Visual Culture and Public Policy: Towards a visual polity?, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Visual Culture and Public Policy

Towards a visual polity?, 1st Edition

By Victor Bekkers, Rebecca Moody


244 pages | 19 B/W Illus.

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Traditionally, images have played an important role in politics and policy making, mostly in relation to propaganda and public communication. However, contemporary society is inundated with visual material due to the increasing ubiquity of media and visual technologies that facilitate the production, distribution and consumption of images in new and innovative ways. As such, a visual culture has emerged, and a number of authors have written on visual culture and the technologies which underlie it. However, a clear link to policy making is still lacking.

This books links the emergence of this visual culture to policy making and explores how visual culture (and the growing number of technologies used to create and distribute images) influence the course, content and outcome of public policy making. It examines how visual culture and policy making in contemporary society are intertwined, elaborating concepts such as power, framing and storytelling. It then links this to technology, and the way this can enhance power, transparency, registration, surveillance and communication.

Dealing with the entire cycle of public policy making, from agenda-setting, to policy design, decision making to evaluation, the book contains diverse international case studies including water management, risk management, live-stock diseases, minority integration, racism, freedom of speech, healthcare, disaster evaluation and terrorism.


'‘Performance’ has two sides of the same coin. It is ‘results’ and ‘putting something on stage’. This book brings these two sides together in a very smart way. Whether it is the policy cycle, or its governance and polity, the visual dimension becomes so dominant that reality risks to become the derivative. Convincing pictures show and prove the role of visual perception. In this book "What you see is really what you get".' - Geert Bouckaert, President of the International Institute of Administrative Sciences, KU Leuven, Belgium.

'In this powerful and important book, Viktor Bekkers and Rebecca Moody examine myriad influences of visualization on the content and course of public policy. As visual culture is more routinely and pervasively embedded in policy practices, the authors demonstrate persuasively through nine vivid, carefully selected cases, how visual culture is used by policy experts and stakeholders to frame--and shift the framing of--key policy problems and actions. As Bekkers and Moody argue cogently, scholars and practitioners in public administration and policy must update their understanding of the policy process as textuality gives way to visuality.' - Jane Fountain, Professor, University of Massachusetts, USA.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: Living in a World of Images 1.1 Introduction 1.2 The Emergence of a Visual Culture 1.2.1 Characteristics of a Visual Culture 1.2.2 A Contested Concept 1.3 The Experience Economy: Where Does Visual Culture Meet the Consumer? 1.4 The Drama Democracy: Where Does Visual Culture Meet Politics? 1.5 Goal and Outline: Where Does Visual Culture Meet the Policy Process? 2. Visual Events and Visual Technologies: A Brief Historical Overview 2.1 Introduction 2.2 A Short History of Visuality 2.2.1 The Pre Industrial Era 2.2.2 The Industrial Era 2.2.3 The Digital Era 2.3 Technologies for the Visual: A First Categorization 2.4 Conclusion 3. The Power to Visualize 3.1 Introduction 3.2 Functions of Visuality 3.3 Functions of Visual Technology 3.3.1 Technological Instrumentalism 3.3.2 Technological Determinism 3.3.3 Social Construction of Technology 3.3.4 The Ecological Perspective 3.4 Discursive, Access and Resource Power: Between Concentration and Radical Democratization 3.4.1 Distribution of Power 3.4.2 Concentration and Homogenization 3.4.3 Radical Democratization 3.4.4 Real Time 3.4.5 Network Externalities 3.4.6 Coproduction 3.5 Conclusion 4. Visual Events and the Policy Process 4.1 Introduction 4.2 Politics and Policies 4.2.1 Politics 4.2.2 Policies and Policy Processes 4.2.3 Visual Spillovers 4.3 Conceptualizing the Policy Process: Four Perspectives 4.3.1 The Rationalist Approach 4.3.2 The Political Approach 4.3.3 The Institutional Approach 4.3.4 The Cultural Approach 4.3.5 Synthesis 4.4 Visual Events as Storytelling 4.5 Grasping the Meaning of Visual Events 4.5.1 The Rethorical Approach 4.5.2 The Semantic Approach 4.5.3 The Pragmatic Approach 4.6 Conclusion 5. Research Strategy 5.1 Introduction 5.2 Towards a Theoretical Framework 5.2.1 The Societal, Cultural and Political Context 5.2.2 The Policy Arena 5.2.3 Features of Visual Events and Visual Technologies 5.2.4 Construction and Distribution of Visual Events: Framing and Storytelling 5.2.5 Interactions with Other Actors 5.2.6 Shaping the Course, Content and Outcome of Policy Processes 5.3 Methodology 5.3.1 Analytical Model 5.3.2 A Comparative Case Study Method 5.3.3 The Case Studies 6. Agenda Setting: Setting the Wheels in Motion 6.1 Introduction 6.2 Societal and Political Context 6.3 The Policy Arena 6.4 Features of Visual Events and Visual Technologies 6.5 Construction and Distribution of Visual Events: Framing and Storytelling 6.6 Interaction with Others 6.7 Shaping Course, Content and Outcome 6.8 Summary 7. Policy Design and Decision Making: Unravelling Complexity 7.1 Introduction 7.2 Societal and Political Context 7.3 The Policy Arena 7.4 Features of Visual Events and Visual Technologies 7.5 Construction and Distribution of Visual Events: Framing and Storytelling 7.6 Interaction with Others 7.7 Shaping Course, Content and Outcome 7.8 Summary 8. Policy Evaluation: Who Is to Blame? 8.1 Introduction 8.2 Societal and Political Context 8.3 The Policy Arena 8.4 Features of Visual Events and Visual Technologies 8.5 Construction and Distribution of Visual Events: Framing and Storytelling 8.6 Interaction with Others 8.7 Shaping Course, Content and Outcome 8.8 Summary 9. Visual Culture and the Policy Process: Towards a Conclusion 9.1 Introduction 9.2 Societal and Political Context 9.3 Creation and Distribution 9.4 Framing and Frame Change 9.5 Interaction, Course, Content and Outcome 9.5.1 The Course 9.5.2 The Content 9.5.3 The Outcome 9.6 Summary 9.7 Limitations 10. Reflection: Towards a Visual Polity 10.1 Introduction 10.2 Towards a Visual Ecology: How Visual Technologies Co-evolve with Changes in Socio- political Environment 10.3 Towards a Political Economy of the Visual: Cui Bono? 10.4 Towards a Visual Polity: How Government Has Become Mediated 10.5 And What about Democracy?






About the Authors

Victor Bekkers is Professor of Public Administration and Public Policy at Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

Rebecca Moody is Assistant Professor of Public Administration and Public Policy at Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

About the Series

Routledge Critical Studies in Public Management

The study and practice of public management has undergone profound changes across the world. Over the last quarter century, we have seen

  • the increasing criticism of public administration as the over-arching framework for the provision of public services
  • the rise (and critical appraisal) of the ‘New Public Management’ as an emergent paradigm for the provision of public services
  • the transformation of the ‘public sector’ into the cross-sectoral provision of public services
  • the growth of the governance of inter-organizational relationships as an essential element in the provision of public services

In reality these trends have not so much replaced each other as elided or co-existed together – the public policy process has not gone away as a legitimate topic of study, intra-organizational management continues to be essential to the efficient provision of public services, whist the governance of inter-organizational and inter-sectoral relationships is now essential to the effective provision of these services.

This series is dedicated to presenting and critiquing this important body of theory and empirical study. It will publish books that both explore and evaluate the emergent and developing nature of public administration, management and governance (in theory and practice) and examine the relationship with and contribution to the over-arching disciplines of management and organizational sociology. Books in the series will be of interest to academics and researchers in this field, students undertaking advanced studies, and reflective policy makers and practitioners.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LANGUAGE ARTS & DISCIPLINES / Communication Studies
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Public Affairs & Administration
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Public Policy / General