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 22: Context: what kind of missing link?

Christopher Pollitt


Let me begin with a bold, not to say crude, attempt to prioritize and simplify. Embedded in the foregoing cornucopia of contributions there seem to be a number of frequently recurring concerns and proposals for addressing those concerns. As in Chapter 21, I will focus on six particularly important ones. _ That context(s) should be defined, theorized and operationalized. _ That contexts may be factual and/or conceptual. _ That contexts are multiple and intersecting. _ That contexts may be constitutive of action. _ That we should look for the mechanisms and processes that animate contexts and enable them to have ‘effects’. _ That comparison can play a valuable role in the analysis of context. However, before we start on our list of six insights, we should not overlook a fundamental point that has animated the whole of this book. It is simply that context is tremendously important right across the study of policy and management – it (or rather ‘they’– we will come to that in a moment) plays/play a crucial role in a wide variety of types of explanation. ‘It/they’ merited a book – hopefully this book – to give it/them the attention their pervasiveness deserves. As Christensen and Lægreid wrote (p. 149) ‘context can make a huge difference’.

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