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The Politics of Problem Definition

Shaping the Policy Agenda

Edited by David A. Rochefort and Roger W. Cobb

224 pages, 2 tables, 7 figures, 6 x 9
Studies in Government and Public Policy
Paper ISBN 978-0-7006-0647-4, $19.95

Book Cover ImageAt the nexus of politics and policy development lies persistent conflict over where problems come from, what they signify, and, based on the answers to those questions, what kinds of solutions should be sought. Policy researchers call this process "problem definition."

Written for both scholars and students, this book explains how and why social issues come to be defined in different ways, how these definitions are expressed in the world of politics, and what consequences these definitions have for government action and agenda-setting dynamics. The authors demonstrate in two theoretical chapters and seven provocative case studies how problem definition affects policymaking for high-profile social issues like AIDS, drugs, and sexual harassment as well as for problems like traffic congestion, plant closings, agricultural tax benefits, and air transportation.

By examining the way social problems are framed for political discussion, the authors illuminate the unique impact of beliefs, values, ideas, and language on the public policymaking process and its outcomes. In so doing, they establish a common vocabulary for the study of problem definition; review and critique the insights of existing work on the topic; and identify directions for future research.

"An original contribution to the way we think about how the public deliberates about social problems."--Jeffrey R. Henig, author of Public Policy and Federalism: Issues in State and Local Politics

"Where does policy come from? This interesting collection helps to answer this fundamental question. It is an important contribution to the literature on agenda setting."--H. Brinton Milward, University of Arizona

DAVID A. ROCHEFORT is professor of political science and public administration at Northeastern University and coeditor of The New Politics of State Health Policy, also from Kansas.

ROGER W. COBB is professor of political science at Brown University and coauthor (with Charles Elder) of Participation in American Politics: The Dynamics of Agenda-Building and The Political Uses of Symbols.

CONTRIBUTORS: Frank R. Baumgartner, Christopher J. Bosso, Roger W. Cobb, Joseph F. Coughlin, Bryan D. Jones, Gary Mucciaroni, Ellen Frankel Paul, John Portz, David A. Rochefort, Elaine B. Sharp

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