Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2010

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

First Advisor

Joseph Jupille

Second Advisor

Susan Clarke

Third Advisor

Jennifer Fitzgerald


This study considers the development of social partnership in Ireland via a comparative analysis of institutional friction, political and economic conditions and causal ideas. Starting from the punctuated equilibrium framework as developed by Baumgartner and Jones, this work asks ― What explains episodes of dramatic policy change?‖ The analysis utilizes a mixed-methods research design to address policy change across time and space, departing from conventional explanations to focus on the role of ideas in shaping policy choices. Using original data the punctuated equilibrium framework is tested in three stages, beginning with a comparative analysis of institutional friction within social welfare policies in three countries: Ireland, Denmark and the Netherlands. Next, a time series model considers the effect of environmental conditions on policy outcomes over time. Finally, a qualitative process tracing analysis highlights the role of ideas in driving policy change under changing circumstances. Central to the argument here is the contention that shifting causal stories, as conceptualized by Deborah Stone (1989), drive episodes of dramatic policy punctuation in moments of shifting institutional, political and economic pressures.

Findings from a multi-method analysis of quantitative and qualitative data confirm that institutional, political and economic factors alone are insufficient to generate policy change. In the case of Irish social policy, this study demonstrates that a changing conceptualization of partnership from the perspective of employers, unions and the Government produced a shared vision of the future that bound relevant political actors to a course of policymaking based on consensus and inclusiveness. Moreover, this shared blueprint for future development transcended partisan boundaries, linking Ireland‘s major political parties to a new and cohesive policy trajectory. Finally, the conceptualization of poverty shifted to a multidimensional understanding based on the idea of social exclusion, motivating a comprehensive policy solution based on inclusivity for the future of Irish development. This work challenges the existing literature on policy change to better address the underlying causal mechanisms at work during episodes of punctuation, concluding that overlooking the role of causal ideas is a detriment to our comprehension of the policy process.