The Varied Roles of Ideas in Politics

Jal Mehta

in Ideas and Politics in Social Science Research

Published in print December 2010 | ISBN: 9780199736430
Published online January 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199866106 | DOI:
The Varied Roles of Ideas in Politics

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This chapter examines ideas of varying levels of generality that define how policymakers should act. Building upon and drawing together the best work in the field, it seeks to offer a synthetic analysis of how ideas matter in politics: what is known, what is not known, and what areas are in need of further research. It considers ideas at three levels of generality: policy solutions, problem definitions, and public philosophies or zeitgeist. It also consider interactions between the levels of ideas, with a particular interest in “upward-flowing” interactions, showing that not only does the conception of a problem constrain policy alternatives, but the fate of specific policy solutions also can have an impact on problem definitions or even broader public philosophies.

Keywords: ideas; policymakers; politics; policy solutions; problem definitions; public philosophies; zeitgeist

Chapter.  11436 words. 

Subjects: Comparative Politics

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