Generating Policy Change in Situations of Equilibrium: Shifting Discourse Networks in the Case of Wild Circus Animals in Germany
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A ban of wild circus animals has been debated in Germany for more than 13 years. Although the issue is not very complex or contested and no technological improvements are needed, only incremental change has been occurred so far. According to Punctuated Equilibrium Theory, this gridlocked situation is maintained by successful framing processes of status quo proponents. In a first, theoretical step, this project enriches the body of Punctuated Equilibrium Theory by identifying strategies for policy entrepreneurs as causal mechanisms behind the assumed – and frequently observed – dynamic of periods of only incremental change (equilibrium), disrupted by apparently sudden, drastic change (punctuations). Identified strategies for proponents of change are to reframe the policy image and to shift venues in order to generate attention. Once attention is high, new change proponents have to be included into the ‘change-coalitions’. Status quo proponents, on the other hand, can decrease the magnitude of a punctuation by adjusting their belief systems (policy learning). In a second, empirical step, the identified strategies have been measured for the empirical case of wild circus animals in Germany in order to generate policy recommendations for proponents of change. Discourse Network Analysis resulted to be a useful tool to track and measure framing processes in discourses over time. 521 German newspaper articles dealing with wild circus animals in the period 1991-2016 have been coded in two rounds, a first one to develop a coding scheme and a second one to code the data consistently. The coding scheme was cross-validated by a class of Sustainable Development students. After coding, the obtained qualitative data have been translated into network data. Visualized affiliation and actor congruence networks are used to track reframing and policy learning processes, as well as venue shifts and the integration of newly attracted change proponents over time. Shifts in the relative popularity of used concepts have been measured by changes in concept node degree centrality. The analysis is enriched by a supplementary, qualitative discourse analysis. Results show that in the case of wild circus animals in Germany, status quo proponents made significant adjustments in belief systems and hereby decreased the magnitude of change. Resting potential for change proponents lies in stressing economic and legal aspects of the debate and in using alternative policy venues. Political parties could include more regional party divisions in their striving for change by streamlining their argumentation centrally.