Handbooks of Research on Public Policy series
Edited by Frank Fischer, Douglas Torgerson, Anna Durnová and Michael Orsini
Chapter 1: Introduction to critical policy studies
Critical policy studies, like policy studies generally, focuses on the policymaking process. That focus includes two key concerns: one involves how policies are decided in a political setting and the other is focused on the practices of policy analysis, specifically on how they address the formulation and assessment of particular policies and their outcomes. As such, critical policy studies has emerged as an effort to understand policy processes not only in terms of apparent inputs and outputs, but more importantly in terms of the interests, values and normative assumptions – political and social – that shape and inform these processes (see Barbehön et al., Chapter 13, this volume; Lejano and Park, Chapter 15, this volume; and åm, Chapter 16, this volume). Rejecting the assumption that analysis can be neutral, entirely uncommitted to and removed from interests and values, critical policy studies seeks to identify and examine existing commitments against normative criteria such as social justice, democracy and empowerment (see Fainstein, Chapter 10, this volume). Basic to policy analysis generally are two very old ideas – namely, the ideas that government decisions should be based on sound knowledge, and that such knowledge should rise above politics. Although these ideas have their roots in the ancient notion of rule by philosopher kings, in the modern world these ideas point instead to the conception of a governing elite of technical experts – or technocracy – working as a neutral instrument on behalf of human progress.