The underdog empowered? A case study of autistic policy influence in England
: (Alternative Format Thesis)

  • Kate Precious

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This multidisciplinary thesis by publication challenges the characterisation of marginalised groups as politically disempowered. While acknowledging their very real, structural disadvantage, it argues that dominant framings of marginalised groups, the actions of governments and researchers, and the actions of the groups themselves combine to systematically underestimate and under-measure policy influence in this context. This in turn impacts how others perceive marginalised groups, how they perceive themselves and how they behave.

Through two articles and a case study of the adult autistic community in England, I use process tracing of policy documents, Hansard records, stakeholder interviews and focus groups to track behaviours and outcomes during the lobbying process and to build my ‘underdog theory’ about the hidden potential of marginalised groups. The underdog theory states firstly that marginalised groups have a potential for a greater level of influence than is usually assumed; and secondly, that marginalised groups can maximise their policy influence by adopting a positive framing, learning about themselves and their policy environment (and using that knowledge strategically) and actively collaborating with others. The term ‘underdog’ reflects the disconnect between expectations of marginalised groups and what they can actually achieve.

This theory has implications for researchers and governments, who are urged to consider changes to the way they measure influence and design institutions and policy, but most importantly for underdogs. Through an article on policy design, it uses fuzzy set Qualitative Comparative Analysis to demonstrate the impact that governmental policy design has on autism policy decisions.

This thesis therefore makes a theoretical, methodological, and empirical contribution to the scholarship on empowerment, lobbying and policy processes. More importantly, it represents a first step in providing marginalised groups with the information they need about their policy environment to enable them to start their empowerment journey.

Date of Award14 Sept 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SponsorsEconomic and Social Research Council
SupervisorFran Amery (Supervisor) & Katie Maras (Supervisor)


  • Autism
  • Disability policy
  • Autism policy
  • Influence
  • Lobbying
  • Advocacy

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