Change, continuity, and contestations: framing domestic abuse policy in Scotland since 1998
Mainstream and feminist scholars have grappled with the ‘big questions’ of how to understand and explain the dynamics of policy change and continuity. Policy-as-discourse and social movement theorists have offered some fruitful analytical frameworks, utilising frame theory, to elaborate on how policy ‘problems’ are interpreted and constructed by actors and to investigate the effects on policy outcomes. Yet, frame theory has largely lacked a feminist lens in exploring questions around policy change, continuity and contestations. This thesis sets out to fill this gap, evaluating the potential for synthesis between feminist and mainstream approaches and outlining my feminist institutionalist approach to studying frames and framing. Drawing on insights from feminist institutionalism, frame theory and intersectionality, it argues that to understand how the framing of policy problems changes over time, scholars must be attentive to the interconnected factors of frames, institutions, and actors. Moreover, it argues that to explore and explain how the framing of policy problems changes over time, scholars must be attentive to the discursive content of frames and the framing processes. The thesis develops this theoretical framework through a single case study of domestic abuse policy-making in post-devolution Scotland. Drawing on multiple qualitative methods – including process tracing, semi-structured elite interviews, and critical frame analysis of policy documents – the thesis traces domestic abuse policy change and continuity over twenty years to explore how the problem of domestic abuse has been framed in national policy. Scotland is an empirically rich case in examining policy change, innovation, and continuity due to the opportunities posed by devolution and the incorporation of the women’s movement organisations in policy-making processes. The Scottish case underscores the need for scholars to pay attention to how frames, debates, power, and contestations have changed (or continued) over time, with significant effects on policy outcomes. The thesis identifies some successes in institutionalising a gendered framing of the problem of domestic abuse but also finds that external resistance has (re)produced the real and perceived fragility of these frames. Moreover, this thesis highlights the emergence of contestations and power imbalances within the women’s movement in Scotland over the framing of domestic abuse, namely how children and young people and black and minority ethnic victims/survivors are represented. This research suggests that the effects of internal and external resistance are interlinked, (re)producing the ongoing neglect of (strong) intersectional frames and approaches, serving to weaken the ability to incorporate alternative frames in policy that reflects the complexity of domestic abuse. As such, the thesis generates new theoretical and empirical insights into the gendered and intersectional dynamics of institutional and policy change (and continuity) that foregrounds the importance of actors, institutions and frames; and contributes to the ‘big questions’ around dynamics of power, inclusion and exclusion in institutional and movement framing processes.