Cultural Strategies of Agenda Denial
Avoidance, Attack, and Redefinition
Roger W. Cobb & Marc Howard Ross
Agenda-setting is a key component in the democratic process if political outsiders are to have their concerns taken seriously. However, their efforts sometimes fail for reasons other than insufficient resources or incompetent leaders: opponents often succeed in keeping new issues from ever reaching the agendas of decision-makers.
This is the first book devoted to examining why some issues proposed by aggrieved individuals or groups are denied access to policy agendas. It develops a theoretical framework for the study of agenda setting and agenda denial, emphasizing the cultural strategies opponents use to impede and defeat policy initiatives, and examining specific strategies of avoidance, attack, and redefinition that explain why certain issues don't receive consideration.
“Why do some issues never get on the political agenda, despite the seeming strength of their proponents? Cobb and Ross provide new conceptual tools to show how cultural strategies and symbolic resources work in politics and why they are usually more decisive than conventional material and political resources. The case studies are terrific and work together to make the whole bigger than the sum of its parts.”
—Deborah A. Stone, author of The Disabled State and Policy Paradox and Political Reason
“Having explained in the past how issues get on the public agenda, Cobb and Ross now ask how they are kept off. The study of interest groups will benefit greatly from their analysis of the politics of cultural interpretation.”
—Erwin C. Hargrove, coeditor of Impossible Jobs in Public Management
“The authors in this collection reverse the setting-the-agenda lens to examine instead why serious governmental discussion of many important issues is blocked or forbidden. Consequently, some previously shadowy matters of social construction and political psychology come into much sharper focus. The power of denial and the cultural taboos, symbols, and stereotypes that fuel them open a promising new agenda in agenda research.”
—Helen Ingram, coauthor of Policy Design for Democracy
“Cobb and Ross make a compelling case for the significance of agenda denial. A wonderfully diverse collection of case studies help to highlight the importance of cultural symbols as well as material resources in the struggle for issue containment.”
—Elaine B. Sharp, author of Drug Policy in the U.S.
“Offering both an accessible theoretical framework and a set of integrated case studies, this volume provides an understanding of why major agenda changes are infrequent and the status quo remains intact.”
—Burdett Loomis, author of Time, Politics, and PoliciesSee fewer reviews...
The book contains seven case studies that examine the policy process from the perspective of the strategies opponents of policy initiatives use and demonstrate that agenda denial can result when opponents succeed in portraying initiatives as threats to widely held world views and identities. Four cases involving federal agencies show how the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Food and Drug Administration have kept issues off their own agendas, how the accounting profession has avoided SEC regulation, and how pro-life forces kept the French abortion pill off the FDA agenda. Two cases focusing on public health issues examine why national health insurance has never made it onto the federal agenda and how local agencies in Texas prevented residents of minority neighborhoods from obtaining clean water. Finally, a case from outside the U.S. shows how Kurt Waldheim's Nazi past failed to become an issue in his campaign for President of Austria.
While most books emphasize issue initiators, Cultural Strategies of Agenda Denial makes a unique addition to the agenda-setting literature by focusing on the actions of opponents and emphasizing the political importance of cultural resources and culturally constituted ideas to the ongoing debate in political science concerning how open and democratic our system really is.