Monday, June 3, 2013

Bringing Theory, Practice, and Analysis Together

I've enjoyed the posts on the theoretical foundations for the study of European integration as well as the application of these theories and the analytical framework for policy analysis to the debate concerning the Single European Act and the creation of the Common Market.  I've posted comments/questions to your various posts, so be sure to check back to the posts below to respond to both my questions and the comments/questions of your classmates.  I wanted to take a moment here to provide some overarching comments and questions as well (you should make sure to reply/comment to this post with your thoughts on these comments/questions!).

First, as most of you noted, it was interesting to see how each person had their own "favorite" in terms of the competing accounts for the SEA.  This is also not surprising, though, as we often follow our own assumptions about the way the world work (even unconsciously) when evaluating evidence and analyzing politics/policy.  In fact, cognitive scientists have shown that humans in general are much more likely to accept as "fact" evidence that conforms to their existing assumptions (even if that evidence is questionable or demonstrably false) and much more likely to reject evidence that challenges their existing assumptions (even when that evidence is sound and verifiable).  This is precisely why knowing both the overarching theoretical frameworks and the specific tools/steps of the policy analysis process is so critical: these tools allow us to challenge and step beyond our preconceived notions and to conduct a thorough and reasonably objective analysis rather than an impressionistic one!  So as you evaluate the various accounts of the SEA, where (with specific reference to the policy analysis steps) is each article strong/weak?  Can you find evidence across the three articles to fill in the required material for each of the policy analysis steps such that you have, as an analyst, an account of what "really" happened?

With respect to each of the three accounts to the SEA, I think it is especially important to pay attention to how well each author meets the criteria of their own theories (internal validity) in their analysis.  For instance:
  • Moravscik's liberal intergovernmentalism tells us that the domestic policy preferences of key constituencies (farmers, business leaders, pensioners, public employees, etc.) are critical.  Does he demonstrate that these groups held preferences for a common market, and that they were able to articulate and aggregate these preferences into a common position for state leaders?
  • Garrett adopts an even more explicitly rationalist approach than Moravscik in his account..but what about the idea that the key assumptions of rational political actors are often not met in reality (as is discussed in the policy analysis handout)?
  • Sandholtz and Zysman emphasize the international environment, so how well do they present concrete evidence that this environment was what key actors were considering (above and beyond the domestic interests of various constituencies in the member states)?
For all of the accounts (and for your own policy analysis work) we want to make sure to pay attention to the actors involved as well as the timeline and process.  Who were the key actors?  When did different actors engage in the process or influence the process?  For example, who was the actor / who were the actors that proposed a common market in the 1980s?

As a final general comment, I'd also point out that the three articles themselves are not (strictly) policy analysis pieces.  They are more thorough theoretical and empirical explanations of the SEA, demonstrating how the theories we have examined can be brought to bear on a concrete policy issue/problem.  Thus, each article offers us the theoretical and empirical material to conduct *our own* policy analysis, which is really the task here (and will be the task in your policy analysis paper).  Although Garrett's article resembles the structure of a policy analysis, this isn't necessarily the aim of these three articles.  Instead, taking the evidence from all three articles, we want to use the tools of policy analysis described in the readings to determine "what really happened" with respect to the SEA.

I look forward to your questions/comments and to the continued discussion!

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