The Policy Sciences of Harold Lasswell


The Policy Sciences of Harold Lasswell

Contextual Orientation and the Critical Dimension

9781788976008 Edward Elgar Publishing
Douglas Torgerson, Professor Emeritus of Politics, Trent University, Canada
Publication Date: 2024 ISBN: 978 1 78897 600 8 Extent: 202 pp
Illuminating and timely, this book explores in depth Harold Lasswell’s prominent and controversial 20th century proposal for the ‘policy sciences’. With his extraordinary contextual focus, Lasswell stands apart as unique in the policy landscape, advancing a tacit critical dimension that anticipates a radical democratic prospect.

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Critical Acclaim
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Illuminating and timely, this book offers an in depth exploration of a 20th century intellectual landmark, Harold Lasswell’s proposal for the policy sciences. This proposal, though always controversial, stands out as a unique and comprehensive effort at advancing a policy focus in the social sciences by means of enhancing orientation to context.

Douglas Torgerson argues that Lasswell stands apart in the policy landscape, his extraordinary focus on context constituting a distinct critical dimension. Torgerson presents the historical emergence of Lasswell’s proposal as a four-phase process, ranging from the 1920s to the 1970s. Chapters explore the ramifications of Lasswell’s contextual focus in that, whatever his intention, he anticipated a radical democratic goal. In today’s world, as authoritarian populism threatens democracy, policy research can no longer take for granted a liberal democratic context. Researchers must protect free inquiry, safeguarding their own work while expanding and securing democratic freedoms.

Offering key insights into one of the 20th century’s most forward-looking political scientists, this book is essential reading for the full range of established scholars, policy professionals, graduate students, and everyone who is interested in the relationship between policy and political theory.
Critical Acclaim
‘Torgerson undertakes nothing less than a critical rethinking of policy studies as a field through its foundations. By reacquainting Lasswell, we are advised to revisit concepts like behavioral change and policy expertise in light of his contextual orientation – and to think more radically about the policy sciences of democracy.’
– Holger Straßheim, Bielefeld University, Germany

‘The name of Harold Lasswell is inevitably invoked in serious discussions of public policy and the “policy sciences”. This book helps readers – both novices and seasoned veterans – understand why he occupies that central position. Understanding Lasswell is not simple, yet Torgerson demonstrates the depth and complexity of that eminent scholar.’
– B. Guy Peters, University of Pittsburgh, US

‘A wonderful book… Douglas Torgerson animates Lasswell’s numerous contributions, extending the “critical Lasswell” to inform a potential radical democracy relevant to today’s policy field and to current threats against democracy.’
– Jennifer Dodge, University at Albany, US

‘Professor Torgerson demonstrates provocatively and in detail Harold Lasswell’s continuing relevance for anyone seeking to understand our times and shape a future of human dignity for all.’
– Andrew Willard, Policy Scientist, US

‘Douglas Torgerson has provided the most thoughtful philosophical analysis of the work of Harold D. Lasswell, the giant in both psychodynamic political psychology and the policy sciences. The weaving of historical material with Torgerson’s highly distinctive interpretations of Lasswell’s stances toward democracy and the role of policy analysis is remarkable. Anyone committed to understanding the evolution of the policy sciences and the role of the analyst in democratic governance must read this book.’
– William Ascher, Claremont McKenna College, US

‘Nobody is better placed than Douglas Torgerson to tease out and interpret Lasswell''s foundational contribution to what today would be called critical policy studies. This book is a masterful treatment of its subject that should establish once and for all the importance of thinking with Lasswell and Torgerson about the policy sciences.’
– John S. Dryzek, University of Canberra, Australia

‘Torgerson’s argument stands up very well, and the book is filled with intriguing facts and details I hadn’t known – even though I’d been a student, research assistant, colleague, and friend of Lasswell for many years.’
– Garry D. Brewer, Yale University, US
Preface: Why Lasswell?
1 Introduction: the manifest and the latent Lasswell
2 Policy sciences in context: the world crisis of insecurity
3 Emergence of the policy sciences
4 Contextual orientation: a question of values
5 Symbols of the policy sciences
6 What is enlightenment?
7 The critical Lasswell
8 Lasswell and the critical agenda
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