ECPR

Install the app

Install this application on your home screen for quick and easy access when you’re on the go.

Just tap Share then “Add to Home Screen”

ECPR

Install the app

Install this application on your home screen for quick and easy access when you’re on the go.

Just tap Share then “Add to Home Screen”

Back to Paper Details

Explaining change with discourses about change ? How policy actors use rhetoric of change to reconfigure policy statements

Sonia Lemettre
Sciences Po Grenoble
Sonia Lemettre
Sciences Po Grenoble
Open Panel

Abstract

One of the main debates for policy analysts concerns understanding policy change. Positivists define variables and observe if they move to identify a policy change. These approaches permit to know if, yes or not, something has changed. But the researcher can only qualify if the situation B is different from the situation A, not understand how the situation A moved to situation B. Interpretive approaches are sensitive to the meaning actors give to their action and to historical and social contexts. Discourses and arguments in their context of enunciation are the object of study. Interpretive analysts pay more attention to the process than to variables in a public policy. Our communication aims at studying policy processes through discourses about change, and not at qualifying or quantifying policy change. The main obstacle we encountered in our research field was : how to deal with the actors’ discourse on change ? Indeed, a characteristic of political discourse is to talk about change. Politicians try to legitimate their action and make believe they can transform a situation (from the given one to the desirable one). But policy debates can also be based on path dependency arguments (no radical shift is possible). Our findings show there is a real stake for actors to say about a situation that it changed or not, what we called a rhetoric of change and a rhetoric of “no change”. We will tackle the issue of the impact of these rhetorics on policies through an empirical research about rail freight policy in France and Germany. How do actors influence the definition of the problem ? Can they propose alternative solutions ? Do they reconfigure policy statements talking about change ? In other words, we will explore how talking about change or stability give actors the possibility to influence a policy.