Fear, disgust and loathing: the emotional qualities of public policies

This seminar joins two recent trends in public policy – policy bubbles and the emotional quality of policies. It proposes to locate these within the meta-framework of the policy sciences conceived by Lasswell (1971) with the following hypotheses: first, negative policy bubbles affect the policy process through a negative “goal definition” of the problem, which makes it unattractive to stakeholders; second, emotions affect the contextual orientation of policy analysts, the Lasswellian “act of creative orientation.”

This seminar considers research which provides an empirical test of these hypotheses with two cases of recycled drinking water. Provision of recycled drinking water is an underinvested policy which has been implemented on a large scale in fewer than five instances. Although the narratives in the first successful case in Namibia are relatively low valence, and center on sustainability and governance, the second case in the United States shows emotions that were highly salient, with anger, social justice, and disgust. A third case shows the role of conformity in the implementation of recycled drinking water in Singapore.

About the speaker
Dr Leong Ching is Co-Director of the Institute of Water Policy and Assistant Professor, at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore.

Leong Ching has degrees in philosophy and computer science. Despite this, she had found gainful employment at the Institute of Water Policy, where she spends her time on puzzles, such as, do putting “live” devices that increases the salience of water consumption make people unhappier, and if so, is the disutility is worth the water saved? Do people in general know that the fish they eat are mainly male because the fishermen put hormones in the water to change their gender as male fishes grow faster and stronger, and if they do, what actions would they take? What accounts for the apparent irrationality of hydrological behavior such as people continuing to extract groundwater when the cities they are living in which are sinking (16 cm a year) due to over-extraction.

A former newspaper reporter, she has research projects in rivers in India, Cambodia and China. Her journal articles have been rejected by top journals including Governance, Policy Sciences and Water Resources Management.