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Steven Griggs and David Howarth

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David Howarth and Steven Griggs

Explanations of policy change have generated a number of perennial stand-offs between those who privilege ideas and those who advance interests, or those who foreground agency and those who turn to structures. This chapter rejects such binary oppositions. It demonstrates how poststructuralist discourse theory offers a novel articulation or synthesis of the role of ideas, interests, agency and structures in accounts of policy change. More specifically, it recognises the centrality of politics and power in the forging, sustenance and grip of policy frames or discourses in particular social and historical contexts. In substantive theoretical terms, this emphasis involves the articulation of the concept of hegemony to account for the emergence and formation of policy discourses, and the recognition of the constitutive character of rhetoric, while drawing on Lacanian psychoanalysis and the category of fantasy to account for the stabilisation and grip of policies. In conclusion, the chapter underlines the complexity of the different elements that need to be brought together in order to explain policy change, seeking to trigger debates as to how we might begin to grasp and render comprehensible the ‘messiness’ of the policy process and the practices of policy-makers.

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Steven Griggs and David Howarth

This chapter examines how poststructuralist discourse theory can offer new insights into the critical assessment of the transformation, stabilization and reproduction of the practices of governance networks. It begins by setting out the guiding assumptions of the approach of political discourse theory, before exploring their implications for the study of governance networks. In so doing, it foregrounds the political construction of governance networks, and their constitution through acts of power and the drawing of antagonisms. By radicalizing the insights of the Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci, and by drawing on the work of Laclau and Mouffe, the chapter argues that change and inertia in governance networks will thus be the outcome of hegemonic struggles. It investigates the political logics of such hegemonic struggles before analyzing how fantasmatic narratives explain the “grip” of particular governance practices. In conclusion, the chapter sets out the critical and normative implications of political discourse theory, cautioning against hard and fast characterizations of the forms of network governance, which themselves are based on stark binary oppositions. Poststructuralism, it concludes, recenters attention on the everyday “messy” politics of governance networks.