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Social Construction of Target Populations: Implications for Politics and Policy

  • Anne Schneider (a1) and Helen Ingram (a2)

Abstract

We argue that the social construction of target populations is an important, albeit overlooked, political phenomenon that should take its place in the study of public policy by political scientists. The theory contends that social constructions influence the policy agenda and the selection of policy tools, as well as the rationales that legitimate policy choices. Constructions become embedded in policy as messages that are absorbed by citizens and affect their orientations and participation. The theory is important because it helps explain why some groups are advantaged more than others independently of traditional notions of political power and how policy designs reinforce or alter such advantages. An understanding of social constructions of target populations augments conventional hypotheses about the dynamics of policy change, the determination of beneficiaries and losers, the reasons for differing levels and types of participation among target groups, and the role of policy in democracy.

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