Social Construction

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The social construction framework was proposed by Schneider and Ingram in 1993 and sought to explain the allocation of burdens and benefits to different groups of people in society based on their power and social construction, that is “the cultural characterizations or popular images of the persons or groups affected by the public policy.” In this essay, I will be evaluating the social construction framework on various levels of analysis and explain why I think this framework is effective in explaining how the interplay of political and social factors affects agenda setting and leads to the unequal allocation of benefits and burdens in society. Thereafter, I will explain why I think the same framework is limited when it comes to fully explaining the public policy process especially in non-democracies. The social construction framework is differentiated from other frameworks of public policy making by its focus on not just the power invested in groups of people, but also on the social construction of these “target populations” and how the “dynamic interaction of power and social constructions leads to a distinctive pattern in the allocation of burdens and benefits” through the use of public policy. I think that the reason why I feel the framework is useful and effective is because it is able to offer an answer to Lasswell’s lasting question of “who gets what, when, and how” by attempting to dissect the complex interplay of social and political factors in the process of public policy making. According to Schneider and Ingram, the four TPs are the advantaged (positively viewed powerful people), contenders (negatively viewed powerful people), dependents (positively viewed powerless people) and deviants (negatively viewed powerless people). In my opinion, the SC framework is superior to many others in their specification of these TPs based on both their social construction and power as it serves to explain many anomalies and exceptions that other frameworks which only touch on one of these aspects fail to do. Adding in this additional dimension helps to explain why different groups of people with equal political power come under policies with differing levels of benefits and burdens and why these same groups have unequal levels of influence and control over policies made by the government is due to their social construction and whether the public deems them as deserving of these privileges. This multilevel and multi-dimension causal relationship further contributes to the framework’s ability to explain the agenda setting process by examining why problems faced by the advantaged TGs are most likely to considered in agenda setting as compared to the concerns of the other TPs, as well as why benefits and burdens are allocated to suit the power and construction of each TP. For example, governments are more likely to pay attention to problems of the advantaged group because they are powerful, and helping them will not lead to any opposition or retaliation from the public because they are seen as “positive” and “deserving of help” as compared to the contenders. Likewise, dependent groups are more likely to see their problems becoming issues as compared to deviants, but fall short in that they do not have the political power and thus governments lack the incentive to help. Schneider and Ingram go further to hypothesize that this pattern of allocation then shapes the political orientation and participation of these target populations through the policy messages sent out to each of these TPs informing them of “their status as citizens and how they and people like themselves are likely to be treated by the government.” Their orientation and participation in turn shapes “the subsequent environment assessed by officials as they search for policies that offer political rewards…” I think that this effort by the authors to cover the consequences of the policy and how it leads up to the formulation of the next policy is commendable as other...
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