Handbook of Critical Policy Studies
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Handbook of Critical Policy Studies

Edited by Frank Fischer, Douglas Torgerson, Anna Durnová and Michael Orsini

Critical policy studies, as illustrated in this Handbook, challenges the conventional approaches public policy inquiry. But it offers important innovations as well, in particular its focus on discursive politics, policy argumentation and deliberation, and interpretive modes of analysis.
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Chapter 2: Harold D. Lasswell and critical policy studies: the threats and temptations of power

Douglas Torgerson


Despite the technocratic connotations evoked by the term ‘policy sciences’, Torgerson finds in Harold D. Lasswell’s post-WWII proposal for the ‘policy sciences of democracy’ a precursor to critical policy studies. That is not just because Lasswell favored democracy, but also because he was unsatisfied with established liberal democracy. He advanced, in contrast, an image of the ‘progressive democratization of society’, which included a participatory imperative to advance human freedom and dignity. What we find central to Lasswell’s approach, indeed, is a critical interest in emancipation. Providing not only a precursor, Lasswell also provides a model. In other words, Torgerson argues, Lasswell’s example can help us to more clearly recognize key issues facing critical policy studies. What is the relationship between critical inquiry and democratic commitment? What implications does a commitment to democratization have for advocacy and for intervention into political controversies? How should inquiry deal with contexts of power? What is the role of political judgment? By examining key concepts from Lasswell’s proposal – especially his emphasis on contextual orientation – we enhance our ability to identify such questions and to address them clearly.

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