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The Status of Ideas in Controversies on Public Policy. Analyzing Beliefs as Dependent Variables: A Case study on Harm Reduction Policies in Switzerland

GPS, Vol. 8 No. 1, (2012)

This article is about the theoretical and methodological apprehension of public policy controversies. It is based on a case study research on harm reduction policies in matters of drug addiction in two Swiss cantons. The focus lies on the role of ideas during public policy controversies, with the purpose to consider how to construct actors’ beliefs as dependent variables. In fact, the ambiguity of the analytical status of ideas as causes or as varia-bles is a recurring bone of contention in public policy analysis. This point is particularly salient in the case of highly emotional controversies, which tend to naturalize the beliefs as if they were entirely preexistent to the policy-making process. We will argue that when ideas are considered in such a way -as independent variables-, the analysis is likely to be a more descriptive than explicative one. In the contrary, by adopting a processualist point of view, our analysis concentrates on how ideas occur in the course of action. We assume that the study of the very process of idea formation allows achieving a deep understanding of the emergence and the development of the controversy. Our theoretical starting point is the Advocacy Coalition Framework (ACF), which has proved its worth in the multilevel analysis of public policy controversies between adversary coalitions.

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