Ideas in Discourse: How non-Material Means of Power Exertion Shape Policy

Vincent Rest

Student thesis: Master thesis


The role of the state as the most powerful entity within the political system has doubtlessly waned. This is due to several larger transformations that have impacted and altered global politics - transformations such as the end of the cold war, rapid technological progress and economic globalization. Along came a decentralization of power outlets that determine political decision-making. Traditional means of power exertion that were usually executed by a state authority, such as military force or financial capacity, no longer enjoy an exclusive status. Rather, non-traditional discursive means have gained influence. Discursive power entails the ability to dominate the political debate with certain ideas and thus control public opinion. Holzscheiter (2005) argues that the less formalized the policy venue the higher is the likability of discursive power to prevail. International politics lacking a central authority exactly fit this case Ideas help individuals make sense of complex situations and guide action. This is particularly the case, when ideas are taken as given conventions and manifest in institutions. Once they are institutionalised, there is higher probability of an idea being realized in policy practice. Ideas are exchanged through discourses, whose partakers are confronted with different sets of ideas that constitute frames. Discourses serve as forums for the formulation of policy problems and proposals for their solution. Discourse partakers can influence the dynamics responsible for the emergence of a dominant idea through different means and strategies, such as employing frames for argumentation. Actors who lack the means to exert coercive power can instead generate larger networks of like-minded adherents. These networks can be referred to as Transnational Advocacy Networks (TAN) (Keck and Sikkink 1998) and extensions can entail an expansion of the geographical scope or to actors from different societal domains By applying discourse-historical critical discourse analysis (Wodak 2011b), I examine the strategies TANs employ within a discourse. The case discourse deals with the conflict between rigid enforcement of intellectual property protection and access to medicines. In order to isolate reasons for why certain ideas gain more attention than others, I will apply frame analysis (Benford and Snow 2000) and compare two policy proposals discussed within the discourse

EducationsMSocSc in Political Communication and Managment, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2015
Number of pages126