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How has policy making transformed American governance over time? Join us for a panel discussion of The Policy State: An American Predicament by Stephen Skowronek (Yale) and Karen Orren (UCLA). Panelists include Peter John (King’s College London) and Gary Gerstle (Cambridge). Drinks and nibbles to follow discussion.

About the Talk

Policy is government’s ready response to changing times, the key to its successful adaptation. It tackles problems as they arise, from foreign relations and economic affairs to race relations and family affairs. Karen Orren and Stephen Skowronek take a closer look at this well-known reality of modern governance. In The Policy State they point out that policy is not the only way in which America was governed historically, and they describe the transformation that occurred as policy took over more and more of the work of government, emerging as the raison d’être of the state’s operation.

Rather than analyze individual policies to document this change, Orren and Skowronek examine policy’s effect on legal rights and the formal structure of policy-making authority. Rights and structure are the principal elements of government that historically constrained policy and protected other forms of rule. The authors assess the emergence of a new “policy state,” in which rights and structure shed their distinctive characteristics and take on the attributes of policy.

Orren and Skowronek address the political controversies swirling around American government as a consequence of policy’s expanded domain. On the one hand, the policy state has rendered government more flexible, responsive, and inclusive. On the other, it has mangled government’s form, polarized its politics, and sowed deep distrust of its institutions. The policy state frames an American predicament: policy has eroded the foundations of government, even as the policy imperative pushes us ever forward, into an uncertain future.

 About the Speaker:

Stephen Skowronek is the Pelatiah Perit Professor of Political and Social Science at Yale University. He has been a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and has held the Chair in American Civilization at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. His research concerns American national institutions and American political history. His publications include Building a New American State: The Expansion of National Administrative Capacities, 1877-1920 (1982), The Politics Presidents Make: Leadership from John Adams to Bill Clinton, (1997), The Search for American Political Development (2004, with Karen Orren), and Presidential Leadership in Political Time: Reprise and Reappraisal (2008). Among other activities, he was co-founder of the journal Studies in American Political Development, which he edited between 1986 and 2007, and he provided the episode structure and thematic content for the PBS miniseries: The American President (Kunhardt Productions).

The Panelists:

Gary Gerstle is the Paul Mellon Professor of American History at the University of Cambridge. He arrived in Cambridge in 2014 after a three-decade career in the United States, most recently at Vanderbilt University where he was James G. Stahlman Professor of American History. He is currently a Fellow at Sidney Sussex College. He is a social and political historian of the twentieth century, with substantial interests in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He received his BA from Brown University and his MA and PhD from Harvard University. He is a Fellow of the British Academy and of the Royal Historical Society.

Peter John is Professor of Public Policy in the Department of Political Economy at King’s College London. He was previously Professor of Political Science and Public Policy, University College London. He is known for his work on agenda-setting, local politics, behavioral interventions, and randomized controlled trials. He is author of Analyzing Public Policy (2012), which reviews the main theories of public policy and the policy process. He has carried out empirical work on agenda-setting to find out why governments focus on particular policies, which is represented in the book, Policy Agendas in British Politics (Palgrave, 2013), co-authored with Anthony Bertelli, William Jennings, and Shaun Bevan. With Anthony Bertelli, he developed public policy investment as an approach to understanding decision-making, which was published as Public Policy Investment: Priority-Setting and Conditional Representation in British Statecraft (Oxford University Press, 2013).