The Sociology of Public Policy Formation and Implementation

TitleThe Sociology of Public Policy Formation and Implementation
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsMcLevey, J., and R. Deschamps
Book TitleThe Sage Handbook of Political Sociology, edited by William Outhwaite and Stephen Turner

This chapter introduces contemporary approaches to research on public policy formation and implementation developed by sociologists, political scientists, and interdisciplinary social scientists. We have taken this broad view because most of the major theories of public policy formation straddle disciplinary boundaries. While we are in favor of interdisciplinary policy scholarship, we also think that sociologists have a great deal more to offer theories of policy formation and implementation, which are currently dominated by political scientists and economists.


We have organized this chapter into two core sections. The first reviews the most influential theories of policy formation, which we have categorized as historical institutional, organizational, cultural/interpretive, and complex systems. Across these theories, the role of political interests, ideas, and evidence in policymaking is contested. We explore this in more detail in the second section, beginning with a discussion of research on evidence-based policymaking, the role of experts and expertise in democratic societies, and the national and international origins of policy ideas, priorities, and institutional structures.