Public Management in the Postmodern Era
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Public Management in the Postmodern Era

Challenges and Prospects

Edited by John Fenwick and Janice McMillan

Challenging the traditional orthodoxies of public management, this timely and comprehensive book adopts a lively and critical approach to key questions of public policy and management.
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Chapter 9: Public Policy and Management in Postmodern Times

John Fenwick and Janice McMillan


John Fenwick and Janice McMillan In this final chapter we consider the nature of public management and public policy in a postmodern era and revisit the themes outlined in the introduction. To begin the discussion, we review the key tenets of modernist and foundationalist approaches and their principal shortcomings. THE FAILURES OF FOUNDATIONALIST THEORY Foundationalism has been central to theory and practice in public policy and management, both in its explanations of the world around us and in the actions of those who occupy positions of influence in public policy and management. Yet we need only consider the many publicly documented policy disasters in western democracies (see for example Gray and ’t Hart (1998)) to see the negative impacts of foundationalist understandings of the world and their assumed causal relationships. We will follow here the definition of foundationalism offered by Bevir and Rhodes (1999: 216), as a positivist perspective that ‘adopts some variant of the natural science model; tries to discover “pure facts”, and strives after successive approximations to given truth’. In order to consider the failings of foundationalism, we will start by considering the genesis of foundationalist theory within narrative and knowledge creation perspectives. If we accept the view of Jacobs (2009) that humans have a proclivity for narrative as a way of making sense of the world around them, and that narrative predated logic in this regard, it is not surprising that public management and policy have suffered from the discourse of foundationalism. However, the status of knowledge...

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