• Methods and Questions
• Key Traditions
• Contemporary Normative Theory
• Problems with the Normative Approach
Methods and Questions
• ‘The discovery or application, of moral notions in the sphere of political
relations.’ Isaiah Berlin, 1984, p21, cited in Marsh and Stoker
• Prescriptive Theory - this is how things should be
• Criticised from some academics as being too subjective
• Can lead to social science becoming value loaded, subjective and
• What do you think are some of the key normative concerns in social and
public policy at present?
• Liberalism - the value of individual life and choice
• Socialism and Communism - Collectivism
• Liberalism - individual, liberty, freedom of speech, choice, pluralist
• Collectivism - social welfare, community values, collective responsibility,
– ‘Greatest happiness of the greatest number’
– much of modern democracy based on this idea
– concerns about minority groups
Contemporary Normative Approaches
– Do policies and political systems achieve desired ends (telos).
– What is state intervention and collectivism achieving?
– normative concerns about community collective responsibility
– the situated self - one that is embedded in a community and defined by the attachments and
shared self understandings which frame community life. Glaser, 1995, in Marsh and Stoker.
• Feminism, Racism, Sexual Orientation
– normative concerns about large scale minority issues.
– both libertarian and collectivist interpretations .
Problems with the Normative
– You cannot reduce normative concerns like ‘justice’ and ‘equality’ to empirical observation
and scientific testing.
– If morals and ideal norms of behaviour cannot be linked to empirical facts, then there is no
such thing as normative theory. All morals are relative and there will always be exceptions to
– Do people really choose to take a morally superior course of action?
– Determinism puts the emphasis on structures that dominate individual agency and choice.
– People are largely unable to take up normative positions of their own choosing.
• It is hard to imagine a social or public policy that was not linked to some
elements of normative theory
• Normative theory needs to be aware of its theoretical weakness .
• Normative concerns need to be weighed carefully alongside other issues
and empirical data.
• Normative approaches emphasise the human actor and his/her