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 3: Constituting context?

Janet Newman


In his Preface, Christopher Pollitt asks how far context can be viewed as a background – the scenery on the stage where policy and management is enacted – or whether it might be considered to be part of the action. This question is the starting point for this short intervention. In public policy and management research context is generally considered to be something that is ‘outside’ – something global that shapes and conditions the actions of ‘local’ actors, or a series of institutional variables that help analyse and explain difference. Here, in contrast, I want to consider how academics, policymakers and public managers might shape, as well as analyse, the contexts they work in. The argument suggests that the ‘knowledge work’ of academics and policy researchers does not simply describe the world but has a generative power of its own. Similarly the actions of public managers are not just shaped by their understandings of context but help generate – or perpetuate – wider cultural scripts and logics of intervention. This is not a particularly original set of observations, but I want to highlight two particular applications relevant to the focus of this volume. The first, what I term the ‘politics of theory’, concerns the role of contemporary social science in constituting public policy rationales. My particular focus here is on the emergence of ‘governance’ as both analytic construct and practical policy concept, and the difficulty of untangling the relationship between them. The second concerns the politics of intervention.

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