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  • Author or Editor: Alex Stevens x
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This chapter presents methods for use in studying the operations of policy constellations in drug and other policy areas. It discusses issues of casing and sampling. It shows how ethnography, critical realist discourse analysis and elite interviews enabled analysis of the values, positions and actions of policy actors. It shows how these can be examined through analysis of narratives, tropes, factoids and ethico-political bases in the collected data. The chapter also explains the use of two-mode social network analysis to draw sociograms which show the connections between policy actors and policy positions.

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The chapter describes and exemplifies the five main ethico-political bases observed in UK drug policy making. These are derived from abductive analysis of data on UK drug policy as informed by existing theories on moral intuitions. They show the foundations of drug policy in different forms of morality. These ethico-political bases are compassion, traditionalism, paternalism, progressive social justice and liberty. The compatibilities and oppositions between them are used to draw a modified circumplex of ethico-political bases. This helps explain the overlaps and gaps between policy constellations, based on underlying cultural structures of moral attraction and repulsion.

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This chapter shows how it is possible to map the connections between policy actors and policy positions to reveal the existence of different, overlapping constellations of policy actors and positions. It provides sociograms showing the three main policy constellations in the UK drug policy field: the conservative, public health and reform constellations. Within and between the conservative and public health constellations, it shows the hybrid medico-penal constellation. This brings together the most powerful actors and positions in UK drug policy. The chapter also discusses the missing voice of people who use drugs from UK drug policy debates.

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This chapter shows how different policy constellations use different forms of power to achieve the institutionalisation of their policy preferences. It examines the difference in institutional power between insiders and outsiders to the policy process and how this is influenced by the politics of familiarity. It also gives examples of the use of media, economic, epistemic, affective and savvy social power. These forms of power are asymmetric and are based on unequal social structures. This explains why it is the policy preferences of socially advantaged groups which usually become the outcome of policy processes.

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In this chapter, the book moves to presenting particular cases in drug policy in the UK to show how the policy constellations approach helps us to explain them. Cannabis-based medical products were legalised in the UK in 2018. This chapter shows how this was achieved by the savvy use of economic and media power in a case of political cornering. In this way, some members of the reform constellation forced a long-campaigned-for change in policy. But the chapter also describes the rearguard action by members of the conservative and public health constellations, which limited the scale and reach of this change through the use of their institutional power.

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This chapter starts by discussing narratives of the UK’s ongoing crisis of drug-related deaths, with competing claims for the roles of abstinence and harm reduction. It goes on to explore different responses to this crisis at UK and Scottish levels of policy making. Focusing on the Scottish case, it shows how different policy constellations, based on different ethico-political bases, produced different policy outcomes. The relative absence of the ethico-political base of liberty and the presence of an egalitarian tradition of ethical socialism influences the formation of two main Scottish drug policy constellations: reformist and abstentionist. The policy narrative that spanned these constellations and inspired a reversal of cuts to funding for drug treatment was that the high number of deaths in Scotland was a national shame. In Scotland, institutional power now lies with the case for rights-based reform, including decriminalisation of drug possession and expansion of harm reduction, even though these have been blocked by the UK government. Arguments over abstinence and harm reduction continue in the form of debates about the proposed ‘right to recovery’.

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This chapter provides an explanatory critique of the UK ten-year drugs strategy, published in December 2021 under the leadership of Boris Johnson. It examines the moral posturing of the strategy, especially in Johnson’s foreword. It explains how the contradictory and surprising strategy arose from a policy “zoo” of actors within the medico-penal constellation. The surprising part of the strategy was its allocation of over half a billion pounds to drug treatment after years of cuts. The chapter explains how this was achieved by Dame Carol Black’s use of savvy social power and her deployment of the old narrative that drug treatment cuts crime and so saves money. The chapter also shows how challenging constellations, which may have created a more radical strategy, were excluded from the process of making it.

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This chapter summarises the underlying mechanisms and causal conditions of drug policy making in the UK. It provides ten propositions that are drawn from analysis of this field. They are tendencies that may be useful in explaining policy in other places and other policy fields. The chapter also contextualises the policy constellations approach by comparing it to the advocacy coalition framework, emphasising the critical realist advantage of a focus on loosely concerted actions generated by underlying social and cultural structures over long periods, rather than on centrally coordinated, individual actions in shorter policy cycles. Some limitations and trade-offs of the book’s analysis are discussed, and a suggestion is made to amplify the power of policy constellations by network rewiring. The book concludes with a discussion of the practical adequacy of the policy constellations approach and an invitation to apply it to other countries and policies.

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This book provides a new, critical realist approach for explaining the outcomes of policy processes. It develops this policy constellations approach from theories on morality and power, using new analysis of recent policies on illicit drugs in the United Kingdom. This shows the various forms of morality and power that are held by policy actors to explain why policies which lack evidence of effectiveness remain in place. Drug policy cases – including the legalisation of cannabis for medical use, the response to the UK’s drug-related death crisis, and the UK’s ten-year drug strategy – are examined using ethnography, analysis of policy documents and debates, elite interviews, and social network analysis. Constellations of actors form around particular ethico-political bases, including compassion, traditionalism, paternalism, progressive social justice and liberty. These are different in the UK and Scottish policy fields, with a greater influence of egalitarianism and less focus on liberty in Scotland. This helps to explain different policies between the nations of the UK. Policies can be changed when members of policy constellations deploy epistemic, affective, economic, media and savvy social power to make change happen. The institutional power, conservative thinking and default paternalism of dominant constellations limit the scale and speed of change. At UK level, this institutional power is held by a long-standing medico-penal constellation which prevents substantial change on drug policy. This discussion takes a critical realist explanatory approach, which shows the ongoing influence of social and cultural structures in generating policy processes and outcomes.

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Author:

This book provides a new, critical realist approach for explaining the outcomes of policy processes. It develops this policy constellations approach from theories on morality and power, using new analysis of recent policies on illicit drugs in the United Kingdom. This shows the various forms of morality and power that are held by policy actors to explain why policies which lack evidence of effectiveness remain in place. Drug policy cases – including the legalisation of cannabis for medical use, the response to the UK’s drug-related death crisis, and the UK’s ten-year drug strategy – are examined using ethnography, analysis of policy documents and debates, elite interviews, and social network analysis. Constellations of actors form around particular ethico-political bases, including compassion, traditionalism, paternalism, progressive social justice and liberty. These are different in the UK and Scottish policy fields, with a greater influence of egalitarianism and less focus on liberty in Scotland. This helps to explain different policies between the nations of the UK. Policies can be changed when members of policy constellations deploy epistemic, affective, economic, media and savvy social power to make change happen. The institutional power, conservative thinking and default paternalism of dominant constellations limit the scale and speed of change. At UK level, this institutional power is held by a long-standing medico-penal constellation which prevents substantial change on drug policy. This discussion takes a critical realist explanatory approach, which shows the ongoing influence of social and cultural structures in generating policy processes and outcomes.

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