Social movements and public policy: An examination of the California timber wars

2009 2009

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Abstract (summary)

American history is filled with evidence of the power of social movements, protest, and civil disobedience in affecting political and social change. This dissertation examines the role of social movements in the policy process by examining a policy dispute characterized by high levels of social movement activity using concepts from a contemporary policy theory, specifically the Advocacy Coalition Framework (ACF). Drawing on concepts from social movement theory, the research examines the usefulness of ACF in describing the process of policy change and learning in arenas in which social movements are active. The research adds to our understanding of the political effectiveness of social movements. Are they important actors in the process of policy change (Tarrow, 2001), or merely irrational outbursts with little impact on institutional power (Jenkins, 1995)? If, as many believe, social movements can affect policy, how is this achieved? How do social movements interact with other actors in a policy subsystem and what effect do those interactions have on the policy process? These questions are addressed through a qualitative case study of the California Timber Wars from 1987 to 1999. The Timber Wars describe a 13 year period of nearly constant protests, demonstrations, and civil disobedience over timber harvests in northern California.

Results suggest that social movements escalate conflict by focusing debate and discussion on core values and generating high levels of intense emotion, such as anger, anxiety, and enthusiasm. This focus on core values and emotional intensity engenders a strong aversion to compromise, as any attempt to negotiate or deal with the opposing coalition is viewed as a violation of core values. As ACF predicts, policy learning is unlikely under such conditions. The result is often a policy stalemate, characterized by failed legislation and policy initiatives and an increase in litigation and legal challenges.

When a stalemate occurs, an important mechanism for policy change is a negotiated agreement forged with the assistance of a policy broker. However, the focus on core values and emotion create a politically risky environment for potential policy brokers. In such cases, policy brokers must overcome disincentives created by the political risk.

Indexing (details)

Political science;
Environmental science;
Social change;
Public policy;
Timber industry;
Demonstrations & protests
0615: Political science
0768: Environmental science
Identifier / keyword
Health and environmental sciences; Social sciences; Advocacy coalition; California; Environmental policy; Environmental protest; Public policy; Social movements; Timber policy; Timber wars
Social movements and public policy: An examination of the California timber wars
Turina, Frank
Number of pages
Publication year
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 70/08, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
deLeon, Peter
University of Colorado at Denver
University location
United States -- Colorado
Source type
Dissertations & Theses
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL
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