Social Construction and Multiple Streams: Three Contributions to Public Policy Theories 120 Years Since the Birth of Harold Lasswell (1902-2022)

December 7, 2022
Written by: 
Krešimir Petković
Editor-in-Chief of Annals of the Croatian Political Science Association

We are happy to present our first thematic block on public policies, which will soon be published in the second issue signed by this editorial board of the Annals of the CPSA. We are even happier that these are the works of young authors, PhD students in Political Science at the Faculty of Political Science in Zagreb, who have developed their presentations, and then essays in the Public Policy Theories course, into full articles that competently discuss selected problems in the field of contemporary theories of public policy making.

The first of the texts, Does the Truth Matter? Constructivism in Public Policy and the Concept of Truth in Michel Foucault by Tin Puljić, presents the constructivist paradigm in public policy research and connects it with the insights of the said influential French thinker, reheating the old epistemological and political issue of the status of truth that accompanies Western civilization from the dispute between Socrates and the sophists to the more modern science wars. The author questions the difference between hard and soft constructivism, and, instead of the search for truth per se, advocates the search for the “discursive truth” in the political field where fierce battles for definitions are being fought and political subjectivities are forged. On these grounds, he summarizes the points for the policy research program which, in principle, can have predictive value. Skeptics might raise an eyebrow, suspecting that this is self-refuting relativism (Aron’s short question to Foucault was: What is your episteme?), while the more sympathetic will recognize a contemporary variant of the Thomas’s theorem on the truth of consequences, even of peculiar or blatantly untrue beliefs. This does not logically eliminate the search for truth outside current political discourses – moreover, the very concept of truth seems to be a presupposition of our statements about these political discourses or any statements at all – and the search for truth about constructions can look like something on a well-known terrain of Weber’s social science focused on understanding (verstehende Soziologie), which is applied to the political sphere and public policy making as a part of – when it comes to the Foucauldian research program – the regimes of truth in the games of power where discursively mediated beliefs on the basis of which people act are relevant. An interesting question that opens for the future is, if the boundaries between hard and soft constructivism can be erased, can they at least be blurred between constructivism and positivism, as the infamous unity of the method of natural and social sciences? Taking down of one scarecrow might suggest the possibility of taking down some others.

The second text, Policy Entrepreneurs or Policy Crusaders? Political Actions of the Extremist Communities in the Context of the Multiple Streams Model by Matej Mikašinović-Komšo, is devoted to take down epistemologically somewhat more down-to-earth actor. Mikašinović-Komšo analyzes the Internet forum 4chan as a paradigm of a virtual politically extremist community, and does that within the contemporary version of Kingdon’s theory of separate streams of problems, policies and politics. In that way, this young author continues his research in the direction of examining and refining policy theories—on a topic he was continuously engaged in, and about which already published an article on our blog. The added value of this text lies in the expansion of the theory in its key point – the concept of policy entrepreneur as a key actor for policy change. If we have policy entrepreneurs within the political system, often singular actors, could we not also have similar entrepreneurs outside the system, even those persistent in representing ideas destructive to the pluralistic political order? Given the fact that a hivemind of internet trolls does not fully meet the criteria for a policy entrepreneur who can articulate feasible policy solutions, the author calls such “entrepreneurs” policy crusaders, a group of anonymous voices in constant recreation that form a collective entity strongly advocating politically incorrect ideas expelled from the political mainstream. The limits of free speech that define the official public space of the community, narrowed by political correctness, induce their flourishing in the virtual spawning ground, a cloaca of anonymity where, in Freudian terms, the id often prevails over the ego. For the author, fanatical crusaders of public policies – the author uses a metaphor understandable within the Western tradition, avoiding political connotations that would e.g. come with policy jihadism, but it should be noted that the analyzed substrate is of somewhat non-Abrahamitic, mostly of a pagan nature – are also poisoners of the primordial soup of ideas whose time has come. In the political realm, the author associates this concept not with Platonic purity rather but with the evolutionary mutual enrichment through non-violent adaptation and compromise.

After all, adaptation and compromise seem especially difficult in the terrain of great divisions. The last but not the least of the three articles, Environmental Issues in Post-Conflict States and the Multiple Streams Model: The Case of Air Pollution in BiH by Ana Budimir, also critically applies the theory of multiple streams. Budimir does this in a completely different, but almost equally unconventional context for Kingdon’s theory – that of post-conflict, divided societies and unstable states. It is a rounded draft of a potentially very interesting research on the cognitive value of Kingdon’s model in the context of Croatia’s neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina as an unexpected arena for the application of the theory of multiple streams. Such an arena includes international actors along with the national ones, and the topics that are still looking for their own successful policy entrepreneurs. The main problem that prevents the tackling of environmental protection issues, as Budimir concludes, lies not only in the course of domestic politics but also in the lack of focus of international actors who have other priorities. Thus, the big ecological and public health problem of air pollution still waits for its window of opportunity in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Given the economic and energy crisis that accompanies the Russo-Ukrainian War after the global governance of the pandemic that shook the global economy – in the treacherous area of the Huntingtonian clash of civilizations despite the idealistic projections of liberal individualism and the construction of a democracy divorced from collective sentiments based on ethnicity, religion and particular collective identity – it seems it will still be waiting for him in the future.

With these three papers, we tried to contribute to the work on public policy theories and their actualization in Croatia. We are doing this in the footsteps of Lasswell’s vision of joint solving of social problems through public policies – 120 years after the birth of this “founding father” of public policy as an academic field. Regardless of how we evaluate Lasswell’s legacy today, given its Cold War political and technocratic dimensions, the idea that the social sciences, with their insights and suggestions, can still help solve public problems instead of creating them, still obliges us, especially, in the words of Some Like it Hot (Neki to vole vruće), a Croatian pop band from the 1980s, hard times. If “the devil will not take them away”, the young forces of the Promethean project of understanding and governing society through public policies can contribute. At least a little.

And that, at the very end, we can be quite sure that we have understood the academic variant of the Confucian norm of respect that posterity shows to its predecessors, the famous filial piety, we attach to this block a useful review of the Methods of the Policy Process, a book edited by Christopher Weible and Samuel Workman. That book, with its reflection on research methods and useful considerations of their application, follows the most famous “cult” book on public theories (which were applied in by our young researchers), namely Sabatier’s (and later Weible’s as well) Theories of the Policy Process. The review is penned by Zdravko Petak, doyen of the public policy discipline at the Faculty of Political Sciences, to whom we would like to thank for nurturing and developing the tradition of their research and for everything he has given us academically and personally. This block would not exist without him.

Annals of the Croatian Political Science Association

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