Based on very limited experience.
What other tips do people have?

A quick google finds these

21 Tips for creating a successful writing collaboration

5 tips (very little overlap)

This looks good too

Here’s mine

  • Big things
    Be very clear about what you are trying to write (which questions you are trying to answer, what arguments you are trying to make)
  • Who is going to write which bits (and by when)?
  • Who is going to “lead” – what privileges and responsibilities does that entail? Or is there no ‘leader’. That can work – but who then is the ‘co-ordinator’?
  • When are you going to meet? Where? (How often). Why? (Different reasons at different stages of the process)
  • What must be completed BEFORE you meet (e.g. drafts sent)?
  • What are all the key dates (for drafts to be ready). Work backwards from the final deadline…
  • Who are the external people who will look it over? For style/typos and also for ‘facts/theories’. When do they need to have it?
  • What kinds of online collaboration tools are you going to use?
    Googledocs? Something else?
  • What happens if people miss their deadlines?  What happens if they keep missing deadlines?

Little things.
Be very clear about what the referencing format for the journal in question is.
American spelling or UK spelling (the s/z issue)

#Awalkinthepark – think tanks, discursive institutionalism institutional logic

Right, so here are four more things (a couple of them very short)

Ladl, S. 2011. Think Tanks, Discursive Institutionalism and Policy Change. In Papanagnou, G. (ed) Social Science and Policy Challenges: Democracy, Values and Capacities. UNESCO Publishing. Pp. 205-220.

Tolbert, P. and Zucker, P. 1999. The Institutionalization of Institutional Theory. In Clegg S. and Hardy, C. Studying Organizations. London: Sage. pp. 171-184.

Sarma S. 2013. Review of Thornton, P. Ocasio, W. and Lounsbury, M. 2012. The Institutional Logic Perspective: A New Approach to Culture, Structure and Process. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Organization Studies, Vol 34, (1), pp.133-136

Anon. 2016. Wikipedia: Institutional Logic.

Ladi does a good job on using Schmidt’s Discursive Institutionalism to look at the power of the think tanks, especially their Janus-faced nature – turned to both policy makers (“coordinative discourse”) and to the great unwashed (“communicative discourse”).
On the great Schmidt-Bell debate, she’s cautiously critical of some of Schmidt’s claims, arguing that

“part of Schmidt’s critique of some of the tools of historical institutionalism is too harsh and should be reconsidered. Specifically, Schmidt (2008) claims that in order to explain change the historical institutionalist tradition relies too much on concepts such as critical junctures, which are unexplainable moments in time when change is triggered, often as a result of exogenous factors. Discursive institutionalism is expected to shed light on the agency during those critical junctures through the study of ideas and discourse. Although agency is a significant parameter in explaining change, another parameter is time, and critical junctures are an integral part of time. The limitation of discursive institutionalism to explain all kind of change is acknowledged because it is accepted that events outside people’s control happen, and actions have unintended consequences (Schmidt, 2010).
(Ladi, 2011: 207-8)

She’s good on advocacy coalitions and policy learning (such as it is).

An important aspect of policy learning is its collective nature. For learning to lead to change, it has to be collective and to include a large number of people across and within organizations who believe in policy change. Learning applies more easily to individuals than organizations, and thus the analysis of its impact upon policies is not always straightforward (Hannan and Freeman, 1989).
(Ladi, 2011: 209-10)

I was going to accuse her of being too starry-eyed about think tanks (she writes things like “Think tanks are there to provide this rethink when necessary. The main objective of think tanks is to bring knowledge and policy-making together by informing and if possible influencing the policy process” (p211) but then she gets down to brass tacks;

Most think tanks state that they conduct independent research in order to inform the public and the government on how to improve public policy. Their rhetoric often says that their work is for the common good and for educating the public. Nevertheless, their concern about their image and reputation limits the spectrum of their policy proposals. Even more, the extent to which think tanks can determine their own research agendas and their own arguments is doubtful because they are dependent on contracts and public and private funding (Stone, 2007). For instance, Jacobs and Page (2005), in a study about influence upon US foreign policy, conclude that internationally oriented businesses are the most important source of influence, followed by experts who may themselves be influenced by businesses.
(Ladi, 2011: 211)

“think tanks neither act as neutral bridges between academia and politics nor always function having public good as a compass.
(Ladi, 2011: 212)


She’s good on instrumental v. symbolic uses of knowledge (without getting to Foucault-y) which she then (p.214) links to Schmidt’s coordinative and communicative discourses.

Boswell (2009) argues that there are two types of knowledge use, instrumental and symbolic. Instrumental use of knowledge assumes rational policy-making where knowledge is used in order to solve a problem, while the symbolic use of knowledge refers to knowledge as a means of legitimation and strengthening of a policy position.
(Ladi, 2011: 212)

As per Jacques and Dunlap on climate counter-movement book publishing ahead of Rio and Kyoto,

“Additionally, the timing of think tanks’ action is important. It is during critical junctures that think tanks increase their chances of acting as carriers of coordinative and communicative discourse, thus affecting policy change.”
(Ladi, 2011: 214)

I’ll admit to being a little concerned about her claim that the fall of the Berlin Wall was “not an unexpected event” (p.215), but that’s a quibble; this is good stuff!

To read (after thesis)

Boswell, C. 2009. The Political Uses of Expert Knowledge. Cambridge, Cambridge
University Press.
Parmar, I. 2005. Catalysing events, think tanks and American foreign policy shifts: a comparative analysis of the impacts of Pearl Harbor 1941 and 11 September 2001. Government and Opposition, Vol. 40, pp. 1–25.

Tolbert and Zucker do a great job at clarifying

“the links between institutional theory and previous traditions of sociological work on organizational structure, and to provide some context for understanding the receptivity of organizational researchers in the late 1970s to institutional theory as an explanatory framework. The next section reviews the initial exposition of the theory in Meyer and Rowan’s (1977) seminal article…”
(Tolbert and Zucker, 1999:171)

The Meyer and Rowan looks great (it is the one from whence habitualization, objectification and sedimentation comes from), with the point that if you don’t look like everyone else in your eco-system don’t be surprised if you don’t survive-

A second major implication pointed up in Meyer and Rowan’s analysis is that the social evaluation of organizations, and hence organizational survival, can rest on observation of formal structures (that may or may not actually function), rather than on observed outcomes related to actual task performance.
“Thus, organizational success depends of factors other than efficient coordination and control of production activities. Independent of their productive efficiency, organizations which exist in highly elaborated institutional environments and succeed in becoming isomorphic with these environments gain the legitimacy and resources needed to survive (1977: 352).”
This claim sharply contradicted underlying market-oriented, or at least performance oriented assumptions about the functions of formal structure that dominated previous work: (1) that inefficient organizations – in production terms – would be selected out through a process of interorganizational competition; and (2) that correlations between measures of formal structure and such characteristics as size and technology thus resulted from the survival of organizations whose form matched the demands of their production environments.
(Tolbert and Zucker, 1999:172)

So, if organisations don’t look around at what others are doing, then it’s (internal) champions who make change. Or try to. It’s uphill…

Champions are most likely to emerge when there is a large potential ‘market’ for the innovation (e.g. when environmental changes have adversely affected the competitive positions of a number of established organizations.). To be successful, champions must accomplish two major tasks of theorization (Strange and Meyer 1993): creation of a definition of a generic organizational problem, a definition that includes specification of the set or category of organizational actors characterized by the problem; and justification of a particular formal structural arrangement as a solution to the problem on logical or empirical grounds (see also Galaskiewicz 1985). The first task involves generating pubic recognition of a consistent pattern of dissatisfaction or organizational failing that is characteristic of some array of organizations; the second task involves developing theories that provide a diagnosis of the source of dissatisfaction or failings, theories that are compatible with a particular structure as a solution or treatment.
(Tolbert and Zucker, 1999:177)

There’s good stuff in that too about “permanently failing organizations” (I can think of a few). Meyer and Zucker wrote a book in 1989 with just that title.

Sarma’s review makes me want to read the book, or at least Thornton and Ocasio Instituional logic in Greenwood Oliver et Sage handbook of orgnaizational institutionalism. We’ll close out with Wikipedia…

Thornton and Ocasio (1999: 804) define institutional logics

as the socially constructed, historical patterns of material practices, assumptions, values, beliefs, and rules by which individuals produce and reproduce their material subsistence, organize time and space, and provide meaning to their social reality.[3]

But they are messy/competing, natch.

Multiple logics can create diversity in practice by enabling variety in cognitive orientation and contestation over which practices are appropriate. As a result, such multiplicity can create enormous ambiguity, leading to logic blending, the creation of new logics, and the continued emergence of new practice variants.

And this one looks good (if depressing)

Zilber, T. B. (2002). “Institutionalization as an Interplay between Actions, Meanings, and Actors: The Case of a Rape Crisis Center in Israel.” Academy of Management Journal, 45(1), 234-254.

#Awalkinthepark – discursive institutionalism yet again

Four  papers here, the fourth of which doesn’t quite ‘fit’, but never mind…

The TL;DR is that Discursive Institutionalism is a pretty powerful (too powerful?) way of looking at policy change/lack of change.

Schmidt, V. 2010. Taking ideas and discourse seriously: explaining change through discursive institutionalism as the fourth ‘new institutionalism’. European Political Science Review, Vol. 2 (1), pp1-25.

Carstensen, M. and Schmidt, V. 2016. Power through, over and in ideas; conceptualizing ideational power in discursive institutionalism. Journal of European Public Policy, Vol. 23, (3), pp.318-337.

Marsh, D. 2009. Keeping Ideas in their Place: In Praise of Thin Constructivism. Australian Journal of Political Science, Vol. 44, (4), pp.679-696.

Fuenfschilling, Lea ; Truffer, B. 2014. The structuration of socio-technical regimes—Conceptual foundations from institutional theory. Research Policy, Vol.43, (4), pp.772-791.

I think I may have squeezed the DI lemon dry. On the upside, I am now – through sheer repetition rather than any intelligence on my part – familiar with its terminology (coordinative discourse, communicative discourse etc etc).

FWIW, this article is the best single explanation of DI I’ve read

Discursive institutionalism is an umbrella concept for the vast range of works in political science that take account of the substantive content of ideas and the interactive processes by which ideas are conveyed and exchanged through discourse. On the substantive dimension of ideas and discourse, DI scholars consider ideas about ‘what is and what ought to be’ at different levels of generality (Schmidt, 2008; Mehta, 2010), going from policy ideas (e.g., Kingdon, 1984; Hall, 1989) to programmatic ideas or paradigms (Hall, 1993; Berman, 1998) to deeper philosophical ideas (Campbell, 2004). They also consider different types of ideas, including cognitive ideas justified in terms of interest-based logics and necessity (e.g., Jobert, 1989; Hall, 1993; Schmidt, 2002: Ch. 5) and normative ideas legitimated through appeal to values and appropriateness (e.g., March and Olsen, 1989; Schmidt, 2000). And they consider the representation of ideas through discourse, including frames, narratives, myths, collective memories, stories, scripts, and more (e.g., Roe, 1994; Hajer, 2003).
(Schmidt, 2010: 3)

She explains the difficulties that Rational Choice Institutionalist theorists have with the power of ideas –

The problem for RI scholars, then, and the reason most of them quickly abandoned the pursuit of ideas, is that they could not continue to maintain the artificial separation of ‘objective’ interests from ‘subjective’ ideas about interests, that is, beliefs and desires. Such subjective interests threatened to overwhelm the objective ones which are at the basis of the rationalists’ thin model of rationality, by undermining the ‘fixed’ nature of preferences and the notion of outcomes as a function of pre-existing preferences. And without fixed preferences as well as neutral institutional incentive structures, RI scholars lose the parsimony of the approach and everything that follows from it, including the ability to mathematically model games rational actors play as opposed to those ‘real actors play’ (see Scharpf, 1997; Rothstein, 2005: Ch. 1). This helps explain why the foray into ideas for most dyed-in-the-wool RI scholars was short-lived
(Schmidt, 2010: 7)

There’s nice stuff on Historical institutionalism (the subject of a debate between Schmidt and Stephen Bell, covered in previous blog posts)

Historical institutionalism focuses on how institutions, understood as sets of regularized practices with rule-like qualities, structure action and outcomes. It emphasizes not just the operation and development of institutions but also the path-dependencies and unintended consequences that result from such historical development (Steinmo et al., 1992; Hall and Taylor, 1996: 938; Thelen, 1999; Pierson, 2000). HI has been more open to the turn to ideas than RI. This is because whereas RI has certain ontological and epistemological presuppositions about agency that clash with those of DI, HI lacks agency, for which HI scholars often turn to RI or SI (see Hall and Taylor, 1996: 940–941) and, increasingly, to DI. Moreover, critiques of HI – such as those that emphasize its historical determinism where it focuses on critical junctures (e.g., Collier and Collier, 1991) leading to path dependence (Mahoney, 2000; Pierson, 2000), along with its inability to explain institutional change endogenously, even if more recent HI scholars have succeeded in describing incremental change, through layering, conversion, and drift (Thelen, 2004; Streeck and Thelen, 2005) – have left an opening to DI.
(Schmidt, 2010: 10)

 Schmidt does a similar explanation on sociological institutionalism –

Sociological institutionalist focuses on the forms and procedures of organizational life stemming from culturally specific practices, with institutions cast as the norms, cognitive frames, scripts, and meaning systems that guide human action according to a ‘logic of appropriateness’ (March and Olsen, 1989; DiMaggio and Powell, 1991; Scott, 1995). In SI, therefore, one cannot talk about a turn to ideas as such, since ideas have always been at the basis of the approach – as norms, frames, and meaning systems. The differences between SI and DI, therefore, are often quite fuzzy, and depend upon whether scholars see ideas more as culturally determined, static ideational structures and institutions – as macro-patterns consisting of ‘action without agents’ (Hall and Taylor, 1996: 954) or, worse, structures without agents (see Checkel, 1998: 335) – or whether they take a more dynamic approach to ideas.
(Schmidt, 2010: 13)

 I will admit to being mystified by this though –

Importantly, the constructivist DI scholars go beyond the SI scholars who put ideas into cultural context to put them into their ‘meaning’ context as well, that is, by treating ideas as empirical subjects to be studied in their own right (e.g., Kjaer and Pedersen, 2001; Hay, 2006). And such meaning contexts constitute very different kinds of institutions from those of RI, HI, and SI.
(Schmidt, 2010: 14)

Schmidt is not starry-eyed about the ‘power’ of discourse though –

Deliberation on its own, in other words, does not necessarily ensure a more ‘democratic’ outcome. Power and position do matter. The question is how to define power and position in such a way as to also take account of the power of ideas and discourse. The problem with RI and HI is that they tend to reify questions of power and position by assuming that power is a function of position and that agents’ strategic interests derive primarily from their power and position. DI holds instead that power cannot be defined by (objective) position alone, since ideas and values infuse the exercise of power and (subjective) perceptions of position (Lukes, 2005).
(Schmidt, 2010: 18)

 There’s another dig at HI on page 19-

HI accounts of capitalism (in particular where they combine with RI) do not just make things appear inevitable, they make them seem inexorable when they argue for divergence to two varieties of capitalism based on the differing path-dependent logics of coordination of liberal market economies and coordinated market economies (e.g., Hall and Soskice, 2001). HI scholars who propound this binary view of capitalism tend to be opposed to neo-liberal capitalism, and are engaged in a normative discursive strategy focused on getting people to accept the validity of two ways, not one, of being capitalist.
(Schmidt, 2010: 19)

Lovely diagram on page 20 –

2010 schmidt diagrams ri hi si di

She admits that things can go wrong with DI, and sets out a compelling set of questions;

Where DI can go wrong is when it considers ideas and discourse to the exclusion of issues of power (read RI instrumental rationality) and position (read HI institutional structures), when it assumes that DI deliberation necessarily trumps RI manipulation, or when it over-determines the role of ideas and discourse by forgetting that ‘stuff happens’ or that historical institutions and cultural frames affect the ways in which ideas are expressed and discourse conveyed. We should not forget that ideas and discourse that seek to promote change often have little effect on the crystallized ideas about rationalist interests and cultural norms or on the frozen landscapes of rationalist incentives, historical paths, and cultural frames. The research agenda for DI, therefore, should not just be to seek to convince political scientists theoretically that ideas and discourse matter – by now all neo-institutionalists seem to have accepted this to some degree – but to show empirically how, when, where, and why ideas and discourse matter for institutional change, and when they do not.
(Schmidt, 2010: 21, emphasis added)

To read

Culpepper, P.D. (2005), ‘Institutional change in contemporary capitalism: coordinated financial systems since 1990’, World Politics 57(2): 173–199.

Fung, A. and E.O. Wright (2003), ‘Countervailing power in empowered participatory governance’, in A. Fung and E.O. Wright (eds), Deepening Democracy, New York: Verso, pp. 259–290.

Lupia, A. and D.M.McCubbins (1998), The Democratic Dilemma: Can Citizens Learn What They Need to Know? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mahoney, J. (2000), ‘Path dependence in historical sociology’, Theory and Society 29(4): 507–548.

And maybe

Yee, A.S. (1997), ‘Thick rationality and the missing ‘brute fact:’ the limits of rationalist incorporation of norms and ideas’, Journal of Politics 59(4): 1001–1039.

Carstensen and Schmidt (2016) are up for defining “ideational power”. It is

“the capacity of actors (whether individual or collective) to influence other actors’ normative and cognitive beliefs through the use of ideational elements”
(Carstensen and Schmidt, 2016: 318)

(aka Jedi Mind Tricks)

Based on insights from the discursive institutionalist literature they suggest three different types –

power through ideas, understood as the capacity of actors to persuade other actors to accept and adopt their views through the use of ideational elements;

power over ideas, meaning the imposition of ideas and the power to resist the inclusion of alternative ideas into the policymaking arena;

and power in ideas, which takes place through the establishing of hegemony or institutions imposing constraints on what ideas are considered.
(Carstensen and Schmidt, 2016: 318)

(ties in with Lukes, and also agenda denial)

So, ideational power  has three features worth noting. First

“characterized by a conception of power which is exerted through the constitution of intersubjective meaning structures that agents both draw on to give meaning to their material and social circumstances and battle over to affect what ideas and discourses are deemed viable.”
(Carstensen and Schmidt, 2016: 322)

[I think this means people drink from the same well, but some people get to decide what goes in the well in the first place, or can put more of their own stuff in it]

Second it is both a top-down and a bottom up process, that is it

takes seriously not only the discursive struggles taking place among policy actors at the top of the hierarchy to affect their particular vision of the world, but also those related to the effort of policy actors at the bottom as much as at the top of the power hierarchy to translate their ideas into language accessible to the general public
(Carstensen and Schmidt, 2016: 322)

And finally it is thought of in terms of who is doing what (‘agency-oriented terms’) rather than ‘structural and institutional understandings.’ (Carstensen and Schmidt, 2016: 322)

Next up, power through ideas – (aka ‘reality distortion fields)

Rather than viewing power as making someone do what they would otherwise not have done based on force, threats, institutional position, material resources, etc., the ideational power actors exert is based on their capacity to induce other actors to do something through reasoning or argument. It is not necessarily – or rather, it rarely is – a completely ‘rational’ process in the sense that the most powerful necessarily are the ones with the ‘best’ argument. Instead, the persuasiveness of an idea depends on both the cognitive and normative arguments that can be mustered in its support.
(Carstensen and Schmidt, 2016: 323-4)

And of course, my friends the think tanks are well up for this, in both direction of elites and Joe and Jane Public –

In the process of persuasion, moreover, we need to distinguish between the policy sphere, in which policy actors (consisting of experts and advocacy networks, organized interests, civil servants and public officials) engage in a ‘coordinative’ discourse of ideational generation and contestation, and the political sphere, in which political actors (consisting of politicians, spin doctors, campaign managers, government spokespersons, party activists) engage in a ‘communicative’ discourse of translation, discussion, deliberation and, again, contestation with the public (including not just the general public but also informed publics of opinion-makers, the media, organized interests, community leaders and activists) (Schmidt 2002, 2006, 2008).
(Carstensen and Schmidt, 2016: 325)

In terms of “power over ideas” they want to emphasize three general forms-

… the first is exerted by actors with the power to impose their ideas; the second, by normally powerless actors who seek to shame other actors into conformity with their ideas or norms; and the third, by actors who have the capacity to resist even considering alternative ideas.
(Carstensen and Schmidt, 2016: 326)

i.e. the really powerful can stick their fingers in their ears and say “la la la. NOT LISTENING.”

Although many of the ‘market efficiency’-oriented ideas no longer dominate public discourse about financial markets and how they function…  the regulation of financial markets continues to be based on ideas that are directly borrowed from neoliberal conceptions of financial markets (Mugge 2013).
An important reason why seems to be that actors with stakes in the upholding of pre-crisis ideas remain able to largely ignore alternative conceptions of how to regulate financial markets (see also Moschella and Tsingou 2013).
(Carstensen and Schmidt, 2016: 328)

Here is a crucial bit-

… power over ideas is particularly important for fending off pressures for change. During a period of crisis, for example, it matters hugely who has the authoritative capacity to interpret events as anomalous and thus as a challenge to the reigning paradigm. In battles for authority characteristic of periods of crisis (Hall 1993), power over ideas enables actors to ignore alternative idea sets and thus keep them from receiving serious consideration by elites and public alike. Power over ideas may not only be instrumental for actors in avoiding change, it may also be useful for implementing changes to the existing institutional setup in a more evolutionary way, perhaps by pushing institutions towards greater purity and conformity with their policy paradigm.
(Carstensen and Schmidt, 2016: 328, emphasis added)

Agenda denial etc.  Thatcher and “there is no alternative” and all that

Finally, power in ideas.  Well, make it seem invisible, it’s better than a fight, isn’t it?

power in ideas concerns the ways that agents seek to depoliticize ideas to the degree where they recede into the background, meaning that they become so accepted that their very existence may be forgotten, even as they may come to structure peoples’ thoughts about the economy, polity and society. This may, for example, happen as policy programmes become taken-for-granted in terms of their methods, instruments and goals such that they, too, fade into the background.
(Carstensen and Schmidt, 2016: 329)

In their conclusion they argue for “carving out ideational power as a specific category of political power for three reasons.

Going beyond the “ideas matter” of DI, they say that, first up

developing a more explicitly ideational understanding of power is helpful for analysing the battles going on between policy actors, within elites and between them and the masses, as well as to distinguish them from the relations that are not relations of power.
(Carstensen and Schmidt, 2016: 333)


developing a specific category of ideational power is helpful for analysing how different dimensions of ideational power may combine and intertwine in concrete empirical cases.
(Carstensen and Schmidt, 2016: 333)

Thirdly, we may be able to put faces on where the ideas come from…(to riff on Marge Piercy). It may help to

identify and criticize the actors who have a central impact on which issues are considered problems and which solutions are thought viable. As argued by Hayward and Lukes (2008: 5), ‘Analyzing power relations is an inherently evaluative and critical enterprise, one to which questions of freedom, domination, and hierarchy are – and should be – central.’. Hopefully, developing a clearer and more explicit vocabulary for talking about ideational power will enhance the ability of discursive institutionalists to track the agents, whether collective or individual, who have the ideational capacities to affect the context in which interests are defended and to assign them responsibility accordingly.
(Carstensen and Schmidt, 2016: 333)

To read
Beland, D. (2009) ‘Ideas, institutions, and policy change’, Journal of European Public Policy 16(5): 701–18.

Carstensen, M.B. (2011a) ‘Paradigm man vs the bricoleur: bricolage as an alternative vision of agency in ideational change’, European Political Science Review 3(1): 147–67.

Carstensen, M.B. (2011b) ‘Ideas are not as stable as political scientists want them to be: a theory of incremental ideational change’, Political Studies 59(3): 596–615.

Culpepper, P. (2008) ‘The politics of common knowledge: ideas and institutional change’, International Organization 62(1): 1–33.

Przeworski, A. and Wallerstein, M. (1988) ‘Structural dependence of the state on capital’, American Political Science Review 82(1): 11–29.

Tsingou, E. (2014) ‘Club governance and the making of global financial rules’, Review of International Political Economy, doi:10.1080/09692290.2014.890952

Young, K. (2013) ‘Financial industry groups’ adaptation to the post-crisis regulatory environment: changing approaches to the policy cycle’, Regulation & Governance 7(4): 460–80.

Aussie (oi oi oi!) academic David Marsh wants the pendulum not to swing too far towards ideas-

After acknowledging the growing focus on ideas in Political Science and giving two cheers for that development, this paper warns against the concomitant rejection of the importance of materialist factors in explaining stability and change. The argument is illustrated by a focus on recent literature on globalisation and the global financial crisis.
(Marsh, 2009: 679)

He argues

… the relationship between the material and the ideational, like that between structure and agency, is dialectical, that is interactive and iterative.
(Marsh, 2009: 697)

And makes a distinction between thin and thick constructivism –

“thick constructivism prioritises ideational factors and constitutive logics and thin constructivism prioritises material factors and causal logics.”
(Marsh, 2009: 684)

There’s stuff on what ‘agents’ think

To Sikkink, ideas transform agent’s perceptions of their interests and, thus, affect institutional structures and outcomes. Hall distinguishes between first, second and third order change; with third order change involving a paradigm shift, for example, the change from Keynesianism to monetarism which Hall, and indeed Blyth, see as having occurred between 1976 and 1981 in the UK.
(Marsh, 2009: 682-83)

The orders of change – relates to the stuff in both DI (policies, programmes, philosophies) and ACF (superficial, deep, core)?  Better look into this…

The rest of it is less useful for me (at present), but that’s fine.

Here’s a great article title –
Hay, C. 2005. ‘Making Hay . . . or Clutching at Ontological Straws? Notes on Realism, ‘As-If- Realism’ and Actualism.’ Politics 25(1): 39–45. But the abstract (see next) suggests it would possibly be a bit above my pay-grade.  Here it is –

Stuart McAnulla provides an eloquent defence of a particular variant of critical realism, suggesting that it provides a more appropriate set of ontological foundations for the kind of critical political analysis I espouse than the ontological actualism he attributes to me. In this rejoinder, whilst welcoming McAnulla’s important intervention in the debate, I defend myself against his charge of actualism (if the attribution of an ontology to an author can be regarded as a charge), whilst indicating how the ‘as-if-realism’ that perhaps better reflects my ontological assumptions is perfectly compatible with critical political analysis. In so doing I caution against ontological evangelism, the notion that only ‘real’ entities can be causal, and the appeal to structures (like patriarchy) as causes. I conclude by reflecting on the complex and seldom discussed relationship between experience and ontology.



Fuenfschilling and Truffer want to use institutional theory alongside socio-technical transitions theory (see also Andrews-Speed, P. 2016. Applying institutional theory to the low-carbon energy transition.  Energy Research & Social Science, Vol. 13, pp.216-225.)

As in, aren’t there a lot of bricks in  the imbrications?

Based on insights from evolutionary economics, science and technology studies and sociology, various approaches have been developed that analyze and conceptualize change from a socio-technical systems perspective.1 The systems concept emphasizes the interdependence and co-evolution of material and social structures, such as policies, culture, technologies or markets, which over time evolve into a stable configuration that enables the fulfillment of a societal function like water or energy provision.
(Fuenfschilling and Truffer, 2014:772)

They seek (and succeed, imho) in offering

a conceptual foundation for assessing structures and degrees of structuration within socio-technical systems by drawing on concepts of institutional theory. In institutional theory, structure is often used as an umbrella term for things that influence an actor’s cognition and behavior as well as the diffusion of practices, e.g. regulations, norms, values, culture, actors or practices. Since structural influences represent one of institutional theory’s core interests, it offers valuable insight for elaborating some of the core concepts of the MLP, such as the regime.
(Fuenfschilling and Truffer, 2014:774)

Alongside this they use the institutional logics concept.

Institutional logics represent examples of the “deep-structural rules that coordinate and guide actor’s perceptions and actions” (Geels, 2012, p. 3). We show that how actors make sense of and act upon reality is contingent on pre-vailing institutional logics, i.e. on coherent arrangements of beliefs, norms, values and practices that stem from dominant societal institutions.
(Fuenfschilling and Truffer, 2014:774)

Institutional logics are

“the socially constructed, historical patterns of material practices, assumptions, values, beliefs, and rules by which individuals produce and reproduce their material subsistence, organize time and space, and provide meaning to their social reality”(Thornton and Ocasio, 1999, p. 804).
(Fuenfschilling and Truffer, 2014:775)

There’s great stuff on institutionalisation (which I will use for thinking about culture change [and lack of it] in social movements)

Tolbert and Zucker (1999) define three main stages in the process of institutionalization: habitualization, objectification and sedimentation. The three stages represent an institution’s increase in exteriority, i.e. the degree to which it is experienced by actors as part of an objective, external reality and as a ‘coercive fact’(Berger and Luckmann, 1966; Tolbert and Zucker, 1999).
(Fuenfschilling and Truffer, 2014:775)

Habitulaization is-

the phase wherein an innovation is created by a small number of actors in response to a recurring problem and as such achieves some sort of habitualized form. This process is mostly an uncoordinated activity; there is no consensus about the usefulness of the innovation, no explicit theory or knowledge base for it, no associated values or legitimated users. These structures thus tendto be very unstable and impermanent, often disappearing with theactor’s that established them in the first place.
(Fuenfschilling and Truffer, 2014:775)

Objectification is-

the next phase of institutionalization. It ‘involves the development of some degree of social consensus among organizational decision-makers concerning the value of a structure, and the increasing adoption by organizations on the basis of that consensus” (Tolbert and Zucker, 1999, p. 182). This step implicates extensive institutional work by actors, such as problem and solution framing, persuasion, theorizing, making alliances, and mobilizing resources. It is successful, if a collective rationality about the innovation has been generated. Normally, the actors who adopt the innovation are becoming more heterogeneous, discourse is high and variance of the innovation decreases.
(Fuenfschilling and Truffer, 2014:775)

Sedimentation is –

“a process that fundamentally rests on the historical continuity of structure, and especially on its survival across generations of organizational members. Sedimentation is characterized both by the virtually complete spread of structures across the group of actors theorized as appropriate adopters, and by the perpetuation of structures over a lengthy period of time.” (Tolbert and Zucker,1999, p. 184). The structure has become normative or even taken for granted, discourse about it has settled down, change in design is rare and failures rather low.
(Fuenfschilling and Truffer, 2014:775 (emphasis added)

So, path dependency, historical embedding, invulnerability to social intervention etc etc.  Elephants don’t tap dance, the smugosphere reins.

Look, the game is the game, ‘kay?

They “define the ends and shape the means by which interests are deter-mined and pursued. Institutional factors determine that actors in one type of setting, called firms, pursue profits; that actors in another setting, called agencies, seek larger budgets; that actors in a third setting, called political parties, seek votes; and that actors in an even stranger setting, research universities, pursue publications.” (Scott, 1987, p. 508).
(Fuenfschilling and Truffer, 2014:775)

And you can wriggle on the hook if you like (and are big enough) –

Actors are constrained, but also enabled by institutional structures, which, in return, are socially constructed by them. This process has been labelled institutional work and is defined as “the  purposive action of individuals and organizations aimed at creating, maintaining and disrupting institutions” (Lawrence and Suddaby, 2006, p. 215).In short, a change in institutional logics is likely to include the deinstitutionalization of existing logic elements coupled with the institutionalization of new elements.
(Fuenfschilling and Truffer, 2014:776)

But you’re on the hook.

Then there’s a case study about the Australian water supply landscape.  Some interesting factoids for me –

A severe drought between ca.2003 and 2010 confronted Australia with the reality of climate change and shaped the awareness for water problems even more. Agriculture and other industries were hit hard and storage levels of the dams in the eastern seaboard states and in South and West-ern Australia were unprecedented low. After this drought, Australia has repeatedly been struck by heavy floods. These extreme weather events triggered various reactions and again intensified the dis-course about water issues in politics, economy and civil society alike.
(Fuenfschilling and Truffer, 2014:780)

Ultimately, this is exceptionally useful both for The Thesis and for my off-the-clock thinking about how unlikely change in social movements is, (and why I should not even bother because I do not have the skills or the patience…  #carpethediems)

#Awalkinthepark – Policy Theories and how to mash them up.

Making sense of it all?  How do we mash-up public policy theories, improve them. What should we worry about as we do this?

Cairney, P. 2013. Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: How Do We Combine the Insights of Multiple Theories in Public Policy Studies? Policy Studies Journal, Vol. 41, (1), pp.1-21.

Petridou, E. 2014. Theories of the Policy Process: Contemporary Scholarship and Future Directions. Policy Studies Journal, Vol. 42, (1), pp.S12-32.

Howlett, M. McConnell, A. and Perl, A. 2016. Moving Policy Theory Forward: Connecting Multiple Stream and Advocacy Coalition Frameworks to Policy Cycle Models of Analysis. Australian Journal of Public Administration, in press.

Cairney, who is very good at this sort of thing, points out that combining multiple theories in policy studies could be a Very Good Idea but warns  there are “important ontological, epistemological, methodological, and practical issues that need to be addressed to ensure disciplinary advance.”
(Cairney, 2013: 1)

You can’t, sadly, bish-bosh-she’ll-be-right…  For one thing,

“key terms—such as “evolution,” “punctuated equilibrium,” or “policy entrepreneur”—… may have different meanings and refer to different phenomena within different intellectual traditions.”
(Cairney, 2013: 3)

His article looks at synthesis (combining the lot), complementary approaches (they sit alongside) and contradictory (there’s a Highlander style contest- “there can be only one).

I really really liked this, and it gives significant space to the pros and cons and ins and outs of these three approaches.

“Entrepreneur” may be used to explain policy innovations linked to exceptional individuals, but we can have little confidence that different studies are talking about the same thing and building their research on common foundations (see Christopoulos & Ingold, 2011; Mintrom & Norman, 2009). Such terminological problems may be magnified if we seek to identify similar processes in the natural and social worlds (where, for example, the idea of agency may be profoundly different).
(Cairney, 2013:7)

Parsimony comes with a price-

Treating states as unified actors may produce parsimonious explanation but only at the expense of more nuanced explanations based on organizational procedures, the decision-making environment, and the need for policymakers to bargain within government (pp. 253–54).  Of Allison 1971
(Cairney, 2013:8)

“Complementary” approaches (cheery cherry-picking /bricolage) comes with a price, too..

In most cases, advocates of this approach use a more manageable, and superficial, proxy for theoretical comparison. They produce an empirical case study, often based on documentary analysis supplemented by elite interviews, then set up a summary of several theories, and use those theories to identify a series of perspectives.

In this context, we can use the exercise to draw attention to the assumptions of a dominant understanding of the research problem, but we cannot expect to do justice to the empirical research agenda associated with each theory. The analogy of a “toolkit” for explanation may be apt as it gives us the image of someone who can draw on a wide range of theories but perhaps as a “jack of all trades and master of none” (although the analogy soon becomes contentious, as the flexible theorist may describe himself or herself as someone who knows which jobs require which tools—Ostrom, 2006, p. 8).
(Cairney, 2013:9)

And Cairney makes a point that should not be surprising to anyone who has been paying attention –

For example, Meier (2009) suggests, provocatively, that the popularity of theories depends on the academic abilities and standing of their proponents (compare with Fischer, 2003, p. 111 on the relationship between research findings and trust in the researchers). To this, we can add a more general point about the fashionability of some concepts, and the rise and fall of attention to them, which does not seem to relate to the rise and fall of their value or the weight of the evidence produced (much like the rise and fall of issues on the political agenda).
(Cairney, 2013:12)

And some scholars have a near monopoly on certain information (e.g. they’re the ones who did the elite interviews).  So

“it makes sense to encourage scholars to present multiple empirical narratives or multiple interpretations of the information that they have gathered.”
(Cairney, 2013:14)

After all, the world is very very complicated (and complex) and everyone has a limit to what they can do and know, so we need

“to manage the need to conduct specialist research in some areas and rely on others to provide knowledge of other areas, by seeking the best way to communicate those findings and learn from each other’s experiences and perspectives. We are also subject to factors that promote further academic specialization, such as: increasingly sophisticated research that requires specialization in a small number of fields and, therefore, a reliance on others to conduct research in other fields; and many “career incentives” associated with promotions procedures and the evaluation of academic work (Poteete et al., 2010, pp. 15–17, 20–21).We need some way to decide if the information provided by others is worthy of our attention (and, in a specialized and interdisciplinary world, a means to ensure that we understand the information provided by others).
(Cairney, 2013:15)

Without getting stuck in “fruitless debates” (p15)

Cairney has some choice things to say about the chest-beating and lamp-post pissing (my terms) that can go on at conferences and in journals –

This issue seems more serious when high-ranking peer-reviewed journals encourage fruitless debates in which the authors talk over each other and give each other straw men titles (including the term “positivist,” which is often used to discredit the work of some scholars without considering the substance of their research or arguments) instead of trying to engage on their terms.
(Cairney, 2013:15)

And wants people, within reason, to be open about not just research methods and hypotheses but also their empirical findings

To read for the thesis
Christopoulos, Dimitrios, and Kariin Ingold. 2011. “Distinguishing between Political Brokerage and Political Entrepreneurship.” Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences 10: 36–42.

To read after the thesis
Allison, Graham. 1969. “Conceptual Models and the Cuban Missile Crisis.” American Political Science Review 63 (3): 689–718.

Parker, Charles, Eric Stern, Eric Paglia, and Christer Brown. 2009. “Preventable Catastrophe?” Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management 17 (4): 206–20.

Petridou has done an admirable job of summarising recent (2011-2) thinking on various policy theories.

Interestingly in Advocacy Coalition Frameworks “coalition defection” is understudied (p.S14) – Guy Pearse’s 2005 thesis on how the greenhouse mafia enforced discipline is worth another look.

Then there is the question of resource coalitions and venue shopping

The issue of coalition resources, a hitherto less developed aspect of the framework, is investigated by Nohrstedt (2011), who suggests some resources are more important than others thus pointing out the need for thinking vertically when it comes to resource salience. Nohrstedt also highlights the instrumentality of policy entrepreneurs in venue shopping and their part in achieving policy change. Policy entrepreneurs in the form of policy brokers and the role in policy change are investigated by Ingold and Varone (2011).
(Petridou, 2014:S14)

There’s also good stuff on Social Construction and Design-

Normative aspects of policymaking were addressed by the social construction of target population and policy design framework, originally by Anne Schneider and Helen Ingram (1993). Policymakers manipulate, respond to, and perpetuate social constructions of target groups; that is, portions of the population receiving benefits or being burdened by costs, partially because it reinforces the policymakers’ gains of political capital (Ingram, Schneider, & deLeon, 2007). A positively constructed group, for example the military, is deserving of benefits, whereas a welfare queen (single mother, usually of color) is unequivocally undeserving of benefits.
(Petridou, 2014:S17)

And as with ACF, they have found it takes a decade to shift perceptions.

On Punctuated Equilibrium she observes that

In order to rid the framework from the pitfalls of the metaphor, Prindle (2012) suggests renaming it “punctuated incrementalism”; indeed Howlett and Migone (2011) find incrementalism to be very much a salient component of PET.
(Petridou, 2014:2S19)

There’s very useful stuff on Multiple Streams Framework (Kingdon)

As per Cairney 2013 above, the term entrepreneur has gotten smudgy

The policy entrepreneur emerged as a complementary component of broader theories of policy change including the ones reviewed in this article (Mintrom & Norman, 2009). PE has suffered from conceptual imprecision because the term “entrepreneur” has traveled across disciplines, because it has been used with many modifiers (policy, public, political etc.), and also because PE is as much about the individual actor (entrepreneur) as it is for the process (entrepreneurship).
(Petridou, 2014:S22)


Strategies are the focus of Brouwer and Biermann (2011). How do policy entrepreneurs manage commons resources? Brouwer and Biermann (2011) identify four types of strategies in their research of Dutch water management: attention and support seeking strategies, linking strategies, relational management strategies, and arena (venue) strategies. They argue that use of these strategies by policy entrepreneurs at the right timing could influence the development of policy streams.
(Petridou, 2014:S22 emphasis added)

She then turns to ‘Evolving Trends’ and mentions ‘Institutional grammar’ and then ‘Narrative Policy Framework’.  This might sit alongside/within/above some kind of discursive institutionalism, perhaps?  Dunno.

The Narrative Policy Framework is an evolving theory of the policy process investigating the empirical role of policy narratives in the policy process and whether policy narratives influence policy outcomes. Policy narratives are strategic stories with a plot, villains and good guys, and a moral lesson (Jones & McBeth, 2010; Shanahan, McBeth, &Hathaway, 2011). They can also include adjuvant components such as a plot and a causal mechanism (CM), and narrative strategies, such as the distributions of costs and benefits and policy beliefs
(Shanahan, Jones, McBeth, & Lane, 2013).
(Petridou, 2014:2S24)

There is some dead useful looking stuff (#notforthesis)  on “Collective Learning Framework”

In two recent articles, Gerlak and Heikkila (2011) and Heikkila and Gerlak (2013) build a conceptual approach to define and understand learning at the collective level, a concept which remains fuzzy despite the amount of literature devoted to it. First, Gerlak and Heikkila (2011) used the extreme case of the Everglades restoration program to define the different aspects of learning in policy making and unpack the factors which inform it. Their 2013 work refines this approach. Heikkila and Gerlak (2013) address three main challenges: first, they define and distinguish between the process of learning and the products of learning; second, they investigate the differences between individual and group learning; and third, they identify factors fostering or inhibiting learning.
(Petridou, 2014:2S25)

And finally, stuff on “Beyond subsystems: Policy Regimes”

Not quite sure where this fits;  Aren’t these just instrument coalitions?

The regimes approach centers on the interplay between policies and politics (May & Jochim, 2013) rather than being a tool aimed at measuring (policy) change. Moving beyond subsystems, policy regimes are conceptualized as “the governing arrangements for addressing policy problems” and may include “institutional arrangements, interest alignments, and shared ideas” (May & Jochim, 2013, p. 428). Ideas are the glue that holds the regimes together, much like beliefs are the glue of subsystems. The policy regimes perspective starts with the policy problem; as a descriptive lens it works backwards to map the governing arrangements for addressing this problem. As an analytical lens, the policy regimes proposes that the stronger the regime, the greater the levels of policy legitimacy, coherence, and durability.
(Petridou, 2014:2S25)

To read for the thesis
Brouwer, Stijn, and Frank Biermann. 2011. “Towards Adaptive Management: Examining the Strategies of Policy Entrepreneurs in Dutch Water Management.” Ecology and Society 16 (4): 5.

Howlett, Michael, and Andrea Migone. 2011. Charles Lindblom Is Alive and Well and Living in Punctuated Equilibrium Land.” Policy and Society 30: 53–62.

Ingold, Karin, and Frédéric Varone. 2011. “Treating Policy Brokers Seriously: Evidence from the Climate Policy.” Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 22: 319–46.

Ingram, Helen, Anne L. Schneider, and Peter deLeon. 2007. “Social Construction and Policy Design.” In Theories of the Policy Process, ed. Paul A. Sabatier. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 93–126.

Jones, Michael D., and Mark K. McBeth. 2010. “A Narrative Policy Framework: Clear Enough to Be Wrong?” Policy Studies Journal 38 (2): 329–53.

Nohrstedt, Daniel. 2011. “Shifting Resources and Venues Producing Policy Change in Contested Subsystems: A Case Study of Swedish Signals Intelligence Policy.” Policy Studies Journal 39 (3): 461–84.

Prindle, David F. 2012. “Importing Concepts from Biology into Political Science: The Case of Punctuated Equilibrium.” Policy Studies Journal 40 (1): 21–43.

Shanahan, Elizabeth A., Mark K. McBeth, and Paul L. Hathaway. 2011. “Narrative Policy Framework: The Influence of Media Policy Narratives on Public Opinion.” Politics and Policy 39 (3): 373–400.

Shanahan, Elizabeth A., Michael D. Jones, Mark K. McBeth, and Ross R. Lane. 2013. “An Angel in the Wind: How Heroic Policy Narratives Shape Policy Realities.” Policy Studies Journal 41 (3): 453–84.

To read after the thesis

Gerlak, Andrea K., and Tanya Heikkila. 2011. “Building a Theory of Learning in Collaboratives: Evidence from the Everglades Restoration Program.” Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 21: 619–44.

Heikkila, Tanya, and Andrea K. Gerlak. 2013. “Building a Conceptual Approach to Collective Learning: Lessons for Public Policy Scholars.” Policy Studies Journal 31 (3): 485–513.

Lubell, Mark. 2013. “Governing Institutional Complexity: The Ecology of Games Framework.” Policy Studies Journal 41 (3): 538–60.

Schneider, Anne, and Helen Ingram. 1993. Social Construction of Target Populations: Implications for Politics and Policy.” American Political Science Review 87 (2): 334–47.

And finally (though I should probably link it to another MSF extension paper that I read on the 26th April), Howlett et al.  This is another corker, aimed at combining insights from multiple streams and advocacy coalitions into policy cycle models of analysis (as you’d guess from the title.)

It hasn’t been published in dead tree format, so the pages refer to the pre-publication version, numbered 1 to 15….

So, they are setting out to do some combining (synthesising or complementarity, as per Cairney, 2013)

A pivotal feature of policy studies since the mid-1980s has been the development and use of several different analytical frameworks to help capture the main characteristics and dynamics of policy processes (Pump 2011). These frameworks are oriented toward moving beyond the particularities of policy-making processes in such a way as to guide investigators and help both students and practitioners make sense of the complex set of socio-political activities that constitute policy-making as well as its outputs and outcomes (Althaus et al. 2013; Cairney 2013; Howlett et al. 2009). However in their present state, these models contain contradictory elements and their use has led to many studies and scholars focusing upon or promoting one model over another in a process of ‘dueling analytical frameworks’.
(Howlett, et al., 2016: 1)

They point out that both policy-making and so analysis of policy-making is  all very messy and complicated (Bismarck’s sausages would be a GREAT name for a policy wonkery blog, imho).

Their article argues that if models are to advance thinking about policy-making, then both MSF and ACF approaches

“need revision if they are to apply to the post-agenda setting and post-formulation activities involved in policy development and implementation. Specifically, this article argues that a reconciliation of streams, advocacy coalition, and cycles models only becomes possible once it is recognized that neither the multiple streams model nor the ACF, as presently constituted, can deliver fully functional frameworks capable of understanding the entirety of policy-making activity and behaviour.”
(Howlett, et al., 2016: 2-3)

“Cycle” models have been around a long time, despite detractors

(e.g. Colebatch 2006; Sabatier 1991) who have argued that it presents an idealized image of sequential policy-making activity rarely encountered in practice,
(Howlett, et al., 2016: 3)

Yeah. Ibn Khaldun has published bugger all lately…

There’s a nice contrast of the relative strengths of the two approaches

Whereas Kingdon’s units of analysis for discovering the causes of stasis and change on the policy agenda were the heterogeneous forces and factors that converged upon Congress, Sabatier and his colleagues focused on political actors as the drivers of policy development. But rather than rely on the classic vehicle of pluralist group interaction as a mode of collective action (Truman 1971), or the amorphous issue network concept that had been proposed by Heclo (1977), Sabatier and Jenkins Smith created the ACF, an analytical structure in which like-minded actors formed competitive teams within each policy subsystem…. Although helpful in specifying who was involved in policy-making and how they interacted, however, the strength of the ACF formulation came at the expense of ignoring the decision-making process and reverting to a pre- Lasswellian ‘black box’ in which the inputs formulated by a successful coalition somehow were melded together to produce policy outcomes.
(Howlett, et al., 2016: 5)

There’s good stuff (as per Mukherjee and Howlett) on the idea of adding two new streams – a “policy process stream” and  a “program stream” to the existing model.  To my untutored eye, these are helpful rather than gaudy/gratuitous.

The policy process stream when the three problem, politics, and policy streams coalesce temporarily in the typical ‘policy window’ fashion that he described. This intersection creates a new policy process stream that becomes the main or central pathway upon which other streams subsequently converge. In turn, critical junctures are created that set up the future impetus for policy deliberations and establish the initial conditions, which animate subsequent policy process advances (or retreats) essentially becoming the ‘choice’ stream mooted by Cohen, March, and Olsen.
(Howlett, et al., 2016: 8 – emphasis added)

The program stream;

At this point the ‘policy’ stream separates from the main flow, which is comprised of the process, politics, and problem streams, and is now joined by a program stream composed of the actors and interests working to calibrate new program instruments (and integrating or alternating them with established ones) to generate new outputs.
(Howlett, et al., 2016: 9)

FWIW, I think they’re right when they claim

The research possibilities involved in working with this new framework are enormous, once we begin to see the value in adapting and combining the core insights of stages, streams, and coalition approaches, rather than seeing them as mutually exclusive. A new synthesis allows us to meld together analytical approaches that focus on different stages of policy processes, the interplay of multiple forces that shape these processes, and the competition between different sets of actors (and beliefs) as they vie for influence.
(Howlett, et al., 2016: 9)

And it looks squiggly beautiful…

howlett et al 2016

To read for the thesis

Voß, J.-P. and A. Simons. 2014. ‘Instrument Constituencies and the Supply Side of Policy Innovation: The Social Life of Emissions Trading.’ Environmental Politics 23(5):735–754.

Wilder, M. and M. Howlett. 2014. ‘The Politics of Policy Anomalies: Bricolage and the Hermeneutics of Paradigms.’ Critical Policy Studies 8(2):183–202.

#Awalkinthepark – Islands in the Stream #Kingdon  #MultipleStreams

So, these two probably could have been better clumped with the Brunner article (see last post) because they are trying to use/modify the famous “Multiple Streams Framework” of John Kingdon.

Winkel, G. and Leipold, S. 2016. Demolishing Dikes: Multiple Streams and Policy Discourse Analysis. Policy Studies Journal, Vol. 44, (1), pp.108-129.

Mukherjee, I. and Howlett, M. 2015. Who Is a Stream? Epistemic Communities, Instrument Constituencies and Advocacy Coalitions in Public Policy-Making. Politics and Governance, Vol. 3, (2), pp.65-75.

Winkel and Leipold undertake

“a systematic assessment of the MSF’s core elements from the perspective of policy discourse analysis. Through an understanding of “streams” as discursive patterns, and policy discourses as (historical) couplings of the streams, a new and theoretically consistent interpretation of streams and likely connections between them is offered. One specific focus is on Kingdon’s concept of policy entrepreneurship and how it relates to ideas of agency in discourse analysis. Drawing on the recently proposed Discursive Agency Approach, we discuss how concepts such as subject positions in discourses, agent subjectivization via the dialectic interplay of individual characteristics and structural forces, and discursive practices and strategies relate to and can possibly complement the MSF.”

(Winkel and Leipold, 2016:108)

They use Hajer’s work, of course –

Hajer conceives a policy discourse as “an ensemble of ideas, concepts, and categories through which meaning is given to social and physical phenomena, and which is produced and reproduced through an identifiable set of practices” (Hajer, 2005, p. 300). Hence, a policy discourse is, on one hand, an interpretive scheme (a structure) that transforms experiences into “truth” and as such, exerts power by means of a dominant perception of truth. On the other hand, it has a process dimension. It is produced through agents and, consequently, constantly subject to change. This twofold character of a discourse as both structure and practice—and the resulting tension between stability (structures) and dynamic (practices)—is the essence of the policy discourse concept.
(Winkel and Leipold, 2016:112)

There’s some mention of counter-stories (p. 113) but this is something I am going to have to do (gasp) some thinking about myself…

My observation about the ‘naturalness’ of certain policies swimming to the top of the policy primeval soup in Brunner (2008) is referenced-

Second, the policy stream encompasses the policy primeval soup, in which a continuous evolutionary process occurs through the (re-)combination of free-floating policy ideas and a subsequent selection process that determines which policy ideas survive and which die out. According to Kingdon, this political selection process is guided by rather distinct selection criteria, which he outlines based on his empirical work.
(Winkel and Liepold, 2016:115, my emphasis)

Well, I clearly have some further reading to do…

Winkel and Leipold  point out the costs of trying to change the system from within (besides the 20 years of boredom)

Constructing (or negating) problems and problem solutions against the logic of such hegemonic societal value discourses comes with high political costs, if it is possible at all. A lack of persuasiveness not only weakens the chances of problems and solutions to survive on the agenda but also dilutes the power of those that back a hopeless case.
(Winkel and Leipold, 2016:116)

Winkel and Leipold want to fill in the terrain around Kingdon’s three ‘streams’

Caused either by a dramatic increase of the water level and turbulences in the stream (i.e., a significant increase in discursive practices through an evolving debate) or by the occurrence of a disturbance or obstacle (an event) that affects the direction of the flow (i.e., the way policymakers talk about issues), a flood (the “critical time” [Kingdon, 2003, p. 88]) dramatically increases the likelihood of stream convergence.

Once the forces of erosion have broken down the dividing dikes, streams can converge; a new policy may be born, requiring new (institutionally sedimented) dikes (see below) in response to the changed flow of the streams. Hence, policy windows are akin to periods of strong erosive potential in one or more of the streams, resulting in the chance to connect these previously divergent streams by processes of avulsion.

The metaphor of flooding and breaking dikes not only connects nicely to Kingdon’s portrayal of policy windows as “waves” coming down the problem or politics stream but also to his concept of a “tipping point” that puts an idea on the agenda.

Once the tipping point is reached, the dike breaks. In this way, the meander and dike metaphor is suitable to explain the occurrence of significant shifts after long periods of relative stability (the equilibrium, see Baumgartner, Jones, & Mortensen’s [2014], seminal work pointing at a similar interrelation of stabilizing institutions and mobilizing practices). In line with the picture of stream erosion, the equilibrium is, however, never static. Rather, it mimics steady gradual change—sometimes reduced to a minimum through institutionalized (concrete) shores.
(Winkel and Leipold, 2016:118)


“conceive the streams as flowing through a discursive terrain structured by heights and valleys. This topography constrains the scope for discursive (stream) erosion: policy discourses (linking problems to solutions) are the valleys that were formed through successful (historical) couplings of distinct streams.
(Winkel and Leipold, 2016:119)

And that’s where the ‘critical conjunctures’ (to use an historical institutionalism term) come in –

Coming back to the metaphor of meanders and dikes, discourses that stretch across the problem and policy streams are the weak points in the topography—the predetermined channel through which the flood will flow once the dike breaks. These form the “critical junctures” (Kingdon, 2003, p. 87) where the streams can converge. In the neoliberal governance discourse, for instance, a social or physical event presented as a case of state failure and incomplete markets allows connections to related (market) solutions in the policy stream, whereas other presentations cannot achieve such connections using this discursive streambed. Only problematizations that are digestible within the specific logic of this discourse can be connected to the specific policy (solution) stream of this discourse—using the specific valley that this discourse creates.
(Winkel and Leipold, 2016:119)

So what kind of leviathan/great man/deus ex machina can do this sort of thing?  (Asides from the distinction between tortoises and carpe diemers)?  Well, as Fligstein notes, you need social skills up the wazoo.  Winkel and Leipold add this

certain characteristics of a discourse agent. In a previous publication, we distinguish individual skills (e.g., rhetoric and diplomatic skills, intelligence, diligence, education, knowledge of an issue, commitment, experience) and positional characteristics (e.g., professional position, membership and position within a political organization, credibility, mandate to act/make decisions, material capabilities/ resources, ecological/social situation with which actors are faced, connection to discursive structures) (Leipold and Winkel, 2013). These characteristics largely mirror the skills and resources Kingdon (2003) attributes to policy entrepreneurs. In contrast to Kingdon, however, a policy discourse perspective considers these characteristics not as given but as constituted through an interplay of individual abilities with the structural attributes of a specific subject position in the discourse.
(Winkel and Leipold, 2016:121)

And the skills you need for agenda setting are not the ones that will help with policy formation and policy implementation and evaluation, now are they?

And anyway, you have to be doing the softening up work beforehand.

Kingdon indicates several examples from a rich repertoire of strategies in which entrepreneurs must engage to achieve successful coupling. In all of these, timing is essential (see also Herweg, 2013; R€ub, 2006). Before a policy window opens, entrepreneurs must already be engaged in preparatory work, the rhetorical “softening up” (Kingdon, 2003, pp. 128, 141) of the political climate for a policy proposal. Logical connections to be made at the time the window opens must be prepared discursively in advance.
(Winkel and Leipold, 2016:122)

Policy entrepreneurs need to construct story lines, may need to engage in emotionalization and polarization, and strategies of exclusion, which are essential to the process of coupling as they restrain complexity into manageable story lines (Winkel and Leipold, 2016:123).  There’s a need for normative power, and re-a and de-issuing policies.  What’s these?

Re- and de-issuing refers to (first) the de-coupling of a policy problem from a certain policy solution. For instance, in an analysis of policymaking related to the implementation of the U.S. Legal Timber Protection Act (Leipold & Winkel, 2015), we found that the timber trade associations and retailers opposing the new act (which prohibits the placing of illegally harvested timber and timber products on the U.S. market, and as such increases the obligation to apply due care) aimed to strategically reframe the policy problem away from illegal logging toward a case of government overreach. This (first) de-issuing and (then) re-issuing was launched to subsequently attack the policy solution, that is, the Legal Timber Protection Act.
Re- and re-issuing can also occur across policy domains…
(Winkel and Leipold, 2016:123-4).

There’s also ‘discourse shopping’ –

“The strategic reformulation of problems and possible solutions in response to changing political discourses

(Winkel and Leipold, 2016:124)

And finally spillovers across domains –

policy discourses and agents developing similar story lines in different policy domains may actually facilitate interconnection. For instance, the aforementioned neoliberal market governance discourse has produced similar story lines and subject positions in distinct policy domains. As Kingdon points out, spillovers need appropriate category constructions, which is exactly what discourse agents may perform using the repertoire of such a specific policy discourse in different policy domains.
(Winkel and Leipold, 2016:124)

i.e. the universal acid of ‘the market’…

To read
Jones, Michael D., Holly L. Peterson, Jonathan J. Pierce, Nicole Herweg, Amiel Bernal, Holly Lamberta Raney, and Nikolaos Zahariadis. 2016. “A River Runs Through It: A Multiple Streams Meta-Review.” Policy Studies Journal 44 (1): 13–36.
Petridou, Evangelia. 2014. “Theories of the Policy Process: Contemporary Scholarship and Future Directions.” Policy Studies Journal 42: 12–32. doi:10.1111/psj.12054.


Mukherjee and Howlett have a similar improve-the-Multiple-Streams-Framework agenda. Specifically, they want to disaggregate the notion of the policy entrepreneur who is able (with some luck) to create a ‘policy window’. Their

article argues that the policy world Kingdon envisioned can be better visualized as one composed of distinct subsets of actors who engage in one specific type of interaction involved in the definition of policy problems: either the articulation of problems, the development of solutions, or their enactment. Rather than involve all subsystem ac-tors, this article argues that three separate sets of actors are involved in these tasks: epistemic communities are engaged in discourses about policy problems; instrument constituencies define policy alternatives and instruments; and advocacy coalitions compete to have their choice of policy alternatives adopted.
(Mukherjee and Howlett, 2015:65)

They observe that

Many attempts at extending the MSF model beyond agenda-setting have been less than successful in matching or describing policy empirics involved in policy formulation and be-yond because they have inherited from Kingdon only very weak depictions of what is a stream and, more to the point, of whom it is composed (Howlett et al., 2015).
(Mukherjee and Howlett, 2015:67)

Policy entrepreneurs look powerful when they’ve pushed at open doors, but

They are “‘surfers waiting for the big wave’ not Poseidon-like masters of the seas” (Cairney & Jones, 2015, p. 5).
(Mukherjee and Howlett, 2015:68)

Mukherjee and Howlett point to the work of Knaggard, who has

“argued that a single notion of entrepreneurship is misplaced and rather sees the need for at least a second more loosely de-fined type of “problem broker” emerging out of the problem stream to popularize or highlight a specific problem frame. This kind of actor, she argues, has a primary interest in framing policy problems and having policymakers accept these frames, thereby conceptual-ly distinguishing problem framing “as a separate process” from policy entrepreneurship and “enabling a study of actors that frame problems without making policy suggestions”, unlike traditional notions of policy entrepreneurs (Knaggård, 2015, p. 1).
(Mukherjee and Howlett, 2015:68)

So, alongside ‘epistemic communities’ (in the problem stream), they import another term –

a second group of actors, “instrument constituencies”, whose focus is much less on problems than on solutions. Instrument constituencies is a term used in the comparative public policy field to describe the set of actors involved in solution articulation, independently of the nature of the problem to be addressed (Voss & Simons, 2014). Such constituencies advocate for particular tools or combinations of tools to address a range of problem areas and hence are active in the “policy” stream King-don identified, one that heightens in activity as policy alternatives and instruments are formulated and combined to address policy aims.
(Mukherjee and Howlett, 2015:70)

As they observe, think tanks (a current obsession of mine),

fall into this category, as they provide policymakers with “basic in-formation about the world and societies they govern, how current policies are working, possible alternatives and their likely costs and consequences” (McGann, Vi-den, & Rafferty, 2014, p. 31).
(Mukherjee and Howlett, 2015:70)

And they bring it all together very very neatly with this figure, which probably will not mean enough to you if you haven’t been able to read the literature (because time, because paywalls).  I will be re-reading this soonish…

policy streams

To read

Cairney, P. (2013). Standing on the shoulders of giants: How do we combine the insights of multiple theories in public policy studies? Policy Studies Journal, 41(1), 1-21.
Craft, J., & Howlett, M. (2012). Policy formulation, governance shifts and policy influence: Location and content in policy advisory systems. Journal of Public Policy, 32(2), 79-98.
Herweg, N., Huß, C., & Zohlnhöfer, R. (2015). Straightening the three streams: Theorising extensions of the multiple streams framework. European Journal of Political Research, 54(3), 435-449.

#Awalkinthepark  – fantasy technologies, fantasy policies and polar bears #wearetoast

So, over the last two days, even with The Wife about, I have somehow contrived to read nine journal articles about policy theory, policy implementation etc.  I really do need to get out more.  Rather than blog them in the order I read them, imma go for some sort of logical clumping (the borders are, of course, fuzzy).  This time-

den Besten, J. Arts, B. and and Verkooijen, P. 2014. The evolution of REDD+: An analysis of discursive-institutional dynamics. Environmental Science & Policy, Vol. 35, pp.40-48.

Lerum Boasson, E. and  Wettestad, J. 2014. Policy invention and entrepreneurship: Bankrolling the burying of carbon in the EU. Global Environmental Change, November 2014, Vol.29, pp.404-412.

Brunner, S. 2008. Understanding policy change: Multiple streams and emissions trading in Germany. Global Environmental Change, Vol 18, pp.501– 507.

So, den Besten et al tell the tale of the growth of “REDD+” from an idea to a policy between 200 to 2011, using a Discursive Institutional Analysis.  It’s an interesting tale, well told, and it is deeply depressing, yet useful.

They ask (and answer)

1) What actors or groups of actors took part in the negotiation process that culminated in the REDD+ agreements?
2) What ideas and concepts did these actors introduce or contest in this process?
3) To what extent did the REDD+ discourse contribute to changes in institutional arrangements and how did the institutional context in turn influence the further develop-ment of the discourse?
(den Besten, et al., 2014: 41)

They use discursive institutionalism (see multiple recent #walkinthepark blog posts) to good effect and introduce the concept of the “discursive institutional spiral”

This term refers to the dynamic process of institutionalisation of discourses on the one hand and the opening up of discourses in response to these institutionalisation processes on the other. It suggests the ‘spiralling’ of a discourse through expanding constellations of actors and ideas that contribute to discourse development, and subsequent moments of discourse institutionalisation in arrangements and practices. The discourse then narrows down, including and excluding certain ideas in new rulemaking. Such spiralling is also an expression of power, because some actors and ideas will ‘win’ over others in this discursive-institutional process.
(den Besten, et al., 2014: 41)

Predictably enough, there was a cynical birth to this particular fantasy policy  [my interpretation]–

“developed nations with large expanses of forests dominated the debate at this time. They wanted to be allowed to credit the protection of their forests and use these credits to offset part of their carbon dioxide (CO2) emission reduction obligations. This led to protracted discussions with other developed countries and the complete disengagement of developing countries”
(den Besten, et al., 2014: 42)

And of course, quelle surprise

As REDD+ initiatives developed, the realisation also grew that its implementers lacked the capacity to tackle the drivers of deforestation, in particular international drivers associated with commercial agriculture (Karsenty, 2008). Finally, many countries found that the coordination of REDD+ with other sectors such as energy, food and commodity agriculture proved difficult…
(den Besten, et al., 2014: 44)


So, this spiral, and the discourse coalitions, probably meshes well with Kingdon’s “policy entrepreneurs” and the recent (Mukherjee and Howlett) work, which I will come back to.

Here’s the spiral, btw-

discursive spiral policy stream


They conclude, reasonably enough –

“Ideas do not emerge out of a void and an expansion of ideas and actors is needed to come to new institutionalisation processes. Hence, ideas and institutions are symbiotic and cannot exist separately.”
(den Besten, et al., 2014: 4ˊ)

Reader, I REDD it and wept, and imho you should too.

Next up, another brilliant paper – Lerum Boasson and Wetestad have written a corker about how CCS became (briefly) flavour of the month, thanks to “tortoise” and “carpe diem” policy entrepreneurs.


introduce new distinctions between different kinds of entrepreneurship directed at opening and exploiting policy windows. Actors with differing motivations and commitments may perform entrepreneurship that contributes to policy invention: what we call deeply committed tortoises may help to create and shape a policy window, whereas carpe-diemers, with a shallower commitment and a more short-term approach, are more active in exploiting policy windows. Further, entrepreneurs may combine different techniques – prominent examples being ‘framing’ and what we call ‘procedural engineering’.
(Lerum Boasson and Wetestad, 2014:404)

What exactly is procedural engineering? I’m glad you asked. According to the authors, it is

is entrepreneurship directed at altering the distribution of authority and information concerning the political issue in question, for instance through networking, bargaining techniques, issue-couplings and initiation of new decision making procedures (see Boasson, 2014). In short, procedural engineering entrepreneurship is directed at changing ‘the rules of the game’. Procedural engineering covers many entrepreneurial techniques discussed in the literature on policy entrepreneurs, such as lobbying, coalition building, orchestrating networks, venue shopping and collaborative activities with elite groups (e.g. Roberts and King, 1991; Mintrom, 1997; Mintrom and Norman, 2009; Huitema and Meijerink, 2010).
(Lerum Boasson and Wetestad, 2014:405)

They think that without both torise and carpe diem entrepreneurship, windows of opportunity will come to naught (p.406).

They then tell the sad tale, which now seems ancient history, of how the European Council announced in March 2007 the goal of ‘up to 12’ CC demonstration plants in operation by 2015.  Oops.

They do this by policy document analysis but also a bunch of interviews –

Nor was CCS mentioned as a possible abatement option in the 2003 Emissions Trading Directive (Directive 2003/87). Our interviewees note that EU officials hardly paid attention to CCS at that time. A civil society representative mentions Commission officials from DG Environment who claimed that CCS was an unrealistic and somewhat ‘crazy’ idea.
(Lerum Boasson and Wetestad, 2014:407)

And interestingly, the US involvement (Futuregen etc) didn’t help, because of , well, Bush –

as noted by one EU official we interviewed, ‘CCS had a credibility problem (. . .) The Bush initiatives were more negative than positive for the EU process because the environmental camp was against everything that Bush was for.’
(Lerum Boasson and Wetestad, 2014:407)

Oddly (p.407) they bring the IPCC 4th Assessment report forward to 2006. Perhaps a typo?

There’s a nice quote from the former Lib Dem MEP Chris Davies, who was a reluctant but forceful advocate of CCS –

Davies, who had not engaged in CCS previously, summed up his view on CCS in these words: ‘I hate CCS. . .It is just that I hate coal more. We have to promote CCS. China, India and the US need to realize that they will have to pay a lot more if they want to use coal’ (quoted in Friends of Europe, 2008, p. 24). Davies swiftly started to exploit the policy window for CCS in an entrepreneurial manner….
(Lerum Boasson and Wetestad, 2014:408)

They suggest that four types of entrepreneurship mechanisms exist –

(1) Window Identification,
(2) Window Engineering,
(3) Agenda Setting and
(4) Decision Strategy.
First, Window Identification denotes the framing of a particular situation at a special moment in time as appropriate for dealing with certain political problems or solutions.…
Second, the Commission officials together with the German and French presidencies performed Window Engineering: they altered the formal decision-making procedures in a way that boosted the capacity of the political system for efficient, multiple decision-making.  [A sort of venue shopping and venue combining, possibly with some issue shopping too MH]
(Lerum Boasson and Wetestad, 2014:409-410)


And what is in it for some of these carpe diem entrepreneurs? Well, that’s obvious…

CCS was presented as an indis-pensable climate solution, necessary for the EU to be able to tackle future climate obligations and challenges. Pushing CCS gave the Carpe Diemers an opportunity to demonstrate their own political vigour and leadership.
(Lerum Boasson and Wetestad, 2014:410)


Why did they write the article?

Thus far, the literature on policy entrepreneurs has focused more on success factors that enable particular persons to be especially influential than on the defining characteristics of entrepreneurship. In this article we have rather conceptualized two important dimensions of entrepreneurship (i.e. techniques and commitment) in relation to the concept of window of opportunity and suggested four different entrepreneurship mechanisms. We hope that this can lead to a more nuanced debate about what entrepreneurship is and how it plays into policy making.
(Lerum Boasson and Wetestad, 2014:411)

Succeeded in spades This is a must-read/re-read…


Brunner’s piece is also very useful.  He too is interested in policy entrepreneurship, and how fantasy policies [again, my interpretation, not his] become ‘popular’. He uses Kingdon’s multiple streams framework, and its ‘policy window’ concept to look at how emissions trading came to Germany.

“At the same time, however, the findings imply that a number of relevant factors are not sufficiently considered by the theory, most notably the influence of multi-level governance structures, learning processes, and networks. This demonstrates that the multiple streams approach on its own is not sufficient to fully understand the case study example. Hence, for a better understanding of policy change it is suggested that scholars need to evaluate the potential for amending and combining Kingdon’s model with other explanatory approaches.”
(Brunner, 2008: 501)

There’s a nice observation that I’ve not seen elsewhere about the nature of policy windows –

When those three streams join they temporarily create advantageous choice opportunities which Kingdon terms ‘‘policy windows’’ or ‘‘windows of opportunity’’ (both terms are used interchangeably); a situation where a‘‘problem is recognised, a solution is developed and available in the policy community, a political change makes the right time for policy change, and potential constraints are not severe’’ (Kingdon, 1984, p. 174). Kingdon uses the metaphor of a launch window in a space flight mission. If the window is lost, then the launch has to wait until alignments become appropriate again. The successful launch of a policy change is the result of the opening of such a ‘‘window of opportunity’’ in the interplay of multiple streams. In this view, agendas are not just a reflection of power but also depend on chance.
(Brunner, 2008:502, emphasis added)

So, you’ll be shocked, shocked to learn that the energy companies told the politicians that the lights would go out;

The Commission asked the Ministry for the Environment (BMU), which is responsible for the allocation process, to scale back the amount of emission permits. German industry officials, however, urged the Government to resist. In a letter to Chancellor Merkel, the officials from large power firms alleged that if the Government agreed to the Commission’s demands, the additional costs would force industry to re-think planned investment in German energy capacity (VDEW, 2006).
(Brunner, 2008:502, emphasis added)

There’s a nice mention of “conflict expansion” and polar bears-

Born shortly before Christmas 2006 in the Berlin Zoo, Knut quickly came to embody an international symbol of climate change vulnerability. The German environment minister Sigmar Gabriel claimed that there is ‘‘no other animal that better symbolises global warming’’ (cited in Guardian, 2007). In a very emotional way Knut combined the two issues of global warming and animal rights. Such issue linkage can provide significant opportunities for policy entrepreneurs (Howlett, 1998). According to Kingdon (1984, p. 173) the key element in conflict expansion is the way an issue is framed. Following this logic, environmentalists used Knut to expand the reach of global warming to the controversy on animal rights.
(Brunner, 2008:503)

This last paper needs to be combined with Winkel and Leipold, 2016, btw,and others – there are some serious and interesting additions to the Multi-Streams Framework being done.

I worry a little about the ‘naturalness’ of the primeval policy soup, btw, and the notion that “the ones that are technically and financially feasible swim to the top (p.504, my emphasis). I think there is work that goes into deciding (with some limits!) of what counts as feasible. Art of the possible and all that…

As well as pointing to the need to consider multi-level games on politics, Brunner also points to the notion of policy learning –

Second, some interviewees stressed the notion of learning for explaining the policy shift towards auctioning. Both (Sabatier, 1988; Hall, 1993) argue that policy change is dependent on a process of social learning by government, business, and wider society. In understanding policy change, analysts also need to focus on elite opinion and the factors that encourage shifts in belief systems over long periods of time. Kingdon’s theory, however, lacks a distinctive consideration of learning processes. It does not pay sufficient attention to the way previous policies affect current debates and, ultimately, instrument choice. As a result, it has been criticised as being ‘‘ahistorical’’ (Weir,1992).
(Brunner, 2008:506)

This was something that Ross Garnaut was adamant on in 2011- the Australians had learned the lessons of the EUETS…

The take-home from these three papers is this –

We can trade trees, we can pretend we are going to bury carbon in saline aquifers, and we can set up markets in carbon.  None of it matters.  We didn’t act when we should have; all these are simply bargaining moves, busy work to make people think that they are helping.  We – those who reached adulthood before 1992 – have culpability. We allowed our stupid species to stay on its stupid path.  We can’t say we weren’t warned, when it all goes wrong for us (as it is already going wrong for other species, and other members of our own species.)

#Awalkinthepark – “Think” tanks,  denialists, renewables and (neo)institutional theory

Four articles this time (one a re-read)

Zimmerman, E. 2016. Discursive Institutionalism and Institutional Change. In Zimmerman, E. 2016. Think Tanks and Non-Traditional Security. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

McKewon, E. 2012.  Talking Points Ammo: The use of neoliberal think tank fantasy themes to delegitimise scientific knowledge of climate change in Australian newspapers. Journalism Studies, Vol. 13 (2), pp. 277-297.

Genus, A. 2015. Institutions, discourses, and the promotion of renewable energy. WIREs Energy Environment. Vol. 5, pp. 119-12

Andrews-Speed, P. 2016. Applying institutional theory to the low-carbon energy transition.  Energy Research & Social Science, Vol. 13, pp.216-225.

Erin Zimmerman studied at the University of Adelaide (I think you’ll find all the smartest people did, #justsaying) and this book is based on her PhD.  I will possibly only read chapter 2 (#timeconstraints) but the whole thing looks fascinating, and is probably as good as this chapter.

The power of think tanks is contingent upon their ability to move ideas through political space and have these ideas accepted and acted upon by political actors. This necessitates an in-depth understanding of the dynamics undergirding ideational impact on the policy process.
(Zimmerman, 2015:16)

She takes a constructivist (discursive) understanding of their influence. She lays out the different institutionalisms nicely, adapts a lovely graph from Blyth (2002)

2015 think tank cycle zimmerman

(Zimmerman, 2015:19)

She argues that

DI is well-suited to the study of think tanks because it can acknowledge their positions both within and external to existing governing structures, as well as fully account for the expertise think tanks possess in conveying ideas. DI can be used to link ideas and institutions through discursive actors and clarifies how, by operating in the ‘middle’ of formal and informal process, think tanks can wield political influence.
(Zimmerman, 2015:23)

She tentatively comes down on Schmidt’s ‘side’ in the ongoing and useful Schmidt-Bell debate (see previous #walkinthepark posts) –

Upon closer reading, it appears that Bell’s discomfort with DI is based upon a simplified perception of the theory that overlooks the efforts of discursive institutionalists to situate ideas into their institutional contexts.
(Zimmerman, 2016:24)

The point is, of course, that these things (getting long term change) can take a looooong time. Which we don’t have anymore, I fear…

Institutionalised ideas influence policy for decades or even generations and sometimes outlive the circumstance which gave rise to their initial creation (adapted from Goldstein and Keohane 1993; Blyth 2002). Institutionalisation is, by far, the most permanent and politically contested outcome of ideational promotion. Networking, problem framing, agenda setting and creating discursive space are often used to build up the necessary political momentum prior to attempting institutionalisation.
(Zimmerman, 2016:39)

Similarly on think-tanks, Elaine McKewon wrote a very good paper on the japes and hi-jinx of Australia’s “Institute of Public Affairs”.  McKewon uses Borman’s Symbolic Convergence Theory.  What’s that? I’m glad you asked. Its

a general communication theory that offers an explanation for the process by which groups develop and share a symbolic reality. The process firstly involves the creation and sharing of stories, or fantasy themes, within small groups; the fantasy themes then chain out from person to person, and from group to group*often through the mass media*to create a shared social reality or rhetorical vision. The basic concept of SCT is the fantasy theme, which is a structured dramatic account of a real-world experience (Bormann, 1972). Fantasy theme is further defined as ‘‘the creative and imaginative shared interpretation of events that fulfills a group psychological or rhetorical need’’ (Bormann, 1985, p. 130). Fantasy themes are stories driven by dramatis personae*stock characters such as protagonists (i.e. heroes, victims) and antagonists (i.e. villains)*and are often grounded in the personality traits, moral codes and motives of the characters:
(McKewon, 2012: 28x)

She goes into good detail on how Ian Plimer’s “Heaven + Earth” was effectively shilled by IPA staffers and sympathisers, despite its manifest and manifold inadequacies.  She’s good on the creation of various front groups (Australian Environment Foundation, Australian Climate Science Coalition) and the classiness of people like the late Bob Carter.   She explains that in a 2003 article in the IPA’s “Review” magazine

“Carter joins forces with American sceptics who were escalating their attacks on climate scientists and the scientific consensus; here, he quotes a former President of the Mineralogical Society of America: ‘‘The idea that humans have significantly enhanced global warming is by far the most massive abuse of science that I have ever seen’’ (Ross, in Carter, 2003, p. 13). Carter’s own inflammatory rhetoric compares scientists to ‘‘sex workers’’ and accuses the entire field of climate scientists of fabricating environmental threats to procure government funding:

To capture government’s attention, and funding, requires the generation of a crisis in one of these politically sensitive areas . . . Thus did our venerable handmaiden, science, become a sex-worker. (Carter, 2003, p. 12)”
(McKewon, 2012: 288)

All in all, good stuff.  Since McKewon wrote this, the IPA has of course doubled-down, producing another “Climate Change: The Facts” book.  They’re painting themselves into a corner on this one, and the reputational embarrassment is going to be intense, and may even involve a renaming (but that’s the future, and prediction of it is tricky, eh?)


Genus’s article is more of a teaser/trailer than a full-fledged detailed explanation of the differences between UK and Germany on renewable energy success/failure.  The more extensive work he has done is

Genus A. Changing the rules? Institutional innovation and the diffusion of microgeneration. Technol Anal Strateg Manage 2012, 24:711–727.


Genus A, Theobald K. Creating low carbon neighbourhoods: a critical discourse analysis. Eur Urban Reg Stud 2014. doi:10.1177/0969776414546243.


Finally Philip Andrews-Speed has written a corker, imho.  Here’s the abstract –

The low-carbon energy transition is a form of socio-technical transition and, as such, it involves profound changes in the institutions that govern society. Despite the acknowledged importance of institutions in shaping the pace and nature of transition, a relatively small proportion of the academic literature on the topic applies institutional theory to the analysis of this transition in a systematic and detailed manner, and these accounts draw mainly on organizational and sociological institutionalism. This paper aims to demonstrate the benefits of applying a wider set of institutional theories to the study of the low-carbon energy transition. It draws principally, but not solely, on rational choice and historical institutionalism with selective reference being made to key concepts within social and organizational institutionalism as well as discursive institutionalism. The paper demonstrates the high degree of parallelism that exists between the literatures on socio-technical regimes and institutions, and also shows how the systematic application of institutionalism can provide a deeper understanding of socio-technical transitions. It concludes by outlining the main elements of a research agenda relating to the low-carbon energy transition.
(Andrews-Speed, 2016:216)

The aim of the paper is

“to respond to the calls to bring institutional theory further into the study of the low-carbon energy transition [1,2] by treating the energy sector as a socio-technical regime and examining how institutionalism can throw light on the processes involved in this transition.”
(Andrews-Speed, 2016:216)

There’s a crystal clear exposition of socio-technical transitions, (in transition management, and adaptive capacity, and then the four neo-institutional theories and what they might bring to the table.
Andrews-Speed uses “positive feedback” when he means I am pretty sure he means “negative feedback” (p. 220), but other than that there is not a foot wrong.

[Update 27 April – I am wrong, of course;  This from Carter and Jacobs, 2014:128]

Pressures for reform attract negative feedback from the policy sub-sector, creating a ‘friction’ that limits change to small incremental adjustments. But the opening of a window of opportunity can start a bandwagon or ‘cascade’ effect that provides positive feedback for new initiatives; the removal of the friction releases the pent-up pressure for change, sometimes resulting in major policy punctuations. But these periods of disequilibrium are brief: after change occurs, political attention shifts elsewhere and a new equilibrium evolves.

Andrews-Speed talks about how open societies are(n’t) to new ways of doing things with reference to “adaptive efficiency”

Behind the more ‘tangible’ requirements for a technologically innovative society [51,52] lies a softer attribute known as ‘absorptive capacity’ [53]. Absorptive capacity is needed to turn new ideas and techniques into technological progress. Without it, no amount of transferred or indigenously produced technology can be diffused and deployed across a nation. The absorptive capacity of an organization or a society is the ability to identify the value of new ideas or technologies, to introduce them into the organization and to use them to produce new products or services.
(Andrews-Speed, 2016:218)


North [3] captured the idea of openness to institutional change in his term ‘adaptive efficiency’ which refers to the willingness and ability of a society to acquire new knowledge, to innovate, to take risks through experimentation, and to eliminate unsuccessful political and economic organizations and institutions. In this respect, culture is seen as an important determinant of adaptive efficiency. For example, ideological conformity, whether rooted in history or imposed by dictatorship, may reduce a society’s adaptive efficiency.

(Andrews-Speed, 2016:220)

There’s much more – you should read this article, dear reader. That research agenda promised in the abstract?

Following this logic, an effective analysis of the low-carbon energy transition at the level of a nation or sub-national region should seek to address the following non-exclusive list of questions:
1 What is the general nature of the embedded institutions such as societal values and norms, and how does this shape such attributes as preference for conformity, impersonal trust, willingness to change behavior, and potential for collective action?
2 What is the general nature of the prevailing political, economic and legal systems (i.e., the institutional environment) and how does this shape policy discourse, policy making and policy implementation in general and in the energy sector in particular?
3 How does the nature of the institutional environment shape the distribution of agency and interest among actors, the openness to competition for ideas, and willingness to experiment?4 What are the prevailing policy paradigms that shape the governance of energy, what are their origins, and how open are they to change?
(Andrews-Speed, 2016:223)

Should keep us all busy as the atmospheric carbon accumulates, the oceans acidify and the consequences of our past inaction catch up with us.  Insert Benjamin on Klee’s Angelus Novus about here

#Awalkinthepark – Radical Institutional Change? Bin juice!!


The sixth lap is usually fairly unproductive, from a reading point of view, but probably where the calorie burn comes from.  Somehow I only managed to finish one article – (and tbf, most of another)

Lorenzoni, I. and Benson, D. 2014. Radical institutional change in environmental governance: Explaining the origins of the UK Climate Change Act 2008 through discursive and streams perspectives.  Global Environmental Change, Vol. 29 pp.210-21.

They use two analytic lenses – discursive institutionalism (DI) and multiple streams model  (SM)– to look at the before and during of the passage of the UK Climate Change Act 2008.

As for DI – well, I’ve blogged a LOT about that over the last few days.  SM – Well, Bismark said that laws are like sausages, in that it doesn’t pay to look too closely at how they are made.  John Kingdon could have said laws are ‘bin juice’ –

Kingdon argues that problems and solutions generated by participants are dumped into a political garbage can and become a ‘primeval soup’ from which the policy process emerges as three distinct streams (problems, policies and politics). When these three streams converge at critical junctures they interact, thereby opening the opportunity (‘policy windows’, or ‘windows of opportunity’) for advocates to place their solutions to particular problems on the political agenda, leading to new policies or changes to existing policies (Kingdon, 1984, 1995; also Farley et al., 2007).
(Lorenzi and Benson, 2014:11)

They give good brief descriptions of both DI and SM, and explain their (mixed) methodology which involved a lot of reading and some interviews duly triangulated.

They then tell the story of the CCA via both lenses, drawing out useful detail, and evaluate the usefulness of both theories.  They think that Multiple Streams Model may understate the ability of policy entrepreneurs/actors to force the pace/make things happen.

The DI account emphasises the constitutive role of Bryony Worthington, working for Friends of the Earth in shifting the mental mood music, and the role of an Early Day Motion.

There are some unfortunate mistakes-

  • “begs the question” (p.10) when it simply means “raises the question”
  • Secretaries of State are appointed by the Prime Minister, not “elected” (p. 14)
  • The Stop Climate Chaos coalition was not ‘international’ (p.15) in the normal sense of that.
  • Straight-jacketing instead of ‘strait-jacketing’ (p.16)
  • ‘Towed the line’ instead of ‘toed the line’ (p17)

This is more about policy formation than policy implementation, (targets and fine pronouncements about the year 2050 are easy. Confronting inertia and vested interests in the day-to-day? #notsomuch.  But these guys have written a very useful paper nonetheless.

They conclude –

Firstly, in our theory testing it remains difficult to generalise from our single, albeit significant, case, making more general claims about the supportive ‘value’ of DI somewhat premature. Secondly, Discursive Institutionalism itself remains an emerging agenda within the wider discipline of new institutionalism. We therefore advocate greater testing of propositions, not only in parallel climate change cases but also across different policy sectors and even national contexts (e.g. see Benson and Lorenzoni, 2014). The reward is not only more innovative theory building and, potentially, better explanatory frameworks. In the case of climate change policy, the scope for learning on the conditions necessary to countenance ambitious, legally binding mitigation targets is high. Such normative lessons will be of comparative interest to countries as they seek to reduce their emissions whilst still maintaining cross-societal consensus, a conundrum that will occupy future policy makers worldwide as climate change occurs.
(Lorenzi and Benson, 2014:19)


Things to read

Benson, D., Lorenzoni, I., 2014. Examining the scope for national lesson-drawing on climate governance. Polit. Q. 85 (2), 202–211, 923X.12080.

Brunner, S., 2008. Understanding policy change: multiple streams and emissions trading in Germany. GEC 18, 501–507.

Davies, P.H.J., 2001. Spies as informants: triangulation and the interpretation of Elite interview data in the study of the intelligence and security services. Politics 21 (1), 73–80.

Farley, J., Baker, D., Batker, D., Koliba, C., Matteson, R., Mills, R., Pittman, J., 2007. Opening the SM for ecological economics: Katrina as a focusing event. Ecol. Econ. 63, 344–354.

Nerlich, B., 2012. ‘Low carbon’ metals, markets and metaphors: the creation of economic expectations about climate change mitigation. Clim. Change 110, 31–51. Pidgeon, N.F., 2012. Public understanding of, and attitudes to, climate change: UK and international perspectives and policy. Clim. Policy 12, S85–S106.

Rayner, T., Jordan, A., 2010. The United Kingdom: a paradoxical leader. In: Wurzel, R.K.W., Connelly, J. (Eds.), The European Union as a Leader in International Climate Change Politics. Routledge, London, pp. 95–111.

Schmidt, V.A., 2010. Taking ideas and discourse seriously: explaining change through discursive institutionalism as the fourth ‘new institutionalism’. Eur. Polit. Sci. Rev. 2 (1), 1–25.






#Awalkinthepark – Transformers!, transitions, neo-institutional theory and SHIT v CHIC

So, one on the bed, one and a half while around the park (it turns out theory is far slower to read than fact-based stuff, who knew) and polishing off that second half of the third paper at my desk as the sun shines outside.  I really do need to get out more.

Gillard, R. Gouldson, A. Paavola, J. and Van Alstine, J. 2016. Transformational responses to climate change: beyond a systems perspective of social change in mitigation and adaptation. WIREs Climate Change, Vol. 7, pp251-265/

Kuzemko, C., Lockwood, M. Mitchell, C. and Hoggett, R. 2016. Governing for sustainable energy system change: Politics, contexts and contingency. Energy Research & Social Science, Vol. 12, pp.96-105.

Bell, S. undated.  Historical Institutionalism and the Dynamics Agency (under review)


Gillard et al do an impressive job of comparing and contrasting socio-technical transitions theory (STT) and social-ecological systems (SES) theory and what they have to tell us about the possibilities (fwiw, I don’t actually think there are any) of a rapid decarbonisation of, well, everything, but especially energy and transport systems.  They are keen on Deleuze and Guatarri and also the “social fields” thing.

So, they point to similarities between STT and SES (they’re both about complexity [management] after all)

the notion of an institutional entrepreneur—which has striking similarities to the niche innovators found in ST transitions—has gained conceptual currency in SE systems research. This idea builds in part on Folke et al.17 emphasizing social learning and leadership in adaptive governance, but also in part as a response to the criticisms leveled against climate policies that cast individuals as mere respondents to, rather than carriers of, transformational change.

Gillard et al, 2016: 256

And mention that the status quo is a nice idea to some –

For instance, the capacity to maintain the vital functions of a given social system may not always be exercised in a progressive or desirable manner, particularly from the viewpoint of the oppressed and marginalized who would rather see more radical change. In this form, resilience may be seen as an apology for incrementalism similar to that of the isomorphism of TM where restorative stability is preferred to disruptive alternatives. For this reason, human geographers and other scholars working on international development and security have been particularly critical of the rise of resilience as a new interdisciplinary norm. Some see this conservative form of resilience as depoliticizing climate change and reinforcing a neoliberal form of governing that is responsible for escalating socioeconomic inequality and vulnerability.
(Gillard, 2016:256)

They use understated when they mean overstated (easy mistake to make, to be fair), p259

Ultimately, they conclude we may turn to social theories— where power, politics, and social relations are of central concern—for insights and provocations. If ST and SE systems are to become more productive interdisciplinary frameworks capable of politically contextualized climate governance prescriptions then they will need more socially oriented theories of change. First, focusing on the contingent relations between various actors (human and nonhuman) and their assemblages (e.g., an industry or a community) instantly opens up possibilities for more radical innovation and adaptability beyond the discursive confines of a functionalist system perspective. Second, the interpretive and strategic actions of influential actors before, during, and after moments of crisis and agitation have to be made explicit. Tracking these processes across space and time exposes both the creative potential of social interactions and the institutionalized rules of the game that enable or constrain them.
(Gillard et al. 260-1)

And the game remains the same…

There’s a load of fascinating looking articles (listed at bottom)  I will have to get around to these at some point –

Kuzemko et al do a similar sort of thing, but this time comparing SST with neo-institutionalist theory.  It’s an interesting paper, which doesn’t do quite what I wanted it to (a systematic appraisal and contrasting of rational choice institutionalism, historical institutionalism (both sticky and contingent –see below)

They point out

Furthermore, although STT theories allow for a constitutive role for culture, interpretive frame-works, historically embedded norms and power structures, more needs to be done to understand how they affect policy choices, rules, regulations and outcomes ….
(Kuzemko et al., 2016: 98)


Although there is some recognition that policies that effectively enable energy innovations in one culture can dramatically differ from those that work in another, there has been too little attempt to explore why this might be the case ([1]: p. 119). Such over simplifications of governing for sustainable innovations mean that all too often, prospects for more diverse, creative and progressive forms of social and political transformation are conflated, in theory and practice, “. . .into a seemingly amorphous, singular, depoliticized ‘way forward”’
(Kuzemko et al., 2016: 98)

They outline institutionalism, and make a distinction between sociological and historical types –

Sociological institutionalists, as opposed to their historical institutionalist colleagues, tend to conceptualize governance as dynamic and subject to change over time. There are a number of suggestions about the conditions under which profound governance changes can happen: for example in the event of a significant party political shift as the result of a general election, during times of crisis and uncertainty, or more gradually via an accumulation of new rules and norms over time
(Kuzemko et al., 2016: 100)

But there are still problems –

Applied to theorizing governance for energy innovations, institutionalist theories can tell us more about the contingent and complex nature of energy governance and about drivers for change. However, the weakness of new institutionalist approaches, for our purposes, is that they focus too narrowly on the political and policy domains and, as such, tend not to provide methods of exploring links between policy and practice change in energy systems.
(Kuzemko et al., 2016: 101)

And of course

Formal political organizations, such as government departments, may have long histories of working to maintain the supply orientation of energy systems in line with historic energy industries, including also nuclear. Actor groups representing these industries can often mobilize considerable financial and knowledge capital behind influencing the terms of media and political debates emphasizing the need to innovate in ways that will ensure their survival
(Kuzemko et al., 2016: 102)

Indeed they do, as the example of Australia vividly shows…

They warn in their conclusion that

“a too narrow focus on governance will tend to result in analysis that can identify policy and regulatory changes clearly, but will have too little to tell us about how practices in energy systems are responding to those governance changes.”
(Kuzemko et al., 2016: 104)

And that

“there is a need to be precise about the domestic political context within which processes of governing for sustainable change take place.“
(Kuzemko et al., 2016: 104)

There are papers to be read from this extensive reference list (see below)

For me, I still don’t get the difference between configurations and assemblages

I won’t say much about Professor Stephen Bell’s paper, which he kindly sent me, for the following reasons

  1. It’s under review and so the final version may be different
  2. I don’t have a lot to add – I really liked it
  3. I’ve sent him a bunch of comments via email.

It’s a defence of a modified historical institutionalism that brings in insights from psychology (esp fast vs. slow thinking by Dan Kahneman) and then some empirics on the 2008 financial crisis.  Lots to think on, and when it is published I’ll return to it for a re-read and a re-blog.

So, you’ve got the Sticky Historical Institutionalism Theory versus the Contingent Historical Institutionalism Concept.  I know which I’d go for…

In the meantime,  McPhilemy’s notion of “cognitive regulatory capture” needs further  investigation

McPhilemy, S. 2013. Formal Rules versus Informal Relationships: Prudential Banking Supervision at the FSA Before the Crash. New Political Economy, 2013, Vol.18(5), p.748-767.


From the Gillard et al references-

Sovacool BK. 2014. What are we doing here? Analyzing fifteen years of energy scholarship and proposing a social science research agenda. Energy Res Soc Sci, 1:1–29.

Stirling A. 2011. Pluralising progress: from integrative transitions to transformative diversity. Environ Innov Soc Trans, 1:82–88.

O’Brien K, Sygna L. 2013. Responding to climate change: the three spheres of transformation. In: Proceedings of Transformation in a Changing Climate, Oslo, Norway, 19–21 June, 2013.

Geels FW. 2004. From sectoral systems of innovation to socio-technical systems: insights about dynamics and change from sociology and institutional theory. Res Policy, 33:897–920.

Sovacool BK. 2009. Rejecting renewables: the socio-technical impediments to renewable electricity in the United States. Energy Policy, 37:4500–4513.

Moloney S, Horne RE, Fien J. 2010. Transitioning to low carbon communities—from behaviour change to systemic change: Lessons from Australia. Energy Policy, 38:7614–7623.

Jørgensen U. 2012. Mapping and navigating transitions—the multi-level perspective compared with arenas of development. Res Policy, 41:996–1010.

Rickards L, Wiseman J, Kashima Y. 2014. Barriers to effective climate change mitigation: the case of senior government and business decision makers. WIREs Climate Change, 5:753–773.

Shove E. 2010. Beyond the ABC: climate change policy and theories of social change. Environ Planning A, 42:1273.

Munck af Rosenschöld J, Rozema JG, Frye-Levine LA. 2014. Institutional inertia and climate change: a review of the new institutionalist literature. WIREs Climate Change, 5:639–648.

McFarlane C. 2009. Translocal assemblages: space, power and social movements. Geoforum, 40:561–567.

Rose A. Resilience and sustainability in the face of disasters. Environ Innov Soc Trans 2011, 1:96–100.

Thornton PH, Ocasio W, Lounsbury M. The Institutional Logics Perspective: A New Approach to Culture, Structure, and Process. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2012.


References from Kuzemko et al

J.L. Campbell, O.K. Pedersen, Policy ideas, knowledge regimes and comparative political economy, Soc. Econ. Rev. Adv. Access 2015 (April)(2015),

Carter, M. Jacobs, Explaining radical policy change: the case of climate change and energy policy under the British labour government 2006–10,Publ. Adm. 92 (1) (2014) 125–141.

Fouquet, The slow search for solutions: lessons from historical energy transitions by sector and service, Energy Policy 38 (2010) 6586–6596.

P.A. Hall, R.C.R. Taylor, Political science and the three newinstitutionalismstical science and the three new institutionalisms, Polit. Stud.44 (1996) 936–957.[30]

P.A. Hall, K. Thelen, Institutional change in varieties of capitalism itutional change in varieties of capitalism, Soc. Econo. Rev. 7 (1) (2009) 7–34.

Hay, Ideas, interests and institutions in the comparative political economy of great transformations, Rev. Int. Polit. Econ. 11 (1) (2004) 204–226.[33] C. Hay, Narrating crisis: the discursive construction of the winter of discontent, Sociology 30 (2) (1996) 253–277.

Mahoney, K. Thelen, A theory of gradual institutional change, in: J.Mahoney, K. Thelen (Eds.), Explaining Institutional Change: Ambiguity, Agency and Power, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2010.

DiMuzio, Capitalizing a future unsustainable: finance, energy and the fate of market civilization, Rev. Int. Polit. Econ. 19 (3) (2012) 363–388.

#Australian #climate history – who knew what when?

Below is a piece just published on ‘The Conversation.’ I was very flattered to be asked to write it. I think I should probably have included a sentence about Hugh Saddler’s 1981 book ‘Energy in Australia’, which has a brief climate section, and made the point that various oil companies (Exxon, Shell) bought up Australian coal assets in the 70s, as part of their post-oil-shock diversification.

Since it went up various commenters have made some very interesting points, that are worth reading (on the original post).

US firms knew about global warming in 1968 – what about Australia?

Earlier this month the satirical newspaper The Onion “reported” on the discovery in a Californian university’s archives of a dusty, yellowing report saying the time to act on climate change is now.

This week life imitated art, as it was revealed that there is indeed a decades-old report to be found in a Californian archive warning of climate impacts. The real report, as opposed to the satirical one, was written in 1968 by scientists at the Stanford Research Institute, who sent it to the American Petroleum Institute to warn of the possible impacts of carbon dioxide emissions.

That wasn’t even the start. A decade earlier, in 1959, a scientist working for oil giant Shell wrote in New Scientist about the idea of humans altering the climate, although he poured scorn on the idea.

By the early 1970s, the idea of the greenhouse effect was already in the air, if you’ll pardon the pun. It merited several pages in the Club of Rome’s landmark 1972 report, The Limits to Growth, and even got a mention in the dystopian classic 1973 film Soylent Green.

“A heatwave all year long, a greenhouse effect … everything’s burning up.”

Australian awareness

Australian climate awareness wasn’t far behind. In August 1972, English scientist John Maddox appeared on ABC television and was asked about the threat of climate change. Maddox, who was then the editor of leading science journal Nature and author of The Doomsday Syndrome, was sceptical, claiming that “there’s no reason at all to think that the gloomy calculations are right”.

The following year, ecologist Leonard Webb’s book Environmental Boomerang devoted a short section to the issue.

In 1974, the Australian Conservation Foundation established its Habitat magazine. An early issue included an article about global warming.

The following year, the economist and bureaucrat Herbert Cole “Nugget” Coombs persuaded the Whitlam government to commission research on the issue. This gave rise to an Australian Academy of Science (AAS) report that concluded it was too early to tell.

By the late 1970s, The Canberra Times began running prominent stories about the possibility of sea-level rise and other climate impacts. One that presumably caught the coal industry’s attention was a November 1977 article in which a US physicist warned that relying only on coal-fired power would flood US cities.

In 1981, the AAS followed up on its earlier work, releasing a report on “The CO₂-Climate Connection: A Global Problem from an Australian Perspective”. At this time, pro-nuclear Liberal politicians were invoking climate change as a reason for Australia to pursue nuclear energy.

The same year, the Office of National Assessment wrote a report for the Fraser government titled “Fossil Fuels and the Greenhouse Effect”. Clive Hamilton, who uncovered it, described how the report urged the government to consider moving away from fossil fuels, although “it might be possible for raw coal to be burned in central locations, such as power stations built close to the sea, where carbon dioxide can be chemically stripped from emissions and dissolved at depth in the oceans”. Carbon capture and storage was already on the table, even in the early 1980s.

That decade climate change slowly but surely climbed the political agenda, thanks largely to the work of then federal science minister Barry Jones. In 1987 his Commission for the Future worked with CSIRO under the banner of the “Greenhouse Project” to stage a series of workshops, to be followed – with exquisite timing – by conferences across Australia in late 1988.

Three decades after the first presentiments of danger, the moment had finally arrived. With drought in the United States, the Toronto conference on The Changing Atmosphere, a speech to Britain’s Royal Society by then prime minister Margaret Thatcher, and NASA scientist James Hansen’s famous US congressional testimony, 1988 is widely seen as year zero for public awareness of climate change.

Who knew what when?

The Australian Mining Industry Council (now the Minerals Council of Australia) established an environment committee in 1972, which was mostly concerned with local environmental issues. BHP sponsored the ACF’s Habitat magazine with full-page adverts, so presumably got a supporter’s subscription as well and would have been aware of the issue.

It defies belief to imagine that senior resources industry figures were unaware of climate change decades ago. They may have dismissed it as another greenie scare, or a distant future issue which technology would resolve, but they would not have been oblivious.

According to a former coal industry figure I have interviewed for my PhD, they were aware of the issue by the mid-1980s at the latest, but believed that technological solutions would be easily implementable.

Perhaps tellingly, however, the first mention of climate change I found in the now-defunct Australian Journal of Mining was a November 1988 article titled “Physicist claims CO₂ will actually benefit biosphere”.

The sceptics

Only now is the issue really coming home to roost for fossil fuel firms, such as the world’s biggest private coal miner Peabody Energy, which this week filed for bankruptcy in the United States.

Peabody’s recently retired chief executive Greg Boyce has always been combative on the subject of climate change. He told the World Energy Congress in 2010 that:

“The greatest crisis society confronts is not a future environmental crisis predicted by computer models but a human crisis today that is fully within our power to solve – with coal.”

Its now-retired chief lobbyist Fred Palmer, in a 1997 documentary, happily and emphatically states:

“Every time you turn your car on and you burn fossil fuels and you put CO₂ in the air, you are doing the work of the Lord.”

The fallout

The New York attorney-general’s office is now demanding answers from Exxon over its response to the climate warnings of half-a-century ago.

Meanwhile, the attorney-general of the US Virgin Islands has subpoenaed the US think tank the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a long-time ally of the fossil fuel industry, over its campaign to cast doubt on climate science.

While it is both interesting and frustrating to learn that the very companies that have worked hardest to obfuscate climate science actually knew about it before the wider public did, that knowledge doesn’t help us figure out how to deliver the sorts of deep emissions cuts that are needed now. We need to keep our eyes on the increasingly unlikely and battered prize of a habitable planet.