Contextualism in Normative Political Theory and the Problem of Critical Distance

  • Sune LægaardEmail author


Political theory is contextualist when factual claims about context are part of the justification of normative political judgments. There are different kinds of contextualism depending on whether context is relevant for the formulation and justification of political principles (methodological contextualism), whether principles themselves are contextually specific (theoretical contextualism), or whether context is only relevant for the application of principles. An important challenge to contextualism is the problem of critical distance: how can theories ensure a critical perspective if facts about the context to be evaluated are also part of the justification for the normative judgments? Tariq Modood and Simon Thompson have defended what they call iterative contextualism, which combines elements of all three kinds of contextualism in an attempt to avoid the problem of critical distance. The present paper discusses Modood and Thompson’s iterative contextualism and whether it manages to avoid the problem of critical distance.


Contextualism Political theory Methodology Justification Secularism 



Earlier versions of this paper have been presented at the panel on “Navigating Contextualism” at the ECPR General Conference in Hamburg, 22-25 August 2018, at the Facts & Norms Workshop III: THE INDETERMINACY BETWEEN FACTUAL AND NORMATIVE JUDGEMENTS, University of Copenhagen, 24-25 August 2017, and at the Nordic Network in Political Theory annual meeting, October 2018. Thanks to Martin Marchmann Andersen, Naima Chahboun, Sebatian Conte, Göran Duus-Otterström, Jakob Elster, Eva Erman, Matteo Gianni, Robert Huseby, Malte Frøslee Ibsen, Alejandra Mancilla, Ole Martin Moen, Margaret Moore, Ditte Marie Munch-Jurisic, Nahshon Perez, Thomas Søbirk Petersen, Jesper Ryberg, Theresa Scavenius, Jakob Strandgaard, Frej Klem Thomsen as well as three reviewers for comments.

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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019
corrected publication 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Communication and ArtsRoskilde UniversityRoskildeDenmark

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