Top tips on how to get published in Policy & Politics

By Alex Marsh and Sarah Ayres

Hear our top ten tips on how to get published in Policy & Politics in this 4 minute interview with Co-Editor Sarah Ayres and Chair Alex Marsh from the University of Bristol.

 

 

If you enjoyed this blog you may also enjoy Policy & Politics at the Political Studies Association conference talking about how to get published.

Media attention for complex governance processes: does it matter?

Erik Hans Klijn
Erik Hans Klijn

Media are everywhere nowadays and it is well known that politicians are very well aware of that and try to stage their performance to get as much media attention as possible. There are even authors who speak of modern democracy as the drama democracy where everything is about staging media attention and performance and not about implementation (eg Elchardus, 2002).

Are politicians different from rock stars?

As a result of the increasing mediatization of our society we now judge our politicians and public officials with the same standards as we judge our celebrities (rock stars, soccer players, TV personalities). Politicians appear on stage with wife and children, we want to know their private life and they appear as guests on talk shows. Research shows that media pay much more attention to private life of politicians than say for instance 30 years ago.

But the mediatization literature also suggests that the rules of the media logic (like the emphasis on drama, conflict and personal stories and the tendency to frame everything in short soundbites) penetrate other spheres of life (like the political domain, but also public administration). In our Policy & Politics article: Managing commercialised media attention in complex governance networks: positive and negative effects on network performance, we examine the impact of commercialised media attention and its positive and negative effects on network performance in complex governance networks. Since various authors point to the commercialisation of news as the main driver for this media logic we have labelled such attention “commercialised news” in our article.  Continue reading

The Dismal Debate: would a “Brexit” mean more power for the UK?

MFlinders-new-smallBy Matthew Flinders

“Money, money money. Must be funny. In a rich man’s world.” As an academic I’m highly unlikely to ever have either “money, money, money” or live in a “rich man’s world.” But as a long-time student of politics I’ve been struck by how the debate in the UK about the forthcoming referendum on membership of the European Union has been framed around just two issues – money and power. The political calculation being peddled in the UK is therefore embarrassingly simple: leaving the EU would mean that the UK had more money and more power.

This really has been a dismal debate. Those in favour of “Brexit” or “Bremain” have both engaged in an almost hysterical game of chasing shadows and creating phantoms. Shadows in the sense of making largely spurious claims about the impact of leaving the EU (i.e. “It would be very very bad!” or “It would be very very good”) when the truth of the matter is that no one really knows what would happen if the UK left the Union. Predictions must try to grapple with so many variables and uncertainties that the only way anyone would ever really know what would happen would be by the UK actually leaving. And yet part of this rather childish playground-like debate has been an automatic default to simplistic zero-sum games that are of little value in the real world. Would the UK really save any money if it stopped paying in to the EU budget? Well at a simplistic level it would but at a more sophisticated level it may not because the UK would then no longer receive funding back from the EU or have a seat at the table in major decisions concerning large infrastructure projects.

Would the UK really have more power, and the EU therefore “less” power, if the UK walked away? There seems to be no understanding of either positive-sum conceptions of power (i.e. by pooling some powers with other actors we overall actually gain more power and influence in some policy areas than we could ever have on our own) or the real world of global governance or international affairs. Does the UK really think that a small island just nine hundred miles long off the coast of continental Europe really still remains a global heavyweight with the capacity to “go it alone?” The seas of contemporary international politics rage like a storm: there is great value in setting sail in flotillas rather than in single small boats, and far better to have safe and secure anchorage points in the middle of a tornado. (And recent years have sent us political and economic storms, tornadoes and hurricanes that really should make the UK think twice.)

In this context, President Obama’s recent intervention was a beautiful mixture of charm laced with menace. The UK, was for him, taking a huge step into the unknown and caution was being urged. But Obama’s intervention also raised two issues that have simply not received the attention they deserve, issues that could transform a dismal debate into something quite different. The first is a shift away from a simplistic focus on power and money and back to a more basic focus on war and terror. To make such a point is not to engage in ‘the politics of fearmongering’ that is ripe in the UK at the moment but to make the simple point that the EU was from its very inception framed around the need to ensure peace through collective efforts. From the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951 the underpinning ideal of the EU knew the value of international co-operation and not just its price. In terms of fostering peace and co-operation across an ever-larger union of countries the EU can only be seen as a success.

This leads me to the second (‘Obama-esque’) issue: national confidence. I can’t help wondering if what is actually driving the Brexit campaign in the UK is a lack of confidence and national belief. This might seem odd in light of the desire to ‘go-it-alone’ but there is a lot of huff and puff behind the UK’s constant position as an “awkward partner” within the EU. The missing component – the political ‘X-Factor’ – of the current debate about the UK and the EU is not about leaving but about recommitting to the ideals and vision of the EU in a different but positive way. This is not the same as adopting a federal vision or embracing ‘ever closure union’ but it is about adopting a more positive ‘Yes We Can!’ attitude to re-shaping the EU with the UK at its core and not dragging its feet like a recalcitrant teenager on its periphery. Now wouldn’t that make for a more refreshing debate?

Matthew Flinders is Founding Director of the Sir Bernard Crick Centre at the University of Sheffield and is also Chair of the Political Studies Association of the United Kingdom. He has just launched a major research and public engagement project called ‘Designing for Democracy’ which is focused on the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster in London and uses this multi-billion pound infrastructure project to re-think the nature of democracy “in theory” and democracy “in practice.”  http://www.designingfordemocracy.com

If you enjoyed this blog, you may also be interested to read Depoliticization, governance and the state by Matthew Flinders and Matt Wood.

Reposted with kind permission fromhttp://blog.oup.com/2016/05/brexit-uk-eu-power/, where this article first appeared on 1 May 2016

How politics and power create poor health: ‘I think they’re trying to kill folk aff’

Mhairi Mackenzie et al

By Mhairi Mackenzie, Chik Collins, John Connolly, Gerard McCartney, Mick Doyle

 

 

 

 

We know from decades of international research that power, politics and specific social and economic policies have a fundamental role in creating health.  These factors contribute very significantly to the gradient we see across income groups in terms of life expectancy and more general wellbeing.

However, many health policy researchers have identified how policies which claim to be about reducing health inequalities seldom squarely address these fundamental determinants of health.  Instead, policies have a distinct tendency to focus on changing the behaviours of (mainly) poor people. The message is often that people smoke too much, drink too much or don’t make the best use of services that are available to them.  These messages do not give proper consideration to why particular health damaging behaviours occur in particular places or why health is worse in certain places even in the absence of these behaviours. Even those policies which do start with a broader analysis of the problem of disparities in health are subject to lifestyle drift when it comes to putting policy into practice.  Although policy documents may state that the causes of poor health or inequalities in health are to do with poverty and deprivation, the interventions which actually operate on the ground focus much less (if at all) on changing people’s material circumstances and rather more on trying to change behaviours (which are in fact heavily shaped by material circumstances).

In light of the above, it is unsurprising that research in different countries also shows that when policy makers and practitioners talk about how health is created they tend not to give due regard to these known fundamental causes. Again, the emphasis is on explanations that focus on individual lifestyles. Behavioural interventions aimed at changing the lives of poor individuals clearly have a powerful draw on the attention of policy makers.  The reasons for this preference are many and varied and include the desire for quick policy wins over longer term action and the seductive appeal of short and simplistic causal pathways to health, in preference to having to deal, intellectually and practically, with the longer and more complex pathways which are actually at work.

Another reason, however, for the hardiness of the behavioural intervention as a policy tool – despite its apparent lack of success in addressing the problem – is that it fits within a broader contemporary political narrative.  That narrative tells us that individuals are responsible for making and breaking their own life chances.  Consequently, their health and social outcomes lie overwhelmingly in their own hands.  There is, in this view, ‘no such thing as society’, or at least no wider societal determinants which individuals can’t be expected to just over-ride through their personal choices and individual acts of will.  In this narrative the state’s role is to ‘nudge’, ‘activate’ or mandate individuals to do the right thing rather than to challenge fundamentally the existing power relations within society.

This kind of thinking is part of the wider set of discourses, policies and practices associated with neoliberalism.  These provide both the context in which, and the mechanisms through which, the lives of some communities have become in many ways much more difficult since the 1980s – and their existence and identity much more marginalised.  Research tells us that it is this fundamental part of the story of how poor health is created that is largely missing from the discourse of those in policy and practice.

In our recent Policy & Politics article: working-class discourses of politics, policy and health: ‘I don’t smoke; I don’t drink. The only thing wrong with me is my health’, we wanted to look at how people living in deprived communities – which had felt the brunt of deindustrialisation in the 1980s and had been at the sharp edge of austerity in current times – talked about how politics and policies had impacted on their health, and that of their families and their wider communities.  Unlike the messages from policymakers, our sample of participants in the towns of Kilmarnock and Cumnock in East Ayrshire, Scotland, brought vividly to life how it is that power, politics and social and economic policies are indeed a fundamental matter for health – at both an individual and community level.

Here are some of the things our participants told us:

They do not feel at all valued by political elites; on the contrary they are made to feel literally surplus to requirements. An ex-miner told us: ‘I’ve heated their bums wae coal…we’ve served wur cause. If they could dae away wae you noo, they would dae away wae you, because you’re a drain on society…They want me, noo, to work til I’m sixty-seven. I’ve no chance of working to I’m sixty-seven. I’ll no’ see sixty-seven.’ Similarly, another respondent, reflecting on ‘austerity’ and so-called ‘welfare reform’, simply said, “I think they’re trying to kill folk aff”.

They sense that deliberate action was taken by government to destroy the industries on which their communities had depended, and to undermine the strong and more solidaristic community relationships which had prevailed in the past. A respondent from Kilmarnock said: “She [Thatcher] allowed a’ the work to go abroad. And oor factories in Kilmarnock…we had a great town, and it just finished. Factory after factory, well-known brands…employers went. They all went wi’ a feeling o’ sorrow but it didnae help the workers.” Another ex-miner from Cumnock, reflecting on the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike across the UK, said: “looking back you can see the preparation got made. And they really backed the union into a corner … it was to diminish the power of the unions and fragment communities”.

Where ‘negative lifestyles’ exist within these communities, they are seen as closely connected to broader social and political circumstances. Another ex-miner told us how downwardly spiralling morale and behaviours in his community were rooted in changing circumstances: ‘The factories started slimmin doon, cutting workforces. The ability for young people to get into work was becoming limited. We started to see probably drugs in our community for the first time. And probably the excessive drinking was starting to take a hold as well…’ Further, not all of our participants were able to understand their current poor health in terms of their own behavioural decisions – as we indicate in the title of our research paper – one man in poor health summed up this personal conundrum by saying ‘I don’t drink; I don’t smoke – the only thing wrong with me is my health’.

Participants are conscious of current day political strategies to set poor and struggling communities apart from the rest of society. One young woman said: ‘They are using the media…tae bombard folk wi’ … the good old ‘divide and conquer’…it’s like stigmatising full groups at a time. It comes in waves. I mean, the immigrants’ll be due a shot…it’s a’ their fault. It’s like they’re trying to deliberately create this, ‘Everybody that’s on incapacity’s a scrounger.’”

All in all, our research participants provided a vivid articulation of links between politics, policies, deindustrialisation, damage to community fabric and impacts on health. We ask: given the way in which these lay participants’ understandings of health reflect (and enrich) the views of researchers, should our participants and the many who share their stories, actually be the ones educating policy makers and practitioners, rather than being seen as the recipients of perennially failing health education messages? What might be the impact of turning the traditional health education model on its head? How would such a shift in who is doing the educating be received by policy-makers and practitioners?

Mhairi Mackenzie is Professor of Public Policy in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Glasgow.  Chik Collins is Professor of Applied Social Science in the School of Media, Culture and Society at the University of the West of Scotland. John Connolly is Senior Lecturer in Public Policy at the University of West of Scotland.  Mick Doyle works for the Scottish Community Development Centre. Gerry McCartney works for NHS Health Scotland.

If you enjoyed this blog you may also be interested to read Policy, Politics, Health, and Housing in the UK.

Reposted with kind permission from: http://discoversociety.org/2016/04/05/policy-briefing-how-politics-and-power-create-poor-health-i-think-theyre-trying-to-kill-folk-aff/