In democratic societies, we may think of policy-making as a technical process dominated by elite actors such as politicians in parliaments, analysts and bureaucrats, and lobbyists connected to ‘big interests’ or think-tanks. This view of policy-making is a fair representation of reality for the most part, but it leaves out one other important set of influences—the impact of those ‘from below’ who make up a variety of social forces and movements that act collectively to pressure for policy change and reform. Political systems produce stable structures through which policy can be produced and influenced through 'routine' channels (parliaments, committees, etc.) Occasionally, policy change involves a level of contention and conflict that forces actors to move beyond routine channels and to engage in the policy process in more activist ways.
Activism at all levels of policy-making thus involves the mobilisation of resources and power of different kinds, not only to promote particular interests but often to engage in paradigmatic and symbolic struggle over the definition, scope and meaning of policy interventions. Policy activism in turns depends on access to power, resources and networks of different kinds. A large business is likely to have access to money, advertising, influential networks, and law in the pursuit of interests whereas a community group attempting to prevent a freeway or mining project is unlikely to have such resources and will draw on collective action, symbolic challenges, access to allies, and public opinion in making its voice heard.
Of course, activist appeals are shaped by the political and policy opportunity structures that will also shape the dynamic field of the contest over policy and also shape the likelihood of success.
This course draws on themes in political sociology, social policy, policy studies, political science and political economy to help account for concepts, debates and unresolved questions about the contestation of policy in democratic societies. The subject matter is at the fascinating intersection of state structures, social movement and activist contention, and the procedures and opportunities involved in policy-making. Course content ranges from the theoretical and conceptual to the empirical and practical.
I very much hope you enjoy the course and feel comfortable to participate.