Revisiting Contextualism in Political Theory: Putting Principles into Context

Tariq Modood, Simon Thompson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)
337 Downloads (Pure)


In this article, we articulate and defend a contextual approach to political theory. According to what we shall call ‘iterative contextualism’, context has two important roles to play in determining what is required by justice. First, it is through the exploration and evaluation of multiple contexts that general principles are devised, revised and refined. Second, significant weight should be given to the norms to be found in specific contexts because the people affected by those norms strongly identify with them. Having said this, the application of general principles to particular contexts may still result in recommendations which deviate to some degree from the prevailing norms. In this case, we shall argue that although justice requires something other than what local norms say, what is required is likely to be intimated by the relevant context. Thus, whilst considerations of identification act as significant constraints on iterative contextualists’ thinking, the idea of intimations provides them with an important resource.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)339-357
Number of pages19
JournalRes Publica
Issue number3
Early online date12 Apr 2017
Publication statusPublished - 15 Aug 2018

Structured keywords

  • SPAIS Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship


  • Context
  • Hate speech
  • Norms
  • Oakeshott
  • Principles


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