The implications of post-structuralism for policy work in health (1996)

The vision of the Enlightenment, collectively planned, technically resourced, social progress, is under siege. It is under challenge from market fundamentalists (who argue that blind market forces carry fewer risks of unintended adverse consequences than government decision-making) and from religious fundamentalists (who find greater comfort in religious faith than from the promises of the Enlightenment). Empirically it is not doing so well either: continuing inequalities, brutality, corruption, war and environmental degradation do not inspire faith in the project of rationally determined, technically resourced, social progress. The collapse of socialism and the renunciation of social democracy do not inspire faith in the processes of democratic planning and management. 

Legge, D. G. (1996). Implications of post-structuralism for policy work in public health. Third Asia and Pacific Conference on the Social Sciences in Medicine, Perth, Faculty of Health Sciences, Edith Cowan University, Western Australia.

Post-moderns argue that the failures of, and loss of faith in, the promises of modernity reflect flaws which are integral to its strengths: realism, rationalism, dualism, universalism, humanism. Post-modernism, of course, is a mixed camp; it extends, at least along one axis, from the careless hedonism of the pessimistic wing to the uncertain searchings of a more hopeful wing. I identify with this more hopeful wing.

Policy practice has been central to the project of modernity and rationalist, reductionist policyanalysis is included in the post-modern indictment. . If we are to retrieve the hopes that have previously been carried by the technologies and visions of modernity then the policy process must be a key focus of study, reflection and development. The vision, of better ways of living for all humans and for the earth generally, may depend (if it is to be realised at all) upon a reworking of the disciplines of policy work.

The work I am reporting in this paper, a re-examination of the policy process and the discourses and practices which go with it, may thus be located as part of a response to the challenges of postmodernism.

Prominent among the resources that I draw upon in this project are the paradigms and methods of post-structural social theory. This is not so surprising because post-structuralism, in its feminist inflexions in particular, has contributed significantly to the contemporary critique of modernity upon which much of post-modernism draws. 

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