Politics of Problem Definition

Shaping the Policy Agenda

Edited by David A. Rochefort and Roger W. Cobb

At the nexus of politics and policy development lies persistent conflict over where problems come from, what they signify, and, based on the answers to those questions, what kinds of solutions should be sought. Policy researchers call this process "problem definition."

Written for both scholars and students, this book explains how and why social issues come to be defined in different ways, how these definitions are expressed in the world of politics, and what consequences these definitions have for government action and agenda-setting dynamics. The authors demonstrate in two theoretical chapters and seven provocative case studies how problem definition affects policymaking for high-profile social issues like AIDS, drugs, and sexual harassment as well as for problems like traffic congestion, plant closings, agricultural tax benefits, and air transportation.

“Offers new insights on agenda setting, problem definition, and policy subsystem behavior.

—Policy Studies Journal

“A useful addition to the literature on policy development and the policy process and will be used in both undergraduate and graduate courses on policymaking.

—American Political Science Review
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By examining the way social problems are framed for political discussion, the authors illuminate the unique impact of beliefs, values, ideas, and language on the public policymaking process and its outcomes. In so doing, they establish a common vocabulary for the study of problem definition; review and critique the insights of existing work on the topic; and identify directions for future research.

About the Author

David A. Rochefort is associate professor of political science and public administration at Northeastern University and author of From Poorhouses to Homelessness: Policy Analysis and Mental Health Care and American Social Welfare Policy: Dynamics of Formulation and Change.

Roger W. Cobb is professor of political science at Brown University and coauthor (with Charles Elder) of Participation in American Politics: The Dynamics of Agenda-Building and The Political Uses of Symbols.

Additional Titles in the Studies in Government and Public Policy Series