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 4: The intransigent context: glimpses at the history of a problem

Fabio Rugge


The problem the title refers to has to do with what has been called “institutional transfer”. This expression and the largely equivalent “legal transplant”, “institutional imitation”, and so on, mean the reproduction of an institutional pattern in a context different from the one in which that pattern has been generated. I shall not say more about this. A reassessment of the “institutional transfer” issue – let alone a fresh analytical discussion of this practice – is not my objective. Instead I would like to first identify three facets of the word “context” that are particularly relevant here: 1. Context denotes an object of undetermined extension. As we frequently learn in discussions, there is always a “broader context”. Social anthropologists are perhaps the most aware of this. Their contexts are often very capacious. In a passage I will come back to later in this chapter, Margaret Mead prescribes that practices and beliefs “be evaluated in context”; and she equates context with “culture” as comprising such different constituents like “the system of technology”, “the way of preparing or eating food “, the “method of electing a prime minister” or of “hushing a child to sleep”. The contexts we will be dealing with are no less varied than that (World Federation for Mental Health, 1953: 12–13).

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