Competing paradigms for analyzing policy development in Everglades restoration: Case study using advocacy coalition framework and Habermas' critical theory
Using a constructionist approach, this study applies the critical theory of Jürgen Habermas to analyze public policies surrounding the Florida Everglades. Habermas argues that policymakers in advanced industrial democracies are caught between conflicting imperatives: they are expected to serve the interests of their nation as a whole, but they must prop up an economic system that benefits the wealthy at the expense of most workers and the environment. Critical theory suggests that this contradiction will be reflected in Everglades policy by communicative distortions and blockages that suppress and conceal tensions between environmental and economic priorities. In theory, policymakers will give programs misleading names; will overstate programs’ environmental benefits and understate their benefits to economic special interests (farmers, ranchers, developers); and will suppress evidence and advocacy that cast doubt on policymakers’ claims about program performance.
A constructionist approach previously has been used in policy analysis, and the research has shown that definitions of public problems are socially constructed. Yet without a larger theoretical framework, such as critical theory, constructionist analysis has been insensitive to the presence of systemic contradictions and reactions to those contradictions in the policy process. Conversely, comprehensive theories have been used in policy analysis to highlight and explain policy muddles and failures, but these analyses have not included constructionist research to investigate how systemic contradictions erupt and play out as policy develops. Thus, this study bridges an important gap in policy theory and research.
The study also poses a challenge to mainstream policy research, which typically avoids comprehensive theory and treats policy areas, policy concepts, and problem definitions as straightforward and unproblematic. By approaching the subject matter from a critical theory perspective, the study seeks to demonstrate that mainstream policy research actually relies on a comprehensive set of assumptions that it fails to recognize. This set of unacknowledged premises constitutes a paradigm in need of articulation and assessment. The mainstream paradigm assumes that government activity is fragmented into numerous, separate, and distinct “policy areas”; each policy area evolves independently according to its own internal logic; and policymakers are reasonable, truthful, and oriented to solving public problems and improving policy performance. By applying critical theory to Everglades policy and policymaking, the study reveals this paradigm by confronting it with competing concepts and hypotheses.
0617: Public administration
0630: Public policy