The Dynamics of Public Policy

The Dynamics of Public Policy

Theory and Evidence

New Horizons in Public Policy series

Adrian Kay

In The Dynamics of Public Policy, Adrian Kay sets out the crucial methodological, theoretical and empirical implications of two important trends in the social sciences: a frequently expressed ambition for analysis of ‘movies not stills’ and the regular observation that policy, politics and governance is becoming more complex.

Chapter 2: Policy Dynamics and History

Adrian Kay

Subjects: politics and public policy, public policy


In Chapter 1, the path linking successive temporal states of some entity was defined as the history of that entity. When an entity, such as policy, is complex, composite and polyvalent, there can be several different immanent histories. This chapter aims to establish the role of history in policy dynamics, both in terms of the effect of things that have happened in the past and of history as an academic discipline. The first section is epistemological; it discusses what counts as a valid explanation in historical and social-scientific disciplines. The next section develops the argument that a dynamic perspective with socialscientific foundations, as outlined in Chapter 1, can draw on history qua academic discipline to make a genuine and distinct contribution to policy studies; in particular in emphasizing the utility of the narrative in contradistinction to more formal models of dynamics that often fail social science standards of good modelling. The third section illustrates this claim by using a dynamic perspective to problematize the notion of policy ‘choice’, suggesting that the narrative is the appropriate method to render the complexities and conjunctural contingencies in the policy process tractable for analysis. HISTORY AND THE SOCIAL SCIENCES Any claim of a ‘historic turn’ in the social sciences, see for example McDonald (1996), should be accompanied by the observation that this is a return rather than a new trend; for example Hodgson (2001) charts the rise and fall of the question of the role and nature of historical specificity in the social sciences....

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