2015 paper prizes are announced!

Last week at the conference dinner of the Policy & Politics Annual Conference, the 2015 prizes for award winning papers were announced.

The winner of the Ken Young prize for the best paper overall was awarded to Will Leggett for his 2014 article entitled ‘The politics of behavioural change: nudge, neo-liberalism and the state’, Policy & Politics, 42 (1), 3-19.

The winner of the Bleddyn Davies prize for the best early career paper was awarded to Caroline Kuzemko for her 2014 article entitled ‘Politicising UK energy: what “speaking energy security” can do’, Policy & Politics, 42 (2), 259-74.

Brief critiques of the winning articles written by Associate Editor Felicity Matthews in celebration of their contribution, follow.

The winner of the Ken Young prize for the best paper overall was awarded to Will Leggett for his 2014 article entitled ‘The politics of behavioural change: nudge, neo-liberalism and the state’, Policy & Politics, 42 (1), 3-19.

The ideas of behavioural economics have gained in popular prominence since the publication of Thaler and Sustein’s Nudge in 2009; and successive governments in the UK and elsewhere have sought to experiment with the tools of nudging, as a low-cost, high-impact way of orienting individual behaviour towards complex ‘wicked issues’. Many of us will have experienced the effect of ‘choice architecture’ in many areas of our lives, whether we wanted it, knew it, or consented to it. As such, the assumptions of this so-called ‘liberal paternalism’ have come under fire from a range of political persuasions.

It is in this context that Will Leggett’s article seeks to explore the contested nature of behavioural change, and to expose the hidden politics of this ostensibly depoliticised policy instrument. As Leggett’s article reveals, the concept of nudging moves beyond the crude rationality of mainstream economics, and rejects the assumption that humans are fully cognisant in their moves to maximise their self-utility.  Yet, at the same time, Leggett’s article demonstrates that despite the shift from the homo economicus to nudgeable human, theories of behavioural economics still remain largely silent on the interplay between agents, their social environment and their cultural past. Moreover, this silence has left the notion of nudging open to sustained critique from a diversity of ideological perspectives, satisfying neither statists nor libertarians. Indeed, the almost nullifying effect of these concerns serves, as Leggett wryly notes, ‘as if to confirm nudge’s Third Way credentials’.

One of this article’s main strengths is its command of an expansive range of perspectives on human agency and the appropriate limits of the state – libertarianism, statism, critical democracy – which are brought to bear upon the politics of behavioural change. In doing so, this article skilfully extends this meta-analysis to consider the limitations of behavioural change as a policy instrument, and provides a series of important insights that are of relevance to scholars and practitioners alike. Yet, perhaps the greatest contribution of this article is the way in which draws it attention to the insidious implications of nudging in terms of the delegitimisation of state intervention, which risks the state being reduced to little more than just another voice competing for attention in a crowded market. In response, Leggett crafts a powerful argument regarding the privileged position of the state as an active facilitator of behavioural change in pursuit of the common good; and in turn revitalises wider debates about the capacity of the social democracy and the limits of neoliberalism as a force for societal change.

The winner of the Bleddyn Davies prize for the best early career paper was awarded to Caroline Kuzemko for her 2014 article entitled ‘Politicising UK energy: what “speaking energy security” can do’, Policy & Politics, 42 (2), 259-74.

 Since the early 2000s, energy policy has become re-established as a key issue on the political agenda, its increasing political salience driven by a myriad of pressures including rising fuel prices; seemingly excessive profiteering by private energy companies; climate change; and, the security of supply. Indeed, this increasing salience runs counter to the dynamics of previous policy practices, wherein the issue of energy policy was placed at one removed from central government, as privatisation and arms’-length regulation of the 1980s and 1990s replaced the previously nationalised ownership and provision of supply.

It is in this context that this impressive article by Caroline Kuzemko seeks to explain the logics that led to the repoliticisation of energy policy in the UK, focusing on the way in which the specific issue of security of supply was a key driver in this shift. To do so, this article brings together hitherto separate strands of literature to demonstrate the way in which ‘speaking security’ can provide a critical opportunity for – and a rhetorical justification of – the bringing back of certain issues into the political sphere. Specifically, the article constructs an analytical framework that draws upon the ‘depoliticisation’ debates within the fields of public policy and administration and the Copenhagen School within the field of security studies; and in turn demonstrates the utility of combining these lenses to provide an insight into the strategies adopted by state and non-state actors alike to re-assert the salience of specific policy issues. Moreover, in applying these lenses to the field of energy policy, Kuzemko’s article demonstrates their wider relevance beyond their established analytical terrains of macroeconomic policy (depoliticisation) and international relations (Copenhagen School).

As this suggests, one of this article’s great strengths is the way in which it synthesizes multiple schools of thought to construct an innovative conceptual framework with the capacity to structure empirical analysis, and in turn to advance theoretical debate. Indeed, as Kuzemko highlights, the depoliticisation literature has been largely silent on the specific tools adopted by actors to bring specific issues back into the realm of political deliberation and contestation; and through its analysis, the article underlines the cognitive capacity of ‘speaking security’ as a repoliticisation strategy. This article therefore offers an important contribution to the study of public policy and implementation, its analytical framework providing a useful way of exploring dynamics and trade-offs that underpin the shift towards repoliticisation across a range of policy fields.

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