Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Donileen R. Loseke, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Laurel D. Graham, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Margarethe Kusenbach, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Cheryl A. Hall, Ph.D.


collective beliefs, comparative analysis, culture, narratives, public policy


Scholars from diverse perspectives have sought to understand the features and mechanisms that influence the design and implementation of public policy. Some (realists) have emphasized the role that material interests have played while others (idealists) have emphasized the influence of subjective ideas on ‘how policy means’ (Yanow 1996). Recently, observers in both camps have demonstrated curiosity in the influence of culture on policymaking and its consequences. Regrettably, this shared concern has not resulted in much collaboration across epistemological divides.

I argue that narrative analysis provides a way to bridge the divides by specifying an interpretive approach that identifies culture as encompassing both interests and ideas in policymaking processes. I draw from the works of scholars in phenomenology, narratology, cultural sociology, disaster studies and public policy to illustrate a systematic approach to investigating and interpreting congressional hearings as narratives that reveal cultural taken-for-granted assumptions about how the world should work (Loseke 2003). I argue that examining narratives of political actors can empirically delineate both objective interests as well as subjective ideas. In particular, I compare and contrast diverse stories about three U.S. oil spills (Santa Barbara, Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon) to illuminate taken-for-granted beliefs about our social and natural worlds. With this emphasis, I aim to contribute to understandings of how culture works in policymaking, which also sheds light on how culture may influence the wider social order more generally. I conclude with a discussion of potential implications regarding our shared natural resources.