Blog: Policy schools in the age of identity politics

December 22, 2017

TransCrisis blog piece co-authored by Nick Sitter, CPS research affiliate and SPP professor

Back in the post-First World War era, the field of public administration was established to respond to the social upheaval of demilitarization, economic turmoil, expanding electorates, new political parties and labour movements. Similarly, the rise of ‘policy analysis’ was a response to the devastating experiences of the Second World War, and a belief in technocratic solutions and analytical skills provided by ‘wiz kids’. Concern with policy was also at the heart of the expansion of policy-related research and teaching in view of the expansion of the welfare state in the late 1960s and 1970s.

A century since the end of the First World War, national and international politics and economics are again in turmoil. National politics are shaped by new cleavages surrounding identity and the rise of populist parties; European integration is being challenged by referenda (‘Brexit’) and nationalist governments adopting policies hostile to basic principles of the rule of law, in some cases going as far as sanctioning extreme-right movements and anti-semitism. Multilateral organisations are said to face existential threats. Traditional sources of policy expertise are criticised and dismissed; ‘fake news’ have become a defining characteristic of populist leaders with authoritarian ambitions. In short, what has been identified as an age of identity politics is perceived as a threat to many certainties of late 20th century politics.

What role can contemporary public policy schools play in this changing and demanding context? Do they have anything to contribute? Or are they stuck in a world of elite hobnobbing across international conference venues, airport lounges and intercontinental conference calls? At first sight such questions may seem surprising. After all, hardly a month goes by during which one university or another does not announce a new public policy-related initiative. However, a closer look reveals more deep-seated problems. Public policy schools need to seriously reconsider their role in this ‘identity’ politics age of the 21st century.

Read the full post on the Transcrisis blog.