Policy Sciences

, Volume 18, Issue 3, pp 241–261

Contextual orientation in policy analysis: The contribution of Harold D. Lasswell

  • Douglas Torgerson

DOI: 10.1007/BF00138911

Cite this article as:
Torgerson, D. Policy Sci (1985) 18: 241. doi:10.1007/BF00138911


Criticized for its generally positivist and technocratic orientation, the literature of public policy analysis has begun to generate proposals that would create a convergence between the field and the wider movement for a post-positivist restructuring of social inquiry. Ironically, critics have often focused on “policy science” as the epitomy of positivism and technocracy, giving little attention to the actual position of the figure responsible for the term - Harold D. Lasswell. Centering on Lasswell's key concept of contextual orientation, this article argues that, despite positivist influences, he developed an approach to inquiry and a proposal for a policy science profession which together clearly transcend positivism and technocracy- which, indeed, anticipate recent post-positivist proposals. Implications for policy analysis of a project of contextual orientation are also considered, along with problems in Lasswell's focus on professionalization.

Copyright information

© Elsevier Science Publishers B.V 1985

Authors and Affiliations

  • Douglas Torgerson
    • 1
  1. 1.Administrative and Policy Studies Program, Trent UniversityPeterboroughCanada

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