Post-exceptionalism in Public Policy: Transforming Food and Agricultural Policy

Carsten Daugbjerg (Australian National University & University of Copenhagen) & Peter H. Feindt (Wageningen University & Humboldt University at Berlin)

By Carsten Daugbjerg and Peter H. Feindt

This new special issue of the Journal of European Public Policy introduces a new concept to the discussion about the ongoing transformation of policies in the modern welfare state: post-exceptionalism in public policy. The point of departure is the observation that Western democratic welfare states have often developed sectoral governance arrangements where governments negotiated policy with sectoral elites, based on shared ideas and exclusive institutional arrangements. Food and agriculture policy is widely considered an extreme case of the ensuing compartmentalized and ‘exceptionalist’ policy-making, where sector-specific policy ideas and institutions provide privileged access for sectoral interest groups and generate policies that benefit their members. In the last two decades, policy exceptionalism has been under pressure from internationalization of policy making, increasing interlinkage of policy areas and trends towards self-regulation, liberalization and performance-based policies. This special issue explains and applies the concept of ‘post-exceptionalism’ to characterize an incomplete transformation of exceptionalist policies with the result that old and new ideas, institutions, interests and policy instruments coexist in various combinations. Food and agriculture policy serves as an example to illustrate an incomplete transformation towards a more open, contested and networked politics that still betrays an enduring exceptionalist policy heritage. The articles of this themed issue demonstrate the analytical utility of the concept of post-exceptionalism to understand the co-existence of transformation and path dependency in contemporary public policy. The collection consists of articles that analyse recent developments in agricultural policy making in the European Union and the United States, environmental policy integration in the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, the politics of food in Germany and the United Kingdom, transnational organic standard setting, the role of productionism in global food security debates and the resilience of paradigm mixes in the international food trade regime.  These contributions show that in agri-food policy, to varying degrees, changes have taken place in at least two of the four dimensions of policy exceptionalism (ideas, institutions, actors and policy). They also indicate that such partial transformation of policy means that in some situations post-exceptionalism can be a stable constellation while in others it may be a fragile and contested arrangement which can potentially move towards a ‘normalization’ of the policy sector or reverse to a more classical exceptionalist mode. The concept of post-exceptionalism provides a broader and more nuanced perspective on policy transition processes than typically found in studies of policy change. It promises to be useful to understand changes not just in agriculture and food policy, but in other domains of the transforming welfare state as well.