Accepted Paper:

The policy domain as a production site: Studying the emergence of policy domains from an STS-perspective  


Julia Pohle (Berlin Social Science Center )
Jeanette Hofmann (Berlin Social Science Center (WZB)/Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society (HIIG)

Paper short abstract:

The paper proposes to study “politics as usual” by analysing emergent policy domains from an STS perspective. Policy domains are viewed as “sites of production” which create collective orders by linking issues, actors, decisions, and inscribing them into policy texts and organisational structures.

Paper long abstract:

The emergence of new policy domains is attracting growing attention amongst political scientists. Research on policy domains commonly focusses on the interests and authority of policy actors and their influence on policy output. This paper proposes a different approach by emphasising the performative function of policy domains. In doing so, it combines elements of sociological field theory with analytical tools specific to STS.

We concpetualise policy domains as sites of production where heterogeneous actors interact and, jointly but antagonistically, produce meaning, issues, expertise and decisions. Through their inscription into texts and organisational structures, the products of the policy domain are stabilised and gradually institutionalised. Processes of institutionalisation contribute to the creation of a collective order that, in turn, affects the practices and perceptions of all actors involved in the policy domain and, accordingly, its own production process. It is this reciprocal process that creates stable linkages between previously unrelated actors and issues and, thus, contributes to the emergence of policy domains.

The paper adds to the STS body of theory as it introduces the concept of the policy domain, which, just like an actor-network, has a double purpose: first, it is a tool that allows STS researchers to study how "politics as usual" occurs within a confined area defined by the interrelation of actors and issues; second, it is a construct established by the perception of the actors and researchers' observations. The conceptual considerations in the paper are illustrated by examples from the emergent Internet policy domain in Germany.

Panel T036
Social Studies of Politics: Making Collectives By All Possible Means