Cultural Memory Theory & Policy Analysis A case study of the influence of cultural memory dynamics in the Dutch water policy community
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This thesis connects cultural memory theory with policy analysis. Cultural memory theory is a well-developed concept within Memory Studies, but its application within the field of Public Administration is limited. The theoretical part of this thesis investigates the added value of a cultural memory approach to policy analysis. The main element of cultural memory theory contains the assumption that individual acts of remembrance occur in a socio-cultural environment. Subsequently, the creation of shared versions of the past are products of mediation, textualization and acts of communication (Rigney, 2005). Simply stated, the memories we have do not solely belong to ourselves, but are part of the communicated memories of the groups we belong and in which we live and work. Furthermore, these communicated versions of the past help us to construct our identity and answer the question ‘who are we and who are the others’. Subsequently, this influences our actions. Policy-makers that are concerned with a certain field of policy can be viewed as a group or a community with their own shared versions of the past and own stories of what it means to be part of the policy community. Within those communities, references to the past are made to make a point. These references can be found in written text or oral communication. They can also happen tacitly, considering the tendency of writing policy in neutral and often technocratic terms. However, these appearances may be deceiving. Using a cultural memory approach in analysing policy processes can help us to elucidate the (often subtle) memory dynamics as a factor of influence on policy. The second part of this thesis aims to test the theory by applying a cultural memory approach on a case study. Central in this case study are the perceptions, reactions and underlying considerations of the Dutch water management community regarding three recommendations, made by the OECD in their report ‘Water Governance in the Netherlands: Fit for the Future?’. Regarding the underlying considerations, specific attention is paid to the role of cultural memory dynamics. In the case study, it is shown that explicit references to the past are made by members of the policy community when a recommendation challenges their identity in a fundamental way and hence influences policy outcomes. Here, the added value of a cultural memory approach becomes very clear and gives us insight and understanding regarding the reasons why a certain policy is adopted or not. These parts of policy reality would not be understood by using a different approach, making cultural memory theory a valuable addition to existing streams of literature on policy analysis.