and lower ranks of the hierarchy?). This can only be possible through empirical research and experimentation.

How may this research proceed? First, administrative objectives must be concretely defined. Second, sufficient experimental control must be exercised to isolate the problem are from disturbing factors. These two requirements have rarely been fulfilled in so called “administrative experiments”.

“Perhaps the program outlined here will appear an ambitious or even a quixotic one. There should certainly be no illusions, in undertaking it, as to the length and deviousness of the path. It is hard to see, however, what alternative remains open. …

It may be objected that administration cannot aspire to be a “science”; that by the nature of its subject it cannot be more than an “art”. … [But] even an “art” cannot be founded on proverbs.”





Whose Imagined Community? by Partha Chatterjee — A Summary


Chatterjee, Partha. 1993. “Whose Imagined Community?” In The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories, 1sted., 3–13. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

The miscarriage of nationalism in the postcolonial states during the 1970s — by distressing ethnic politics as well as corrupt, fractious, and often brutal regimes — has tarnished the legacy of nationalism. Nationalism is now seen as a “problem” and has consequently been made a subject of general debate.

This recent genealogy of the idea explains why nationalism is now viewed as a dark, elemental, unpredictable force of primordial nature threatening the orderly calm of civilized life.

In this time, colonial historians have been debating “what had become of the idea and who was responsible for it.” It is from these debates that emerged Benedict Anderson’s subtle and original observation that “nations were not the determinate products of given sociological conditions such as language or race or religion [but that] they had been, in Europe and everywhere else in the world, imagined into existence”.

This “imagined community” took concrete shape through, amongst others, the institutions of “print-capitalism”, that nexus of the technology of the printing press and the economy of the capitalist market “which made it possible for rapidly growing numbers of people to think about themselves, and to relate themselves to others, in profoundly new ways” (Anderson 2006: 36). The historical experience of nationalism in the West had then supplied “modular” forms from which nationalist elites in Asia and Africa had chosen the ones they liked.

“[But] if nationalisms in the rest of the world have to choose their imagined community from certain “modular” forms already made available to them by Europe and the Americas, what do they have left to imagine?” This objection is made because the nationalist imagination in Asia and Africa are premised on a difference from and not on an identity with the western models of nationalism.

For this assertion to make sense, the standard nationalist theory of nationalism as which sees it solely as a political movement — beginning with the establishment of the Indian National Congress in 1885 after on a decade of “preparation” which in turn was built upon the reform movements of the previous five decades — must be dismantled. This standard theory of nationalist history necessarily converges with Anderson’s formulations.

Anticolonial nationalism creates its own domain of sovereignty in the spiritual sphere of colonial society before it begins its political battle in the material domain. In the material domain — the domain of the “outside” — of the economy, statecraft, science and technology, the West is superior and must be emulated. But in the spiritual domain — the “inner” domain — which marks cultural identity, colonial distinctness must be preserved.

The implications are many. For one, nationalism claims sovereignty in the spiritual domain. So, while the initial phase of the social reform period in India witnessed appeals to colonial authority to effect change, in the later phase, there was strong resistance to interventions by the colonial state. This later phase is the period of nationalism. This does not imply that the spiritual domain is left unchanged. It is, in fact, here that nationalism launches its “most powerful, creative, and historically significant project: to fashion a “modern” national culture that is nevertheless not Western. If the nation is an imagined community, then this is where it is brought into being (emphasis added).”

Some areas of the spiritual domain nationalism transforms will be examined with illustrations from Bengal.

Consider language. While the impact of print-capitalism is unheralded, it does not imply a simple transposition of European patterns or standards to the development of the “national” language in the colonies. It is the colonial state that introduced the English language and commissions printed books in Bengali. Closely on the heels of such development, the bilingual elite through an “institutional network of printing presses, publishing houses, newspapers, magazines, and literary societies” tried to provide its mother tongue with the requisites of a language for a “modern” culture.

While modern European languages and literature shaped the critical discourse, their conventions were considered inappropriate to judge Bengali literary productions. For example, in drama, it was not the conventions of Shakespeare but those from Sanksrit drama that would succeed on the Calcutta stage. Mainstream public theatre inspired by Western conventions is clearly distinguished from “folk theatre”. As another example, consider novels. Bengali novelists preferred the “direct recording of living speech” to the “disciplined forms of authorial prose” in an attempt to find an “artistic truthfulness” which made it “necessary to escape, as often as possible, the rigidities of [modern] prose”.

The assertion of difference was most dramatic in the realm of the family. The criticism of the Indian traditions and the reliance on the agency of colonial masters in the early reform period gave way to a rejection of outside intervention in the nationalists. Only the nation, it came to be argued, could have the right to intervene in such an essential aspect of cultural identity as the family.

In the material domain, nationalism begins by “inserting itself into a new public sphere constituted by the processes and forms of the modern”. It had to overcome the subordination arising out of the strategy of the “rule of colonial difference” — the preservation of the alienness of the ruling group which was pursued by the colonial state. Ironically, nationalism had to, in this domain, insist on abolishing this rule of colonial difference. Overtime, the domain became more extensive and morphed into the postcolonial state which, in India at least, was built on the idea of the modern liberal-democratic state.

But while the nationalist elite presided over a field constituted by the distinction between the spiritual and the material, the postcolonial state presides over the field constituted by the distinction between the private and the public. The modern liberal-democratic postcolonial state, in accordance with liberal ideology, seeks to protect the inviolability of private selves which means it has to remain indifferent to the concrete differences between private selves marked by race, language, religion, class, caste, and so forth, differences towards which the nationalist elite could not remain indifferent.

“The result is that autonomous forms of imagination of the community were, and continue to be, overwhelmed and swamped by the history of the postcolonial state. Here lies the root of our postcolonial misery: not in our inability to think out new forms of the modern community but in our surrender to the old forms of the modern state.”


Anderson, Benedict. 2006. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Revised edition. London: Verso.