Brendon Swedlow

Northern Illinois University
Political Science

Department of Political Science
Northern Illinois University
DeKalb, IL
60115
bswedlow@niu.edu

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My research is directed toward developing theory, concepts, methods, and evidence that advance the study of American politics, public law, and policy. Like many others, I have found the political cultural theory developed by Mary Douglas, Aaron Wildavsky, and colleagues a particularly fruitful point of departure for doing so. These scholars theorize that politics, law, and policy are the result of conflict and coalition among four basic political cultural types, which are defined by distinct values, organizational forms, and beliefs about human and physical nature. Consequently, cultural theory allows policy analysts to anticipate the kinds of values, and the kinds of beliefs about human nature, the environment, and the economy that are likely to be associated with different kinds of social and political organization. This cultural approach is highly complementary to rational choice and institutional theories of politics and policymaking and in fact will allow them to make significant advances. A good introduction to this approach can be found in a symposium on "A Cultural Theory of Politics" in the October 2011 issue of PS: Political Science & Politics, which includes a number of pieces that will be of interest to policy scholars. Also look for the November 2014 Special Issue of Policy Studies Journal on CT. To test and develop this political cultural theory requires research on the ideological structure of political attitudes and values, the organization and policy making activities of legal institutions, and the role scientists play in constructing our understandings of nature. Accordingly, I am doing research in all of these areas.

Citation:
Matt Grossmann and Brendon Swedlow, “Judicial Contributions to US National Policy Change Since 1945,” Journal of Law and Courts, 3(1), 2015: 1-35.
Abstract: How often, at what times, and on what issues do courts directly make policy or indirectly influence policy making by other branches of government? We assess the judicial contribution to policy change using 268 policy histories covering 14 issue areas of US domestic policy making from 1945 to 2004. Contrary to the prominent view that courts are relatively inconsequential policy-making institutions, we find that federal courts made or influenced nearly one in four significant federal policy changes. Courts directly made almost as many significant policies as the executive branch and indirectly influenced about as many significant policies in other branches as Congress. We also find that judicial policy making and influence are concentrated in a few time periods and issue areas.
URL: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Brendon_Swedlow/contributions
Citation:
Brendon Swedlow, “Advancing Policy Theory with Cultural Theory: An Introduction to the Special Issue,” The Policy Studies Journal, 42(4), 2014: 465-483.
Abstract: Cultural Theory (CT) is a constructivist theory, developed by Mary Douglas, Aaron Wildavsky, and others, that seeks to participate in the positivist project of discovering, explaining, and predicting regularities in human behavior. Special Issue contributions and this introduction suggest some ways in which this theory can help advance policy studies. One way CT can help is by further specifying other approaches to policy theory. Thus, Hank Jenkins-Smith and his collaborators argue (and with respect to belief systems demonstrate) that the theory can be used to specify belief systems, coalitions, and causes of policy change in the Advocacy Coalition Framework (ACF); Rob Robinson uses CT to specify further both sources of resistance to policy change and sources of dramatic policy change in Punctuated Equilibrium Theory (PET); and Christopher Weare, Paul Lichterman, and Nicole Esparza use the theory to specify sources of collaboration in policy networks as well as sources of network dissolution. Other contributors argue and/or demonstrate that CT can help specify the culturally pluralized conditions for successful policy deliberation, the cultural sources of policy narratives, and how cultural biases are likely to interact with policy frames. This Special Issue invites policy scholars to consider how the theory might help advance their research interests and the field.
URL: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Brendon_Swedlow/contributions
Citation:
Hee-jin Han, Brendon Swedlow, and Danny Unger, “Policy Advocacy Coalitions as Causes of Policy Change in China? Assessing Evidence from Contemporary Environmental Politics,” Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis, 16(4), 2014: 313-334.
Abstract: This article employs the advocacy coalition framework (ACF), a set of concepts developed to account for policymaking primarily in the United States, to analyze factors that led China to downsize its latest big hydropower project, on the Nu River. The ACF helps us identify two conflicting coalitions based on their policy beliefs and the resources they mobilized to translate their beliefs into policy change, which the ACF also helps us explain. Conflict between state agencies 10 contributed to the rise of a societally based environmental coalition to oppose a state-centered development coalition, and struggle and strategic learning between these coalitions led to interventions by the premier and a scaling down of the project from 13 dams to four.
URL: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Brendon_Swedlow/contributions
Citation:
Brendon Swedlow, “Cultural Surprises as Sources of Sudden, Big Policy Change,” PS: Political Science & Politics, 44, 4, 2011: 736-739. [symposium on A Cultural Theory of Politics]
Abstract: A major complaint against cultural theories is that they cannot explain political change (Lockhart 1997). Cultural and institutional accounts of politics are also often seen as antagonistic (Chai 1997; Grendstad and Selle 1995; Lockhart 1999). The cultural theory (CT) developed by Mary Douglas, Aaron Wildavsky, and others (see, e.g., Schwarz and Thompson 1990; Thompson, Ellis, and Wildavsky 1990), by contrast, offers a theory of culture that includes a theory of cultural change that integrates institutions into its explanation of change ( Lockhart 1997, 1999; Thompson, Ellis, and Wildavsky 1990, 69-81; Wildavsky 2006 [1985]). Moreover, CT can help specify the cultural conditions for dramatic institutional and policy change, thereby, I argue, strengthening Frank Baumgartner and Bryan Jones’s “punctuated equilibria” (PE) theory of change (Baumgartner and Jones 1993, 2002). The plausibility of this CT of PE change is illustrated in this article by using it to explain dramatic changes in forest and wildlife management in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) (building on Swedlow 2002a, b, 2003, 2007, 2009, and 2011a, b).
URL: http://commons.lib.niu.edu/bitstream/10843/13304/1/SwedlowCulturalSurprises.pdf
Citation:
Brendon Swedlow, “Editor’s Introduction: Cultural Theory’s Contributions to Political Science,” PS: Political Science & Politics, 44, 4, 2011: 703-710. [symposium on A Cultural Theory of Politics]
Abstract: Many political scientists first learned of anthropologist Mary Douglas’s cultural theory (CT) through Aaron Wildavsky’s APSA presidential address (Wildavsky 1987), in which he sought to explain the value of this theoretical approach for political science. Since then, much additional work has been done to develop CT as an ambitious general theory of politics. This symposium showcases CT’s current explanatory power and discipline-wide reach with contributions that provide answers to questions of great interest to political scientists specialized in American politics, comparative politics, international relations, political theory, public law, and public policy. Additional CT contributions to these subfields, as well as to public administration, are surveyed in the text that follows. At the outset, it is important to note that unlike many other cultural theories, CT is highly complementary to rational choice (RC) and institutional theories of politics and in fact will allow these theories to make significant advances. Unlike most other cultural theories, CT also includes a theory of political change. These distinguishing characteristics of CT are discussed briefly here.
URL: http://commons.lib.niu.edu/bitstream/10843/13307/1/SwedlowIntro.pdf
Citation:
Swedlow, Brendon, and Mikel Wyckoff. 2009. "Value Preferences and Ideological Structuring of Attitudes in American Public Opinion." American Politics Research 37 (6): 1048-1087.
Abstract: In this study, we investigate four attitudinal structures (including liberal, conservative, and libertarian configurations) associated with two ideological dimensions among American voters and demonstrate that these attitudinal structures are related in expected ways to differential preferences for the values of freedom, order, and equality/caring. Liberals are inclined to trade freedom for equality/caring but not for order, whereas conservatives are their opposites?willing to trade freedom for order but not for equality/caring. In contrast, libertarians are generally less willing than others to trade freedom for either order or equality/caring (although they probably prefer order to equality/caring). The fourth ideological type is more willing than the others to relinquish freedom, preferring both order and equality/caring. Depending on how our results are interpreted, this fourth type may be characterized as either communitarian or humanitarian. These findings help close the gap between unidimensional conceptions and multidimensional evidence of ideological organization in political attitudes by demonstrating that value structure and attitudinal structure are strongly related in two ideological dimensions. rnrn
URL: http://apr.sagepub.com/content/37/6/1048.abstract?rss=1
Citation:
Swedlow, Brendon, Denise Kall, Zheng Zhou, James K. Hammitt, and Jonathan B. Wiener. 2009. "Theorizing and Generalizing about Risk Assessment and Regulation through Comparative Nested Analysis of Representative Cases." Law & Policy 31 (2): 236-269.
Abstract: This article provides a framework and offers strategies for theorizing and generalizing about risk assessment and regulation developed in the context of an on-going comparative study of regulatory behavior. Construction of a universe of nearly 3,000 risks and study of a random sample of 100 of these risks allowed us to estimate relative U.S. and European regulatory precaution over a thirty-five-year period. Comparative nested analysis of cases selected from this universe of ecological, health, safety, and other risks or its eighteen categories or ninety-two subcategories of risk sources or causes will allow theory-testing and -building and many further descriptive and causal comparative generalizations.rn
URL: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-9930.2009.00296.x/abstract
Citation:
Brendon Swedlow. Published online 2011. “Cultural Co-production of Four States of Knowledge.” Science, Technology, & Human Values.
Abstract: In States of Knowledge (2004), Sheila Jasanoff argues that we gain explanatory power by thinking of natural and social orders as being produced together, but she and her volume contributors do not yet offer a theory of the coproduction of scientific knowledge and social order. This article uses Mary Douglas's cultural theory to identify four recurring states of knowledge and to specify political?cultural conditions for the coproduction of scientific knowledge, social order, and scientific, cultural, and policy change. The plausibility of this theory is illustrated by using it to explain the coproduction and transformation of forest and wildlife science and management in the Pacific Northwest. rnrn
URL: http://sth.sagepub.com/content/early/2011/04/26/0162243911405345.abstract
DOI: 10.1177/01622439114053452011

Substantive Focus:
Law and Policy PRIMARY
Environmental Policy SECONDARY
Health Policy
Science and Technology Policy
Comparative Public Policy

Theoretical Focus:
Policy Process Theory PRIMARY
Agenda-Setting, Adoption, and Implementation SECONDARY
Public Opinion

Keywords

CULTURAL THEORY COURTS JUDGES JUDICIAL POLICYMAKING RISK REGULATION RISK REGULATION REGIMES SCIENCE SCIENTISTS SCIENCE STUDIES SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY ENVIRONMENT ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH SAFETY POLICY POLICY THEORY POLICY MAKING POLICY PROCESS POLICY ANALYSIS IDEOLOGY CULTURE POLITICAL CULTURE PUBLIC OPINION CO-PRODUCTION BOUNDARY-WORK POLLUTION CLAIMS PURITY CLAIMS NESTED ANALYSIS SPOTTED OWL FOREST POLICY FOREST MANAGEMENT SCIENTIFIC ADVISORY COMMITTEES CRUCIAL CASES COMPARATIVE PUBLIC POLICY POLICY PROCESS THEORY PUBLIC LAW AMERICAN POLITICS PACIFIC NORTHWEST UNITED STATES EUROPE ADVOCACY COALITION FRAMEWORK ACF PUNCTUATED EQUILIBRIA THEORY POLICY NARRATIVES SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION CONSTRUCTIVIST CHINA DAMS HYDROPOWER