Frederick Thayer and the structural transformation of the public sphere

Thomas J. Catlaw

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


A year after his death, this article provides the first critical analysis and overview of the work of Frederick Thayer. It argues that in the contemporary context of governance, Thayer's work is more relevant than ever, but that a set of problems-including the apparent simplicity of Thayer's assault on hierarchy, his frequently bombastic prose, and the foundational nature of his critique-impede the field's engagement with his work. The article contends that Thayer's work is more nuanced and methodical than it may appear and offers important avenues for confronting some of the field's most persistent theoretical and practical problems. Perhaps most important, Thayer's work lucidly illustrates the field's misunderstanding of process theory as an account of change. As such, Thayer turns us unwittingly into a theoretical cul-de-sac that undercuts any real possibility for action and movement toward the very world for which he hoped. This has important implications for critical approaches in public administration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)358-383
Number of pages26
JournalAdministration and Society
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2008


  • Epistemology
  • Governance
  • Hierarchy
  • Participation
  • Process theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration
  • Marketing


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