Studying British government: reconstructing the research agenda

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Abstract

This article seeks to place the study of British government in a broader context by exploring the potential contribution of an anti-foundational epistemology. We seek to ‘reinvent’ a self-conscious, sceptical and tentative approach rooted in philosophy and history. The first section defines the Westminster model and the family of linked narratives: traditional sceptics, social science, radical theory, new public management. The second section outlines an anti-foundational epistemology, focusing on the notions of traditions, narratives, decentering and dilemmas. The third section applies this approach to one prominent school of thought about British government: policy networks. We argue that an anti-foundational approach will decenter networks, shifting the locus of analysis from the institutions to individuals, and focus on dilemmas to explain how networks change. Finally, we conclude there is no essentialist account of British government, only complex and diverse narratives, and no tool kit for solving problems, only lessons drawn from many stories.

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