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EBP as Depoliticized Governance Strategy: The Case of European Drug Policy

Governance
Knowledge
Constructivism
European Union
Adam Standring
Instituto Português de Relações Internacionais, IPRI-NOVA
Adam Standring
Instituto Português de Relações Internacionais, IPRI-NOVA
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Abstract

Academic approaches to Evidence Based Policy (EBP) have focused largely on attempting to understand the extent to which policy is informed by scientific evidence/research or to find solutions as to how either policymakers or experts might bridge the gap. This paper moves beyond these instrumental rational debates to provide a constructivist institutional account of how EBP is strategically chosen and promoted by political actors as a mode of governance, maintaining ‘the shadow of hierarchy’ in complex, networked policy areas. Evidence, rather than being the objective and neutral product claimed by idealized accounts of EBP, is instead understood as a process to generate socially constructed knowledge, which is partial (in both senses of the word) and value-laden, in order to constrain political choice and agency. Specifically, EBP can be considered a form of depoliticized statecraft in which policy options are diminished through the delegitimization of alternatives, exclusive and exclusionary knowledge claims and denials of political agency. The case study, involving the analysis of policy documents and interviews, will analyse EU governance in drug policy, specifically the creation of the European Monitoring Centre for Drug and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) to produce and analyse drug related data. Not only does the EU heavily promote the use of EBP in drug policy but it plays a significant role in the production of such evidence. In doing so the legitimacy of certain experts and certain knowledge claims, principally those in the area of public health, is given primacy over competing sources of knowledge. The move towards an evidence based drug policy, which balances health and harm reduction with penalization, is seen as definitive of the ‘European approach’ yet the depoliticization of drug policy remains value-laden and, paradoxically, highly political.