David John Farmer is a professor emeritus of philosophy and public affairs in the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University. He is best known for his publications on post-traditional governance theory and practice – especially on macro public administration and public policy. He has also published on the philosophy and foundations of economics and on the metaphysics of time. Post-traditional conceptual approaches analyzed in his writings include thinking as play, justice as seeking, practice as art, reflexive language, imaginization, anti-administration, deterritorialization, and epistemic pluralism.
The contents of some of the books are indicated under their titles – To Kill the King, The Language of Public Administration, Public Administration in Perspective, and Crime Control. The reference section lists these and others of his works. Dr. Farmer has also contributed to the fields of post-traditional governance theory and practice through many book chapters and articles.
Early life and education
He was born in Barnstaple, Devonshire, U.K. His father Joseph worked for most of his life in the Research and Development Department of the Bristol Aeroplane Company.
He began his university education at the London School of Economics, University of London. He obtained a master's degree in economics from the University of Toronto and a master's degree in philosophy at the University of Virginia. He was awarded two Ph.D. degrees. His Ph.D. in Economics is from the University of London (1984), and his Ph.D. in Philosophy is from the University of Virginia (1989).
Dr. Farmer’s career has been as a practitioner and as an academic. His practitioner experience included work as a management consultant for the Public Administration Service and for the Jacobs Company, both of Chicago (1965-1971). This management consulting included services to some forty state and local governments, e.g., the states of Illinois and Pennsylvania and cities of Los Angeles, Atlanta, Northampton, Galesburg, Reading, Salt Lake, New Hope, Durham, Oklahoma City, Plymouth, Moberly, Tacoma, Kansas City and Milwaukee. He has also worked as an employee in five governments. This included the City of New York, as director of Operations Management and as Special Assistant to the Police Commissioner in the New York City Police Department (1971-1974). It also included the U.S. Government, as a division director in the National Institute of Justice in the U.S. Department of Justice (1974-1980). Previous employment included work as an economist and as an administrative analyst for two Canadian provincial governments (Ontario and Saskatchewan).
Dr. Robert Cunningham (University of Tennessee, Knoxville) wrote that Farmer "sets his ideas on the high road, the big picture, and implications for the future, adhering to the principle that ideas should be explained as simply as possible without distorting the reality..." (Cunningham, 2009, 302). Dr. Gary Marshall (University of Nebraska at Omaha) wrote that "Within public administration and political science, David Farmer is a mentor to many and an inspiration to all who know him." (G. Marshall, 2011, p. 1)
The International Journal of Organization Theory and Behavior devoted its entire Spring 2016 issue to Dr. Farmer's work. Ten articles were contributed by academics from various parts of the world (e.g., from the United States and from China and Argentina), practitioners and former doctoral students. It described and illustrated the breadth and depth of Dr. Farmer’s iconic contributions to post-traditional public administration theory and practice. In the closing article, Orion White concluded that “David Farmer’s monumental contribution is to have laid the foundation stone from which a new Public Administration culture can be built.” Articles included those titled “What is Newark?” “Applying Farmer’s Lenses: Two Illustrations,” “Of Rhizomes and Pointillism: David John Farmer’s Influence,” “The Practicality of Poetic Contemplation: A Reflection on David Farmer as a Methodologist,” and “David Farmer’s Body of Work: A Retrospective and Prospective View.
To Kill the King
This 2005 book discusses a post-traditional consciousness that aims to revitalize governance and bureaucracy. To Kill the King explains such consciousness in terms of three concepts analyzed as thinking as play, justice as seeking, and practice as art. It describes a post-traditional consciousness of governance that can yield improvements in the quality of life for each individual and for future generations. The publisher claims that the book aims to "capture the heart, and enlarge the soul, of reform movements within the study of governance and bureaucracy." O.C. McSwite, formerly of Virginia Tech and George Washington Universities, wrote: "I consider this book to be a major and distinctive contribution to the field of public administration and to the discourse about the future of government in the United States as well" (O.C. McSwite, 2009, p. 303).
The Language of Public Administration
This book argues that modern public administration theory, although valuable, is limiting as an explanatory and catalytic force in resolving problems about the functioning of public bureaucracy and in transforming public bureaucracy into a more positive force. The Language of Public Administration (1995) specifies a reflexive language paradigm for public administration thinking. It aims to show how the study and practice of public administration can be reinvigorated. Dr. Alexander Kouzmin (Southern Cross University and University of South Australia) writes that “Unrivalled by peers, Dr. Farmer has a vibrant language of public administration transgressing what is sayable and what is un-sayable (A. Kouzmin, 2011, p. 803). The Language of Public Administration was listed as one of the candidate books for “great books of public administration, 1990-2010” (Meier & O’Toole, 2012, p. 890).
The Language of Public Administration has been translated into Chinese and Korean. It was translated into Chinese in 2005. The Korean translation was published in 1999 by Pakyoung Publishing Company.
Public Administration in Perspective
The book explains and illustrates how public administration can benefit from epistemic pluralism – just as can any other action or social science discipline, currently operating essentially within its own disciplinary cul-de-sac. Public Administration in Perspective (2010) explains that epistemic refers to knowing; pluralism refers to more than one way. The book offers an example of a grand strategy of epistemic pluralism. It examines public administration theory and practice from perspectives that include a traditional, a business, an economic, a political, a critical theory, a post-structural, a psychoanalytic, a neuroscience, a feminist, an ethical, and a data lens. It begins by quoting Dwight Waldo’s claim that “administrative thought must establish a working relationship with every major province in the realm of human learning.” Dr. Breena Coates (California State University, San Bernardino) writes about Public Administration in Perspective that the “author provides unique and, hitherto, unexplored perspectives from which to view the multiple faces of public administration… The book’s scholarship is compelling and hard to resist… Today in our networked, globalized environment we are more than ever coming to the realization that there is an interdisciplinary basis for understanding truth, and that each discrete branch of knowledge studies a mere subset of particularized knowledge streams” (B. Coates, 2012, p. 133.)
The book presents a comprehensive examination of police resources allocation decision making and documents research indicating opportunities for better utilization of police resources. The publisher of this 1984 book (Crime Control) claims that the book should be read by "those working in the fields of law and society, criminology, sociology, political science, criminal law, and criminal justice."
The former N.Y.P.D. Police Commissioner Patrick V. Murphy wrote of this book that “In recent years, American policing has benefited greatly from the observations and analyses of scholars and researchers, particularly when they have had on-line experience in police agencies at one or another stage in their careers. David J. Farmer is a scholar who has had such experience, which adds a special dimension to his observations and conclusions” (Patrick V. Murphy, 1984, p. vii.)