Thursday, 4 April 2013

Bringing political identity into discursive and ideational analysis: Welfare reform in Britain and the United States

an article by Fiona Ross (University of Bristol, UK and Lone Star College, Montgomery, Texas) published in British Politics Volume 8 issue 1 (April 2012)


Over the past decade political science has benefited from a blossoming of research on ideas, discourse and constructivism.

These constructs and theories have greatly enriched our understanding of political processes, structures and cases but they have yet to elaborate a meaningful understanding of the actor despite promising to infuse institutionalism with a source of agency.

This article explores the impact of political identity, a concept that is intimately linked with the core epistemology of the constructivist research agenda, through the lens of welfare reform in two cases where the strength of identity politics differs, Britain and the United States. The concept of identity relates to who is constructing ideas and discourse and it invites ideational and discursive analyses to take actors seriously, beyond their generic role as thinkers and speakers.

Among voters, the capacity to construct an imperative for reform is not shared equally between actors. Actors who are identified with the extant path are more able to construct the imperative for departing from that path. Among elites at the institutional level, identity politics are tribal and legislators have clear incentives to lower resistance to their own chieftains.

The article argues that New Labour enjoyed enhanced success in constructing an imperative for reform and in legislating dramatic change in part because of its political identity. Much weaker but still identifiable effects are observed in the United States.

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