A Pragmatist Approach to Understand Policy Proposal Trajectory
For "EMERGING PERSPECTIVES ON POLICY CHANGE" panel.
The debate on policy change is one of the most important and oldest debate on policy studies (Capano, Howlett, 2009). A lot of classical approaches generally treat public policy as an object which can be studied directly and whose change can be easily identified as phenomena which can be observed, sometimes measured and which can be associated to some causal phenomena which can explain it. In a previous article, we had discussed on how it is epistemologically impossible to objectivize this “policy change” in a constructivist perspective (Zittoun, 2009). To avoid such a paradox, wa had proposed that researcher should focus not on an ‘‘objective’’ notion of change, but on a ‘‘subjective’’’ one; on the way participants define policy and identify change in the construction and de-construction of ‘‘policy statements’’.
In this paper, we will propose to go further and to consider policy change in a pragmatist approach, a new approach to study policy process. The main idea is to understand policy change by focusing on the trajectory of the policy proposal statement and its ownership coalition through the different political arena of debates, public as discretes one. First, we will develop the main ontological and epistemological characteristics of this new perspective. Inspired by the old pragmatist philosophy and the most recent pragmatist sociology, this perspective considers, above all, that if each social event generates consequences which are always unexpected, uncertain and varied linked to the singularity of the context within which each phenomenon takes place. This approach considers also seriously the skill of actors not only to give meaning to their behavior (Weber, 1921) but also to define and qualify the social situation where this behavior takes place (Boltanski, 2009). In a second section, we will consider more precisely the importance of the production of discourse on policy change by the actors and the construction of the ownership coalition which can support it. In a third section, we will discuss on the importance of the different scenes of debate (forum, arena and atrium) and its influence on the success and failure of policy proposal. In a last section, we will develop the methodological perspectives to study policy change in pragmatist perspective. The idea is to develop micro-study involves reconstituting the concrete interactions between actors via the trajectories of different phenomena to better understand the processes involved.
To conclude, we will explain how the consequentialist approach allows us to view the policy process differently. We will focus specifically on the “condition” of success or failure of the “policy coalition”. By proposing a concrete observation of the development of proposals and all the discussions involved, the consequentialist approach proposes to comprehensively assess the genealogy of a policy proposal to understand how policy entrepreneurs, tools, social definitions, publics, predictive fiction and unequal power relations are chained together, and how these chainings evolve during the policy process.