Taking the power of ideas seriously: the case of the United Kingdom's 2008 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill

Steven Kettell (Corresponding Author), Paul Cairney

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To ‘take ideas seriously’ is to recognise the symbiotic relationship between power and the role of ideas, rather than explain policy primarily in terms of influence and material interest. Yet, this statement alone does not take us very far. The definition and ‘independent effect’ of ideas is open to question, while explanations based on power may compete with, as well as supplement, explanations based on ideas. This article addresses these issues in two ways. First, it explores the role of ideas in the public policy literature. Second, it examines the potency of ideas through an analysis of the UK government’s 2008 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. Although widely seen as a battle of ideas competing to be translated into policy action, the Bill’s progression cannot be sufficiently explained with reference to ideas or political power alone. Rather, both ideas and power relations need to be taken into account when considering the causes of policy change.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)301-317
Number of pages17
JournalPolicy Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2010



  • ideas
  • policy analysis
  • power
  • human fertilisation and embryology bill

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