Policymakers Are Like Modern Sisyphuses
On April 13-17, the HSE Public Policy Department will host a series of lectures by Professor Philippe Zittoun, an internationally recognized expert in policymaking and policy research. He is currently Research Professor in Political Science, University of Lyon (LET-ENTPE); Research Fellow at PACTE, Science Po Grenoble; and Vice-Chair of the Research Committee "Public Policy and Administration" of IPSA. He was a Visiting Professor at Yale University in 2010.
In preparation for his upcoming lecture series at HSE, Professor Zittoun agreed to speak with the HSE news service about his research interests and his views on modern-day policymakers.
— What is your approach to researching political processes? Policymaking is an intangible process, isn't it?
— In my approach, I suggest that we understand policymaking as the main political activity where a government imposes public policy proposals not simply to solve problems but also to legitimize itself by defining and imposing a discourse on ordering society, where problems exist but are solvable and where government has the power to decide and contribute to building this order.
— You have been working on transportation and environmental issues in policymaking. What have been the main results of your research?
— In each policy area where I have worked, I have observed how the policymaking process is generally a complex fighting arena where different coalitions try to impose not only their proposals, but also a discourse on what problems are responsible for disorder and on how the choice of solution is inseparable from who decides.
— You compare modern policymakers with true modern Sisyphuses. Could you please explain this metaphor?
— We know that many big problems in society, such as poverty, unemployment and inequality, are persistent and unresolved. In our modern and complex society, governments seem to be less influential. So, my question is to understand why political systems continue to be stable even if all these governments do not solve problems.
My main hypothesis is to consider that the most important legitimation process of policymakers does not come from their capacity to solve problems but rather from their capacity to define proposals, to argue how these proposals can solve problems and to explain how they are the ‘real’ decision-makers. Policymakers are like Sisyphus who always proposes solutions but never solves problems; the most important thing is perpetual movement of trying rather than the result.
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