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Why public policy ideas catch on: empty signifiers and flourishing neighbourhoods

Jeffares, Stephen Ruari (2008)
Ph.D. thesis, University of Birmingham.

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Abstract

Asking the question ‘why do ideas catch on in public policy’ reveals the inadequacy of ideational accounts to compete with the predominance of mainstream models of policy analysis. This thesis reasserts ideational accounts through the application of the political discourse theory of Laclau and Mouffe. The approach posits ideas as demands operating in governing discourses and understands how general equivalent demands then become empty signifiers. This thesis develops current understanding on how general equivalents and empty signifiers function through an application to urban governance. It develops a qualitative account of governing in Birmingham using interviews between 2003-2005, and documents and media archives from the past twenty years. The thesis examines how mainstream ideational, rational, institutional and interpretative accounts understand the emergence of policy ideas and their role in coalitions, policy change and agency of actors. Discourse theory is revealed as a comprehensive approach for understanding these questions of ideas. The thesis develops a framework for the empirical application of discourse theory in Birmingham, exploring the relationship between two taken-for-granted governing discourses: renaissance and size. It shows how actors were motivated to reiterate and protect discourses from dislocation with development of the empty signifier of ‘flourishing neighbourhoods’. The thesis traces the credibility and emergence of flourishing neighbourhoods and contributes to a research agenda around hegemonic policy analysis.

Type of Work:Ph.D. thesis.
Supervisor(s):Smith, Mike and Griggs, Steven (1962-)
School/Faculty:Schools (1998 to 2008) > School of Public Policy
Department:Public Policy
Subjects:JN101 Great Britain
JA Political science (General)
JS Local government Municipal government
Institution:University of Birmingham
Library Catalogue:Check for printed version of this thesis
ID Code:193
This unpublished thesis/dissertation is copyright of the author and/or third parties. The intellectual property rights of the author or third parties in respect of this work are as defined by The Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 or as modified by any successor legislation. Any use made of information contained in this thesis/dissertation must be in accordance with that legislation and must be properly acknowledged. Further distribution or reproduction in any format is prohibited without the permission of the copyright holder.
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