Policy Sciences

, Volume 51, Issue 1, pp 59–76 | Cite as

Issue definition and conflict expansion: the role of risk to human health as an issue definition strategy in an environmental conflict

  • Adam Thorn
Research Article


Conflict over environmental policies often hinge on the risk to human health posed by a given technology or facility. The agenda setting literature, especially theories of punctuated equilibrium and conflict expansion has long recognized the importance of how a policy is understood, or its issue definition, to explanations of policy change or stability. Much of this literature assumes actors are relatively willing to change their issue definition to facilitate a change in venue with little consideration except strategic advantage. The research presented in this paper suggests this might not always be the case. Through an analysis of a land fill conflict in Ontario, Canada, this paper examines how a strong preference for a preferred issue definition, the threat to human health posed by a proposed landfill, shapes the availability and success of the strategies deployed by the groups advocating that issue definition. The findings presented suggest that it is institutional receptivity of the available policy venues that ultimately explains the ability of these groups to achieve policy change.


Environment Policy Governance Pollution Disaster and risk management 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Politics and Public AdministrationRyerson UniversityTorontoUSA

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