Agenda Setting

Agenda Setting

write a good paper applying and explaining the knowledge from these notes. Use good examles to explain the theories.

Full NOTES Will be aded in the tracking order.

Here are some basics just so you know what it is about.

Our goal is to explain why decision-makers pay attention to one issue and not another. This course is concerned in why and how problems become or do not become problems on an agenda.

What is agenda setting ?

The different types of agendas
-Media agenda, articles, stories from tv news or newspapers
-Citizens agenda, public opinion : the set of issues citizens consider as the most important problems. Polling questions are employed to mesure the citizens agenda (controversially).
-Institutional agenda, sometimes called formal agenda. Cobb and Elder (American authors) distinguish it as the set of concrete items scheduled for active and serious consideration by a particular institutional decision-making body. Institutional agenda is made of the list of the problems decision makers formerly accept for consideration. Such agendas exist at every level of government. We may thus distinguish the presidential, governmental, regional, city agenda There are several of them. When analyzing the process, we group all of them under the term policy agenda.
-Sometimes we differentiate (Cobb and Elder) a fourth agenda : the systemic agenda. Definition : all issues commonly perceived by a members of political community (or citizens) as meriting public attention of public authorities. The systemic agenda includes both the media and citizens agenda. Often, putting an issue on this agenda is considered as a prerequisite to the inclusion of an issue on the institutional, formal agenda.


29 propositions in 6 broad categories of analysis that explain the rise and fall of social problem on the agenda (Hilgartner & Bosks model enriched)

Preliminary assumptions

1.A social problem is a putative situation that (at least some) actors label a “problem” in the different arenas (i.e. institutionalized parts of the social world).
2.The level of attention devoted to a social problem is not a function of its objective makeup alone but is determined by a process of collective framing its definition in particular ways (cf. Blumer, Spector & Kitsuse, Gusfield, Stone, etc.)
3.The construction of social problems occurs within the public arenas. The success (or size, or scope) of a social problem is measured by the amount of attention devoted to it in these arenas

Carrying Capacity

4.Each arena has a carrying capacity that limits the number of social problems it can entertain during a given period.
5.The population of potential social problems (i.e., putative situations or conditions that could be considered problems) is huge.
6.The carrying capacity of the public arenas is much too small to accommodate all potential social problems.
7.Therefore, social problems must compete for space in the arenas. This competition is ongoing; problems must compete both to enter and to remain on the public agenda.
8.The number of social problems is a function not of the number of harmful or dangerous conditions facing society but of the carrying capacity of public arenas.

Dynamics of Competition

9.Competition among social problems occurs simultaneously on two levels: First, there is competition for space between substantively different problems, as priorities are set as to which problems are important and therefore merit public space. Second, within each substantive area, there is competition over definitions, that is, between alternative ways of framing the problem. These two types of competition interact.
10.The public attention received by social problems is very unevenly distributed over the population of social problems:
a)a very small number of social problems are extremely successful and become the dominant topics of public discourse;
b)a somewhat larger number are moderately successful and command some public attention; and
c)the vast majority of potential social problems remain outside of or on the extreme margins of public discourse.
11.The amount of attention received by a given social problem varies dynamically over time (cf. Downs):
a)problems that have achieved some success are constantly in danger of undergoing a decline and being displaced; and
b)while some problems may rise, decline, and reemerge, very few maintain a high level of attention over many years.
12.Except to the extent that the carrying capacities of the public arenas are changing, the ascent of one social problem will tend to be accompanied by the decline of one or more others.

Principles of Selection

13.All arenas have principles of selection that influence the probability that particular social problems will appear there. (Propositions 14 and 18 address selection principles that operate in all the arenas.)
14.Causal argument are at the heart of problem definition. Problems that attribute bad conditions to human behavior instead of to accident, fate or nature have better chance of success (cf. Stone)
15.Problems have also better chance of success if they can be considered as facts. Science, and more generally knowledge, is a particularly efficient tool in doing this (cf. Gusfield).
16.Arenas place a premium on drama. Social problems presented in a dramatic way (thats to say that they display visible harms and conflict over the meaning of the problem) have a higher probability of successfully competing in the arenas they are based on.
a)saturation of the arenas with redundant claims and symbols can dedramatize a problem; which is why focusing events are so important, their rarity limits this risk dedramatization. (cf. Birkland);
b)repeated bombardment of the public with messages about similar problems can dedramatize problems of that class; and
c)to remain high on the public agenda, a problem must remain dramatic; thus, new symbols or events must continually renew the drama or the problem will decline.
18.The smaller the carrying capacity of an arena is, the more intense the competition.
19.In addition to these general selection principles, each particular arena has its own local selection principles that depend on its institutional characteristics and occupational culture. These local factors also influence selection. For example, each public arena has a characteristic rhythm of organizational life that influences the timing of its interactions with social problems, thus affecting selection (cf. the political life)
20.Many operatives are familiar with the selection principles of public arenas, and they deliberately adapt their social problem claims to fit their target environments (e.g., by packaging their claims in a form that is dramatic, succinct, and employs novel symbols or classic theatrical tropes (cf. Gusfield).


21.Social networks and patterned institutional relations link the public arenas, producing positive feedback between arenas.
22.Problems that rise in one public arena have a strong tendency to spread into others. A relatively small number of very successful social problems tend to occupy much of the space in most of the arenas.
23.However, some problems that are unable to compete in most arenas manage to survive by establishing a niche in a particular arena, yet show little sign of spreading. These deviations from the general pattern are not random, but result from systematic differences in the principles of selection of that arena. Still, these problems will go through ups and downs as described by the issue attention cycle (cf. Downs).

Communities of Operatives s
24.Communities of operatives (i.e. specialists of an issue coming from different arenas) form around social problems; these communities span the arenas of public discourse (which partly explains the feedbacks between problems).
25.A department (= more or less problem areas, cf. Hilgar


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