Contextualism in Normative Political Theory

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Contextualism denotes a set of ideas about the importance of attention to context, in this case contextualism in normative political theory and/or philosophy. The question is what does contextualism mean in relation to the part of political theory concerned with systematic political argument for normative claims, for example, evaluative claims about the legitimacy, justice, or relative goodness of acts, policies, or institutions; and prescriptive claims about what we should do, which decision procedures we should follow, or how institutions should be reformed.

Context denotes facts concerning particular cases that can be invoked to contextualize a specific object of political discussion such as a law, an institution, or the like.

Contextualism denotes any view that political theory should take context, thus understood, into account. There are, however, many different views about what this means. Contextualism is often characterized by contrasting it to other views. Different contrasts imply that the resulting conceptions of contextualism are views about different things, such as justification, the nature of political theory, or methodology.

Characterizations of contextualism as a view about methodology and justification are especially central. Debates about these senses of contextualism revolve around different views of what role context can play in political argument.

These versions of contextualism face a number of problems, including problems of reification and status quo bias, problems of securing that political theory is both critical and action guiding while still being contextualist, and the problem of delimiting the relevant context. There are different strategies for avoiding these problems, some of which are successful, but which imply that the resulting form of contextualism might not be as distinctive as some contextualists think. This means that contextualism might, in fact, be a more common approach to political theory than sometimes suggested.
TitelOxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics
RedaktørerWilliam R. Thompson
ForlagOxford University Press
Publikationsdato31 okt. 2016
StatusUdgivet - 31 okt. 2016
NavnOxford Research Encyclopedias

Bibliografisk note

This contribution has been republished in an update of Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Last modified 2021, December 22. doi:


  • Kontekstualisme
  • politisk teori
  • politisk filosofi
  • metode
  • metodologi
  • kontekst

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