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  • Cited by 48
  • Print publication year: 2003
  • Online publication date: September 2009

5 - Understanding policy practices: action, dialectic and deliberation in policy analysis


Introduction: the modernist legacy in policy analysis

From its inception in August Comte's positive social philosophy, policy analysis has been a vanguard of the modernist project, the pervasive cultural programme characteristic of the western world, to take rational, scientific control over the social and physical environment and shape it according to a preconceived ideal. One of the cornerstones of the modernist programme in public policy and social reform, specifically, is the opposition between theory and action. From Charles Merriam to Harold Lasswell's policy sciences, via the rational choice theorists to the progenitors of the public choice doctrine, the aim of policy analysis has been to bring the unstable, ideology-driven and conflict-ridden world of politics under the rule of rational, scientifically derived knowledge. To see this traditional approach to policy analysis – and the critique that we develop in this chapter – in the intellectual currents of our age, it is important to be aware that the theory/action dichotomy is not just a belief or a doctrine that one can adopt or abandon at will. Instead it is an element of a broad cultural institution; a self-evident, habitual and tenacious understanding of the way we ought to relate to the world around us, that informs our opinions, values and self-image.

This stance, as a seemingly self-evident positioning of ourselves as human actors towards the world (and because of its many unexpected intellectual ramifications, there is no avoiding of some philosophical context here), is almost wholly and unrecognizedly couched in epistemological terms.