The Missing Link?
Edited by Christopher Pollitt
Chapter 9: Context, theory and rationality: an uneasy relationship?
Context is messy. Dealing with context in order to explain the outcome of a political or administrative process means taking into account the decisions and actions by individual politicians or bureaucrats, the media’s attention (or not) of (alleged or real) administrative malfeasance, ad hoc informal linkages between domestic and transnational institutions, and so on. We deal with context because it is often there that we hope to find the explanation to why and how public organizations were redesigned, created or terminated, or whatever our specific research question might be. Not only is the devil in the detail, this is also where we find the key explanations to social, political and administrative behavior. Through “thick description” (Geertz, 1973) we uncover the richness of context that explains why people, organizations or states behave the way they do. However, as social scientists we are expected not only to account for such behavior in individual cases but also in a broader and more general sense to build or test theory. In an ideal world we should use such case studies to develop more general models or theories of such behavior. Taking that step from the case-specific to the more general requires that much of the context used to account for the case is dropped over the proverbial railing as generalization is predicated on some degree of simplification.
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