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Unit information: Perspectives on policy in 2015/16

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Unit name Perspectives on policy
Unit code SPOLD2030
Credit points 20
Level of study D/8
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Alex Marsh
Open unit status Not open




School/department School for Policy Studies
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law


This unit will examine in depth the connection between selected social scientific traditions and the theorization of the policy process. The approaches examined will include rational choice, power-based, discursive, and evolutionary accounts. A key concern will be to examine the research strategies and issues/preoccupations characteristic of each approach. The unit will also seek to make direct links between theory and the practice of politics.


  • To provide a detailed exploration of a limited selection of the leading contemporary approaches to understanding the policy process
  • To examine the way in which these approaches connect with broader currents within social scientific thinking.
  • To examine critically the epistemological and methodological commitments of each approach to studying the policy process
  • To link the theorisation of the policy process to examples of practical politics.

Intended learning outcomes

Students will be able to:

  • Provide an account of key contemporary perspectives to the analysis of the policy process and the way in which they can be related to broader social thought
  • Identify the characteristic preoccupations, issues and research questions generated by each perspective
  • Critically evaluate the way in which the analysis of the policy process would be approached from different perspectives
  • Apply theories of the policy process to examples of the policy process.

Teaching details

The unit will be delivered through seminars based around detailed examination of key contributions to the policy studies literature.

Assessment Details

Students will complete one 4,000 word written assignment through which they will demonstrate an understanding of (i) the key theoretical and methodological characteristics of at least two perspectives on the policy process and (ii) how these approaches relate to broader currents of thinking within the social sciences.

Reading and References

  • Baumgartner, F and Jones, B (eds) (2002) Policy dynamics, University of Chicago.
  • Fischer, F. (2003) Reframing public policy: discursive politics and deliberative practices, OUP.
  • Flyvberg, B. (1998) Rationality and power: democracy in practice, University of Chicago.
  • Hill, P. and Hupe, P. (2009) Implementing public policy, 2nd ed, Sage.
  • Sabatier, P. (ed) (2007) Theories of the policy process, 2nd ed, Westview.