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 1: Context in the context – missing the missing links in the field of public administration

Turo Virtanen


This chapter is about the ‘context’ and how it is or can be used in relation to scientific knowledge while doing research in the field of public administration. In general, contextualism has been understood as a philosophy of science in the communities of psychology and the social sciences (Hayes et al., 1993; Morris, 1997). Issues of pragmatic truth criteria, narratives, historiography, dialectical materialism, Vygotskian perspective, drama psychology, hermeneutic research, post-modernism, and so on, have all been analysed in the connection of contextualism. In this chapter, I do not discuss too many specialities of contextualism, but try to paint a broader picture about the distinctions that are involved. The first distinction that I will make is about various forms of contextualisms that may be useful, given the focus of this book. The second distinction I will bring in is context understood as the context of knowledge and as the context of knowledge creation. The third distinction I will put up is context understood either as conceptual context or as factual context. At this stage what I miss in the connection of each distinction is how the distinction may contribute to understanding the idea of ‘context as a missing link’. After making these distinctions, I make some points about the relative contribution different ways of using context may have in improving scientific knowledge in the field of public administration as a discipline, and about public administration and management as the research object of the discipline.

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