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Semester 1

Public Policy: Agenda-Setting (PLIT10100)







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Visiting students must have completed 4 Politics courses at grade B or above. We will only consider University/College level courses, and we cannot consider interdisciplinary courses or courses without sufficient Politics/Government/International Relations focus. Applicants should note that, as with other popular courses, meeting the minimum does NOT guarantee admission, and priority will be given to students studying on exchange within the Politics department. **Please note that all Politics courses are very high-demand, meaning that they have a very high number of students wishing to enrol in a very limited number of spaces.** Visiting students are advised to bear in mind that enrolment in specific courses can never be guaranteed, and you may need to be flexible in finding alternatives in case your preferred courses have no available space. These enrolments are managed strictly by the Visiting Student Office, in line with the quotas allocated by the department, and all enquiries to enrol in these courses must be made through the CAHSS Visiting Student Office. It is not appropriate for students to contact the department directly to request additional spaces.

Course Summary

This course introduces the field of agenda-setting within public policy research. Agenda-setting as the name suggests focuses on how and why some issues receive political attention when others do not. This is central both to understanding policy change and political competition. The course makes use interactive datasets designed to familiarize students with statistical analyses.

Course Description

Agenda-setting as the name suggests focuses on how and why some issues receive political attention when others do not. This is central both to understanding policy change and political competition. Studies of agenda-setting continue to make progress building on early discussions of conflict expansion, the power of keeping items off the agenda, path dependence, bounded rationality and the importance of policy windows just to name a few. Newer comparative studies have also focused on the dynamic nature of political agendas more and more in recent years. These studies not only look at what is and what is not on the agenda, but how the agenda changes after long periods of stability. The purpose of this course is to introduce students to the agenda-setting literature as it relates to public policy as a bridge into quantitative methods training. To accomplish this classic and new works in the field of agenda-setting will be discussed and students will use the knowledge gained in the class to analyse policies that interest them through a final essay. The course will makes use of demonstrations and data from the Comparative Agendas Project Database ( It will also explain the intuition of a variety of statistical techniques covered in the course readings including linear regression, time series analysis and stochastic process methods. No prior statistical training is necessary in order to be successful in this course which is intended as a bridge between students substantive training and their understanding of quantitative political research using a variety of easily accessible comparative datasets. Students will be expected to use graphical and/or tabular statistical evidence in their essays to help make their arguments through either a quantitative or qualitative research design. **Outline content: 1. An Introduction to Policy Agendas: We start with introduce the agenda-setting research through an interactive overview of the Comparative Agendas Project (CAP) website that contains easy to access tools for assessing policy attention cross-nationally. 2. Power and Elitism: Power and who has it when it comes to determining the course of political agendas is a classic, but fundamental question in political science. We will take the first step towards answering not only who has power over political agendas, but what power itself actually means. 3. Agenda-Setting Foundations: This theme focuses on the efforts to build a model of attention noting where it originates, how it functions and importantly why it fades. 4. The Garbage Can: The Garbage Can Model introduces and discusses the various streams of information and power that exist in the policy-making process. 5. Punctuated Equilibrium: For decades the common theory of policy-making was and in many ways still is incrementalism, where most if not all policy changes occur through a long process of progressive changed marked by institutional friction and uncertainly. However, a few, but quite significant policy changes are made across political systems with amazing speed. Punctuated equilibrium theory, a concept borrowed from evolutionary theory reconciles these two opposing facts into a single theory of policy-making. 6. Power Laws and Threshold Models: Following the introduction of punctuated equilibrium we will take a brief step back to focus on key theories concerning the nature of attention in business, marketing and patterns in political outcomes to explain common patterns in human behavior. 7. A Model of Choice: Our focus on decision-making processes will draw on the work of Noble Prize Winner Herbert Simon and the introduction and expansion of bounded rationality within agenda-setting research. Marked by a cognitively and practically limited ability to use information, bounded rationality provides a fundamental key to understanding decision-making. 8. Heresthetics and Venue-shopping: Sometimes agenda-setting is about changing the state of play. Heresthetics and Venue-shopping mark the process and ability for key actors to manipulate people and institutions to achieve their desired outcomes by changing processes and communication. 9. Party Effects: Much of political science focuses on how much political parties matter. Much of agenda-setting finds how little they affect attention. We will explore these seemingly contradictory findings by discussing how and when political parties affect attention and why. 10. New and New-Old Directions in Agenda-Setting: Despite laying claim to one of the few theoretical laws in social science research, the accuracy and direction of agenda-setting research is constantly developing. To close the course we will focus on recent work that questions and pushes the boundaries of agenda-setting research. **Student Learning experience: This course is designed as an honours seminar. While it will contain some lecture content, the majority of every class will depend on a high level of student participation including guided questions and open, but respectful discussions. The study of agenda-setting is still very much a developing concept and in order to understand it continual discussion as well as new observations are needed. I fully encourage students to draw on outside theories, their experiences and from insights from other disciplines (as much of the agenda-setting research does) throughout the course and its assessments. The course is hands-on, taught through lectures and seminars. You will conduct your own research into intoxication and write it up for assessment. It is taught through in-class activities and ethnographic work outside of class. I encourage you to make connections between theory, research and public policy. The course is cross-discipline and open to students with backgrounds in social sciences, natural sciences and the humanities.

Assessment Information

Written Exam 0%, Coursework 90%, Practical Exam 10%

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