This book, about policy, aims to disturb some of the comfortable ground upon which the study of policy, for the most part, rests. In this first chapter we aim to assess the ways in which the study of policy has so far been approached. This involves an element of description but also some analysis of the directions in which scholarship in this field has travelled and some explanation of why the need for a rethink of policy has arisen at this time. Judged by title alone, this book may symbolise an unwelcome diversion to both those who are more concerned with the pressing matters of the real world of policy, either by impact or process, and those who are more concerned with abstract, meta-developments within which policy represents a small piece of the jigsaw. The book's aims and contents do not sit comfortably within any of the existing literatures around ‘policy analysis’, the ‘policy process’, ‘public administration’ or even ‘social policy’, and they certainly do not feature in wider systemic accounts of human development. In fact, this awkwardness is deliberate and, we suggest, crucial to the book's contribution to debate and study within the field of what we will refer to as ‘policy studies’.
The chapters in this collection represent a spectrum of both conventional and less conventional ways of thinking around policy, its research and practice. They are intended to bridge theoretical and disciplinary divides, to identify commonalities and shared interests and to insist that different perspectives from both policy-interested disciplines (such as social work, social policy and public administration, as well as the sociology of welfare), and policy-interested scholars from outside these traditional domains, can be brought together as a means to engender dialogue, as much as to demonstrate contrasts.
Policy provides the practical framework for the expression of political messages and the achievement of social goals. The use of policy as a governmental device is central in maintaining social, political and economic relationships:
But policy is also a non-governmental construct and practice, as contributions to the ‘policy studies’ literature have argued and explored (for example, Walker, 1981; Rhodes, 1997). There are three reasons why, given this prominence in social and political life, and centrality within social scientific endeavour, the idea, process, custom and performance of policy need to be reassessed.