Deborah Stone, “Causal stories and formation of policy agendas”, Political Science Quarterly 104 (1989), pp. 289-300.

_Main Argument:_

This article is about how situations come to be seen as caused by human actions and amenable to human intervention. According to Stone, a theory of how problems come to be defined in politics must include a more extended analysis of how social institutions support and constrain causal arguments. In this article Stone tries to develop a theory of problem definition, starting from the conventional social science wisdom that a bad condition does not become a problem until people see it as amenable to human control. She shows how political actors use narrative story lines and symbolic devices to manipulate so-called issue characteristics, all the while making it seem as though they are simply describing facts.

 

_Method:_ Creates a typology of causes (see page 285).

 

== Notes ==

 

Takes a social constructionist view of policy problems: her understanding of real situations is always mediated by ideas; those ideas in turn are created, changed, and fought over in politics

 

_Typology of Causes:_

There are four types of causes: mechanical, intentional, accidental and inadvertent

 

_Complex Causes:_

Many policy problems  require a more complex model of cause to offer any satisfying explanation:

“Complex Systems”: holds that the social systems necessary to solve modern problems are inherently complex

“Institutional Complex Causes”: envisions a social problem as caused by a web of large, long-standing organizations with ingrained patterns of behaviour

“Historical” or “Structural Complex Causes”: this model holds that social patterns tend to reproduce themselves. People with power and resources to stop a problem benefit from the social organization that keeps them in power and maintain it through control over selection of elites and socialization of both elites and non-elites

 

To assume that the effects of an action are its purposes is to commit the teleological fallacy

Purpose must always be demonstrated with evidence of the actor’s wishes or motives, apart from the effects of his actions

Complex cause is sometimes used as a strategy to avoid blame and the burdens of reform

 

_The Political Functions Of Causal Theories_

–     First, they can either challenge or protect an existing social order

–     Second, by identifying causal agents, they can assign responsibility to particular political actors so that someone will have to stop an activity

–     Third, they can legitimate and empower particular actors as “fixers” of the problem

–     Fourth, they can create new political alliances among people who are shown to stand in the same victim relationship to the causal agenda

–     Causal theories are also used as an instrument of social control to maintain existing patterns of dominance

–     Shifting the location of responsibility on a causal chain can restructure alliances

–     Causal theories predicated on statistical association can create alliances by mobilizing people who share a risk factor but otherwise have no natural communication or association