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How actors - not paradigms - produce radical change

Line Renate Gustafsson
Aarhus Universitet
Line Renate Gustafsson
Aarhus Universitet
Open Panel

Abstract

According to Peter Hall (1993), ideas are placed at the core of a policy paradigm where they structure policy goals, instruments and settings. Only when the gathering of anomalies questions the existing paradigm -leading actors to the search for new ideas - radical change in the form of new policy goals, instruments and settings occurs. The paradigm hence forward structure the policy instruments put to use by politicians and bureaucrats. Policy making is thus implicitly suggested to be conducted through a process of top-down reasoning where general ideational templates are applied to specific situations (Carstensen, forthcoming 2011). In the framework suggested by this article, a different understanding of policy change is developed. Radical change is not accomplished by the automatic de-legitimization of a paradigm. Rather it requires the active effort of policy actors which can de-legitimize or legitimize specific policy solutions (which are NOT dictated by the paradigm). This does not have to entail the utilization of new ideas. On the contrary, legitimization is defined as a process of exhorting the legitimacy of existing ideas that underwrite a policy. My analysis of Swedish school policy will show how legitimization opposed to popular beliefs can produce changes departing radically from past policies. These changes occurred without the school paradigm became questioned.