The Public Policy Theory Primer

The Public Policy Theory Primer

The Public Policy Theory Primer

The Public Policy Theory Primer


Public policy has developed into a broad and interdisciplinary area of study. Research in the field tends to reflect this wide-ranging nature, with scholarly activity focusing on policy process, policy design, program evaluation, specific policy issues, and research classified simply as "policy studies." Yet for those teaching and studying in the field, the disjointed nature of the field can be confusing and cumbersome.

In this newly revised and updated edition of The Public Policy Theory Primer , authors Kevin B. Smith and Christopher W. Larimer provide a reasoned and structured framework for the field of public policy, not only discussing several major theories but also offering a consistent and coherent framework for uniting the field. This organized and comprehensive approach addresses core questions and concepts, major theoretical frameworks, primary methodological approaches, and key controversies and debates. In the second edition, the authors cover new approaches to subsystems theory, policy narratives, behavioral economics and policymaking, implementation theory, and many other new themes in each of the book's ten chapters. The Public Policy Theory Primer is an indispensable text for the systematic study of public policy.


This second edition of The Public Policy Theory Primer has the same justification, organization, and objectives as the first edition. Where it differs is in description, inference, and conclusion; simply put, policy scholarship has moved on since the first edition. That scholarly output has forced a reconsideration of some important issues. To cite just a few examples, since the first edition, implementation research has been reinvigorated by the application of public management theory, policy and impact analysis has started to incorporate newly developed methods and conceptual frameworks rooted in behavioral economics, and evolutionary frameworks of human decision making seem to have reached a tipping point that demands policy scholars begin taking seriously the notion of incorporating them into theories of the policy process. As an indication of the scholarly productivity prompting these reassessments, one hundred new studies are cited in this edition.

Just as important as the changes is the consistent motivation underlying the Primer. This book has its origins in the challenges of introducing upper-division undergraduates and beginning graduate students to the field of policy studies. Advanced survey courses in public policy are a standard curricular component of graduate programs in political science, public administration, and other fields, and similar courses are increasingly common for upper-division undergraduates. The field of public policy, however, is so broad, diffuse, and balkanized that imposing order on it from an instructor’s perspective—let alone from a student’s perspective—can be a difficult and frustrating undertaking.

In facing this challenge in our own classes, we came to the realization that the challenge was not simply the logistical and organizational demands of putting together a coherent syllabus. What lay beneath was a fundamental question, perhaps the fundamental question, of the field of public policy studies: Does such a field really exist? Comparing syllabi with colleagues rapidly revealed a widely divergent approach to introducing students to the study of public policy.

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