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Punctuated Equilibrium and Agenda-Setting: Bringing Parties Back in: Policy Change after the Dutroux Crisis in Belgium

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The article analyzes how focusing events affect the public and political agenda and translate into policy change. Empirically, the study focuses on the policy changes initiated by paedophile Marc Dutroux's arrest in 1996 in Belgium. Theoretically, the article tests whether Baumgartner and Jones's (1993) U.S. punctuated equilibrium approach applies to a most different system case, Belgium being a consociational democracy and a partitocracy. Their approach turns out to be useful to explain this “critical case”: Policy change happens when “policy images” and “policy venues” shift. Yet, the Dutroux case shows also that political parties, as key actors in the Belgian policy process, should be integrated more explicitly in the punctuated equilibrium theory. Finally, the article argues that the quantitative analysis of longitudinal data sets on several agendas should be supplemented with qualitative case study evidence (e.g., interviews with key decision makers) to unravel the complex case of issue attention and policy change.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: University of Antwerp 2: University of Geneva

Publication date: July 1, 2008

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