From “fairness” to “capabilities.” Some remarks on the relationship between ideas and public policies

Special report. The nation of economists. Economics in the face of public power (twentieth to twenty-first centuries) Vol. 2
By Mathieu Hauchecorne

On the basis of an investigation into the circulation of Rawls’ and Sen’s theories of social justice within the field of French state expertise, this article intends to reconsider the debates concerning the relationship between ideas and public policies. In the wake of recent developments in France on this subject, the article returns to the question of the relationship that the experts, senior civil servants, and “decision-makers” who contributed to the circulation of justice theories within the state maintained with the theories that they handled. It shows that the perspective of these agents cannot be characterized solely on the basis of the Bourdieusian opposition between scholastic and practical points of view, and that a whole series of intermediate perspectives should be considered. On this basis, the article intends to question the alternative in which these debates are often caught, between an ideational determinism that ensures the beliefs of decision-makers are the principal reason for their action, and a material determinism for which the ideas mobilized by the agents only serve to legitimize decisions whose effective motives would be elsewhere.

  • social history of political ideas
  • public policies
  • policy paradigms
  • cognitive approaches
  • Rawls
  • Sen
  • scholastic illusion
  • expertise
  • perspective
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