Context in Public Policy and Management
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Context in Public Policy and Management

The Missing Link?

Edited by Christopher Pollitt

‘Putting into context’ is a very common phrase – both in the social sciences and beyond. But what exactly do we mean by this, and how do we do it? In this book, leading scholars in public policy and management tackle these issues. They show how ideas of context are central to a range of theories and explanations and use an international range of case studies to exemplify context-based explanation. The book uncovers the complexity that lies behind an apparently simple notion, and offers a variety of approaches to decipher that complexity. Context is indeed a missing link, which enables us to make sense of the vital relationship between the general and the particular.
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Chapter 5: Three visions of context as history

Mark Bevir and Rod Rhodes


Injunctions to put administrative structures and processes in their context are as common as they are vague. Context covers a multitude of ‘variables’ but commonly most social scientists include history; for example, historical institutionalism has been one of the major intellectual movements of recent years. However, few social scientists spend much time explaining what they mean by history. Trite phrases such as ‘history matters’ are common. Sustained analyses of how and why history matters are less so. Christopher Pollitt (2008, 39) suggests that: The good ship History was more like a flotilla than a single vessel. The flagship is of traditional design, in which it is easy to assume that what one is hearing is simply ‘how it was’ – a convincing narrative unencumbered by much theory or method. But this is a deceptive appearance [. . .] The theory is principally inductive and inclusive – explanations are produced by constructive attention to many details and aspects [. . .] There is no compulsion to generalize the eventually constructed explanation to many other situations, and no requirement that the form of explanation must be capable of yielding predictions about the future. Appearances are indeed deceptive. In this chapter, we give schematic accounts of three rival visions of the notion of historical context: developmental historicism, modernist empiricism and radical historicism. For a brief summary, see Table 5.1.

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