Edited by H. K. Colebatch and Robert Hoppe
One of the reviewers of an earlier draft of this handbook questioned whether there was any need for the editors to say anything more at this point: ‘The chapters speak for themselves’, it was said. Well, perhaps they do, but we saw a handbook on the policy process as being more than a collection of self-referential chapters; we wanted it to be a user’s guide to the ways in which scholars have crafted their analyses of policy as part of the pursuit of governing – that is, the way in which they have theorised ‘policy’. In our introductory chapter, we outlined our perspective on policy as a concept which is mobilised by both participants and observers in the accomplishment of governing, and explained why we had structured this handbook the way we did. In closing the book, we want to review how this perspective has contributed to our growing understanding of the process of governing, and the concepts we use to make sense of it. In doing so, we revisit the questions that ordered this handbook: do the different meanings of ‘policy’ have a recognisable ‘architecture’ that puts them under a common ‘signature’? What does it mean to speak of a ‘policy process’? Is it possible to order the field of theorising the policy process in a few root metaphors or panoramic views of policymaking? And how do these views relate to each other – are they parallel and complementary, rivals or incommensurable? In posing and answering these questions, we cannot avoid adding our own observations, accents and reflections as editors to the ways our authors have responded to our original calls. We stressed that we did not want this handbook to be simply a menu of ‘leading theories of the policy process’; this has already been done (most recently, by Weible and Sabatier, 2017). We have focused on the process of theorising: the way in which practitioners, observers and the public have used the idea of policy, and of a policy process, to make sense of governing in contemporary society. ‘Policy’ is used in a diversity of ways, often undefined and ambiguous, and eludes any attempt to confine it in a clear definition. At best, ‘policy’ is an ‘umbrella’ for a set of family resemblances (Wittgenstein, 1953/2010) under one non-essentialist concept. Following Agamben, it is perhaps even more honest and precise to speak of a range of problematic phenomena or events that bear the ‘signature’ of policy. All social inquiry, policy inquiry included, involves the identification of enigmatic, problematic situations and events and the choice of pertinent concepts, ‘which entail signatures, without which they remain inert and unproductive’ (Agamben, 2009: 78). What we in scholarly parlance call ‘concepts’, start their scientific trajectories as ‘signatures’, which act like clues or keys to ‘unlock’ those enigmatic situations and make them ‘legible’. Only much later, as links between observation and models are established, do the signatures acquire, justifiably or not, the character of scientific ‘concepts’
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