IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this article

Governing irrationality, or a more than rational government? Reflections on the rescientisation of decision making in British public policy

Listed author(s):
  • Mark Whitehead
  • Rhys Jones
  • Jessica Pykett
Registered author(s):

    It appears that recent debates within human geography, and the broader social sciences, concerning the more-than-rational constitution of human decision making are now being paralleled by changes in the ways in which public policy makers are conceiving of and addressing human behaviour. This paper focuses on the rise of so-called Behaviour Change policies in public policy in the UK. Behaviour Change policies draw on the behavioural insights being developed within the neurosciences, behavioural economics, and psychology. These new behavioural theories suggest not only that human decision making relies on a previously overlooked irrational component, but that the irrationality of decision making is sufficiently consistent to enable effective public policy intervention into the varied times and spaces that surround human decisions. This paper charts the emergence of Behaviour Change policies within a range of British public policy sectors, and the political and scientific antecedents of such policies. Ultimately, the paper develops a geographically informed, ethical critique of the contemporary Behaviour Change regime that is emerging in the UK. Drawing on thirty in-depth interviews with leading policy executives, and case studies that reflect the application of Behaviour Change policies on the design and constitution of British streets, the analysis claims that current strategies are predicated on a partial reading of new behavioural theories. We argue that this partial reading of human cognition is leading to the construction of public policies that seek to arbitrarily decouple the rational and emotional components of human decision making with deleterious social and political consequences.

    If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

    File URL:
    File Function: abstract
    Download Restriction: Fulltext access restricted to subscribers, see for details

    File URL:
    File Function: main text
    Download Restriction: Fulltext access restricted to subscribers, see for details

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version under "Related research" (further below) or search for a different version of it.

    Article provided by Pion Ltd, London in its journal Environment and Planning A.

    Volume (Year): 43 (2011)
    Issue (Month): 12 (December)
    Pages: 2819-2837

    in new window

    Handle: RePEc:pio:envira:v:43:y:2011:i:12:p:2819-2837
    Contact details of provider: Web page:

    No references listed on IDEAS
    You can help add them by filling out this form.

    This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

    When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:pio:envira:v:43:y:2011:i:12:p:2819-2837. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Neil Hammond)

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

    If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.