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Returning attention to policy content in diffusion study

John M Fulwider, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Policy diffusion research pays virtually no attention to policy content. Yet we should expect content to shape the adoption of any policy—this is what legislators and policy makers, after all, fight about. Thus the extent and speed of diffusion likely critically depend on policy content, which the current literature virtually ignores. This dissertation shows how we can better understand policy diffusion by taking policy content seriously. Paying attention to policy content, including how it is debated and understood by legislators, has immediate payoffs in the sense that two literatures largely ignored until now by diffusion researchers—policy typologies and policy design—suggest important explanations for the ease or difficulty of adoption. Though new and rarely used, the theoretical model I employ—the epidemiological model—has the potential to offer a much more comprehensive explanation of policy diffusion. By demonstrating the importance of policy content, this dissertation supports a key element of that model (the policy conceived of as a virus) and helps show the utility of the model. By immediately focusing attention on content, the viruses portion of the epidemiological model offers a clear advantage over the methods-driven event history analysis framework that has dominated the policy diffusion field. Employing the epidemiological model provides a path to making the policy sciences more scientific, which can lead to bringing other scholars in by making policy diffusion research interesting and accessible to those from other disciplines. Overall, this dissertation promotes more-scientific policy research, and provides a way to make this more-scientific policy research easier to complete.^

Subject Area

Political Science, General|Sociology, Public and Social Welfare

Recommended Citation

Fulwider, John M, "Returning attention to policy content in diffusion study" (2011). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3481975.