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Narrating boom and bust: the life-cycle of ideas and narrative in New Labour’s political economy, 1997-2010

Alexander Shaw, Kate (2018) Narrating boom and bust: the life-cycle of ideas and narrative in New Labour’s political economy, 1997-2010. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.n1t2hpkqroi4


This research contributes to the growing subfield of ideational political economy, by developing a theory of narrative in economic policymaking. Economic policymakers operate under conditions of perpetual uncertainty, but must achieve and project certitude in order to support confidence, and as a basis for policy. This dilemma is principally resolved through the construction of economic narratives: causal stories that mobilise a set of economic ideas in order to define the economy, its relationship to policy, and its expected future trajectory. Such narratives should be understood as social constructions, not as projections of, or diversions from, the material facts. However they are vulnerable to events that fall outside their account of the economy, a vulnerability which tends to increase with time. Constructivist political economy has historically been oriented more to the explanation of change than continuity. The resilience of neoliberal policy frameworks through the crisis of 2008 has therefore posed challenges for a subfield that has tended to treat ideas and discourse as a source of creative political agency, and a counterweight to the conservatism of interests and institutions. The thesis presents a case study of the New Labour government of the UK (1997-2010) in which ideas and narrative are shown to be largely changeresistant, generating political, and to some extent policy, continuity through crisis. The case study disaggregates two properties of economic policy narratives: internal validity, which is concerned with consistency and coherence, and external validity, which relates to the perceived external conditions. By tracing the evolution of the two validities across the lifetime of an economic narrative, we see that rhetorics which begin as the expression of political agency evolve, over time, into structural conditions that impose powerful cognitive and ideological constraints on their narrators. A theory of the life-cycle of economic policy narratives is proposed, comprised of four evolutionary phases: construction, reinforcement, crisis and fragmentation.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2018 Kate Alexander Shaw
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JN Political institutions (Europe) > JN101 Great Britain
Sets: Departments > Government
Supervisor: Hopkin, Jonathan

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