Asking the question ‘why do ideas catch on in public policy’ reveals the inadequacy of ideational accounts to compete with the predominance of mainstream models of policy analysis. This thesis reasserts ideational accounts through the application of the political discourse theory of Laclau and Mouffe. The approach posits ideas as demands operating in governing discourses and understands how general equivalent demands then become empty signifiers. This thesis develops current understanding on how general equivalents and empty signifiers function through an application to urban governance. It develops a qualitative account of governing in Birmingham using interviews between 2003-2005, and documents and media archives from the past twenty years. The thesis examines how mainstream ideational, rational, institutional and interpretative accounts understand the emergence of policy ideas and their role in coalitions, policy change and agency of actors. Discourse theory is revealed as a comprehensive approach for understanding these questions of ideas. The thesis develops a framework for the empirical application of discourse theory in Birmingham, exploring the relationship between two taken-for-granted governing discourses: renaissance and size. It shows how actors were motivated to reiterate and protect discourses from dislocation with development of the empty signifier of ‘flourishing neighbourhoods’. The thesis traces the credibility and emergence of flourishing neighbourhoods and contributes to a research agenda around hegemonic policy analysis
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