August 02, 2007

Theres nothing 'Public' about 'Public Administration'

I am presently studying "Public Administration" (pubAd) for my Civil Service Examinations. The subject is very interesting for those who have an inclination towards management and administration (not the excel sheet variety of management ofcourse).

I figured out that the macro level theories of PubAd fit perfectly at micro level too - that is at the family administration level. Consider the spirit of Public Administration, it reads

"Authority without responsibility leads to authoritarianism; while
responsibility without authority leads to anarchy(lack of order)".

How profound is that. I tried applying this to families and found it to fit perfectly. The Indian families of yesteryears could be termed as Authoritarian to say the least. The head honcho of the family (the father) decided all important decisions and it was his nod that enabled us to go ahead with our decisions. In many cases the father even decided his offspring's career! The mother's job was confined to the kitchen and even here her authority was checked in terms of the approval for buying groceries by the head of the family. Clearly in many ways we find that fathers enjoyed real authority without much responsibility (he never actually got the groceries himself). Certainly that was an authoritarian setup with no room for equality.

The families of today, on the other hand, can be seen to tread in an entirely new route which quite untested. These families generally constitute a husband and wife of similar qualification and income. They have certainly broken all barriers of the conventional authoritarian regime that is characteristic of a typical Indian household by espousing the 'virtue' of Anarchy – a complete lack of order in the house.

It is not uncommon to hear of stories about the husband and wife having a 50-50 'work sharing agreement' back at home – the wife cooks breakfast while the husband cooks the lunch. Other 'deals' could be that each of them make breakfast every alternate day. - it follows the paradigm “I toast a slice of bread and you toast another”. I wonder whether the binding force in this relationship could be love, i would bet it is more a case of practical room sharing agreement due to space and money constraints that one has with his/her room mate.

The relationship is built on the false premise that in a family there is no need for a person to act as the final deciding authority. However the truth is that no organization can survive without a leader. Even the most flat hierarchic of the organizations such as a startup software development company needs a department head. An headless creature and a two headed demon are both expected not to survive long.

In this type of relationship there is no one in the family who calls the shots. This indecisiveness could soon eat away the air of 'equality' that once formed the basis of the relationship 'deals' or prenuptial Agreements(soon expected to arrive at the Indian Matriominal scene).

The authoritarian family setup is indeed bad. But anarchy is not the answer to authoritarianism. We have to find an alternate middle path.


Prashanth Ellina said...

Your point makes sense but I think a "leader" is essential when the size of the group is larger (say > 3). Groups of 2 and 3 can work "flat".

In a nuptial relationship, since only two people are involved (usually :) ) , I believe that a leader is not required always.

All in all, it finally boils down to what works for a given couple. One size does not fit everyone.

vikraman said...

What i meant by a 'leader' in a family was one who conveys the decision of the family - a family doesn't consist of only 2 ppl, though it starts with two. It then grows into children, grandchildren and so forth.

The need to have a 'point of contact' is the reason why even in the ration cards, you have a column called "head of family". This is followed by other members of the family.

Sriram said...

Your central contention seems to be that there *needs* to be a head of a family, an assertion I would like to see backed up by data of some sort. Your comparison to an organization isnt valid as 2-people organizations are uncommon. When they do exist, they tend to be co-founders or people with equal authority (Larry Page and Sergey Brin, for example).

The notion of a 'point of contact
' is orthogonal from leadership. A secretary could be your point of contact for a corporation but that doesn't mean that he/she runs the place!

I'm also not sure what you mean by 'the decision of the family'. If you take any typical decision in a modern nuclear family (from whether to have kids to who's going to do the laundry), I just cant see one person 'laying down the law'.

Since every non-trivial decision impacts the other person's life so much, I dont think it is fair to impose one's will on someone else ("Honey, I dont care what you think- we're having kids").

One model that works is that you defer to someone (not the same person everytime) for a particular decision. For example, the husband might be good at finances so he gets to play treasurer and make the final call while the wife may be good at real estate and gets to make housing and investment decisions around land.

vikraman said...

Families are not 2member groups- children for example make them multi member entity. What i meant by a leader in a family is a person who acts as the final deciding authority. Remember, the families world wide have evolved over tens of centuries and the concept of a head is an evolved concept- any sociologist would agree to this. It looks foolish to question it in the name of modernity. What you have suggested already exists in the larger sphere as well- there is a finance minister, IT minister etc. But then there is also the prime minister who checks their authority.