The Power of Ideas (Over Evidence)

  • Katherine Smith
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Science, Knowledge and Policy book series (SKP)


While it may seem self-evident that ideas matter, political science has, for a long time, been so preoccupied with the role that institutions and interests play in policy change that work on analysing the contribution of ideas has remained at the margins (Béland and Cox 2011). Although ideas were clearly ‘an important variable’ in many of the analyses developed by political scientists in the 1970s and 1980s, this literature said ‘very little about the specific role that ideas play in the policy process or about the characteristics that tend to give some ideas more influence than others over policy’ (Hall 1990: p. 57). Indeed, it is only over the past 15 years that ideational theories have attracted a significant intellectual spotlight within political science and policy studies (e.g. Béland 2005; Béland and Cox 2011; Blyth 1997; Campbell 1998, 2002; Goldstein and Keohane 1993; Howorth 2004), even though Weiss was arguing for attention to be paid to ideas back in the early 1980s:

It is not usually a single finding or the recommendation derived from a single study that is adopted in executive of legislative action (although this occasionally happens). [...] Instead, what seems to happen is that generalizations and ideas from a number of studies come into currency indirectly — through articles in academic journals of opinion, stories in the media, the advice of consultants, lobbying by special interest groups, conversations with colleagues, attendance at conferences or training programmes, and other uncatalogued sources. Ideas from research are picked up in diverse ways and percolate through to officeholders in many offices who deal with the issues.

(Weiss 1982: p. 622)


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Copyright information

© Katherine Smith 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Katherine Smith
    • 1
  1. 1.University of EdinburghUK

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