Department of Political Science


Unpacking ambiguity in ideational change: the polysemy of the ‘Europe of Knowledge’

8 July 2021

What is ambiguity, and why does it matter in policy change?

west European politics

Often treated as an exogenous factor, the ambiguity of ideas has been considered a taken for granted entity instrumental to actors’ strategic action. Less attention has been devoted to elucidating the nature and drivers of ambiguity in the policy process. Building on the concept of ‘boundary objects’, originally developed within the sociology of science, this article identifies polysemy as one explanatory factor through which multiple and contradictory meanings are shared across a constellation of different actors. Empirically, the article examines how the idea of the ‘Europe of Knowledge’ in European education policy was first rejected in the mid-1990s and then adopted only a few years later thanks to its polysemy. By ‘objectifying’ an idea into a boundary object, polysemy can thus create entry or exit options in the institutional arena by legitimising actors’ cooperation and enabling (policy) entrepreneurship.

Read the full publication

Author: Dr Marina Cino Pagliarello