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Toronto Theory Workshop
January 24 @ 4:30 pm - 6:00 pm
Alicia Eads (University of Toronto Sociology Post-Doctoral Scholar), “Saving Banks but not Homeowners: cultural meaning in crisis policymaking”)
Discussants: Kim Pernell, Gabe Menard
Why did policymakers not intervene to stabilize the housing market during the recent economic crisis in the U.S.? Research on policymaking tends to take the policymaking problem as given, and seeks to explain policymaking by the constraining and constitutive forces of organizational and institutional structures. However, when economic shocks disrupt the reproductive nature of such structures, how can we account for the policies that policymakers pursue? I develop an analytical framework that combines the pragmatist perspective and meaning construction. Pragmatists emphasized the definition of the situation for understanding actions, while theories of meaning construction outline processes of meaning-making. Combining comparative methods and computational analysis, I examine 1,740 speeches by officials from four key policymaking organizations. I find differences in how the organizations defined the problem and show that the differences are rooted in distinct constructions of borrowers and lenders. These differences carried significant implications for the policy response. Are borrowers rational investors who will walk away from a mortgage? Or are they struggling homeowners, taken advantage of by predatory lenders? This framework suggests answers to three questions: (1) when do cultural meanings influence policymaking, (2) which meanings have influence in particular episodes, and (3) where do those meanings come from.