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IPPA workshop 1-3 July 2020

Constructivist and pragmatist approaches of Policy Processes

When: 1 – 3 July 2020

Where: Quito (Ecuador)

Who: Phillippe Zitoun and Patrick Hassenteufel

Organisation: International Public Policy Association (IPPA)

If the constructivist and the pragmatist approaches play, for a long time, a major role in different social sciences, especially in sociology, they continue to be poorly taken into account in most of the public policy literature.

Paradoxically, the pragmatist approach has largely influenced the origin of the discipline (Dunn, 2019): for example Lasswell quotes frequently Dewey. In our view the pragmatist core idea that the best way to understand concepts is not to define them but to observe them “in action” can be largely applied to the public policy field, which started with studies on “Governement and State “in action”. The influence of constructivism is also obvious in the problem framing and agenda-setting literature. We consider that, in a constructivist perspective policy, scholars need to observe the definitional work of actors to understand the formulation of a public problem and to grasp its contentious diffusion in the mediatic and governmental agendas.

If there is are a lot of declinaison, Our general objective is not to not to reduce the diversity of constructivist and/or pragmatist approaches in social sciences but to see how they can be helpful in reconsidering the empirical observation and the understanding of the policy process. Aiming to join researchers who work on constructivist and/or pragmatist approaches, the workshop wants to develop fruitful discussions and debates in order to trigger the emergence of a new international dynamic.

If the positivist approaches, which are largely dominant the US literature, are more focused on “explaining” the policy process through variation of external “variables”, the main idea of the constructivist and pragmatist approaches is to understand the process in action by taking seriously into account the reflexivity of the actors involved in the definition of the world they want to act on and of the public policy they want to change. We focus on the role of specific actors in the building of collective action to support a problem definition or a policy proposal, and on struggles between them to impose a specific problem on the public agenda or one proposal in the governmental one. Mobilizing different traditions coming from other disciplines, like the pragmatist philosophy of Dewey, James and Pierce, the constructivist approaches in the sociology of Berger and Luckman, Becker, Goffman, and the pragmatist one of Boltanski or Latour, the workshop proposes to elaborate a large contribution for the policy field.

This workshop has for ambition to combine this diversity in the building of a new approach on the policy process. It proposes to highlight some fundamental questions about the theoretical, conceptual and methodological foundations of this approach. We specifically want to shed the light on some main questions like how to grasp together the definitional work, the multiple configuration of collective action and the multiple constraints imposed by the configuration of the arenas where public debates takes place. Finally we also try to reconsider the questions of power and domination in this approach.