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Roger Cobb Professor Emeritus of Political Science

Brown Affiliations

Research Areas

research overview

Agenda building:
The political system can deal with only so many conflicts. Which are selected for attention? Why? What tactics are used by groups to reach officials? The key is how groups define their issue position to others.

Conflicting issue definitions in transportation policy:
For aviation, conflicting definitions of safety. For elderly drivers, it is mobility. For rush hour drivers, the key is congestion alternatives. For big rig trucks, the key is regulation.

research statement

My main area of interest is issue conflict. How do some issues gain the attention of officials, while others do not? The key is issue definition: How do successful groups define issues in such a way that other individuals are brought into the conflict? Politics consists of an unending battle between expanders and containers, with the latter usually victorious.

Recently I have moved into the area of transportation policy to study these ideas. I am particularly interested in three modes: planes, cars and 18-wheelers.

With planes, the key battle is over the definition of safety; everything has to be defined in those terms – yet the definitions vary among competing groups.

The second area of emphasis is automobiles and drivers. I am particularly interested in elderly drivers and how their issues have been avoided by decision-makers.

Another area of concern is the politics of congestion. Traffic congestion is getting worse, and decision-makers have come up with no real solutions to the problem. I want to focus on a small sample of cities to determine how they have handled the problem, and contrast the cities with partial success and those with none.

Big rigs are a major part of the highway experience for all drivers. Polls report that many car drivers feel threatened or scared when the trucks approach. Is this fear justififed? What about accidents with big rigs? Are these vehicles safe? What are officials doing to oversee the problem? How does the media handle problems when rigs cause tie-ups lasting many hours? Are these tie-ups more frequent now than in the past? How do truck interests define the problem to keep legislatures away from additional regulations?

funded research