Skip to main content
Paul Armand Sabatier
In Memoriam

Paul Armand Sabatier

Professor of Environmental Science and Policy, Emeritus

UC Davis
Paul Sabatier died Feb. 3, 2013, after a lengthy battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was born June 17, 1944.  He was a member of the Peace Corps in Togo, and received a Ph.D. in 1974 from the University of Chicago.  Paul was a professor and founding faculty member in the Department of Environmental Science at UC Davis, which was originally called the Division of Environmental Studies.  Throughout his career from his hiring in 1972 to retirement in 2011, Paul was a strong advocate and leader for the growth of the department and its culture of interdisciplinary environmental research.  He made major contributions not only to UC Davis faculty and students, but also the broader disciplines of political science, public policy, and environmental policy.  His ideas and students remain vibrant components of his extensive professional community, which continues to sorely miss Paul’s spirited approach to research, teaching, and scholarship.

Paul was famous for two major reasons during his career. First, he was unwavering in his insistence for the highest level of scientific rigor in the application of social science theory to public policy and environmental policy.  His favorite saying was “clarity begets clarity, mush begets mush.”  He demanded that his students and colleagues develop research with empirically testable hypotheses, preferably competing hypotheses that were capable of distinguishing different theories.  His commitment to scientific excellence sometimes made him a feared discussant at academic conferences—he relished intellectual debate and did not hold back his opinions.  Indeed, he was deeply involved in early academic debates with Nobel-prize winner Elinor Ostrom, who in the preface to her famous book Governing the Commons (1990) credits Paul with challenging her to improve the clarity of her theoretical argument. While some people misconstrued Paul as being overly tough on his colleagues, the vast majority of his colleagues recognized and appreciated the value of his high scientific standards.

Second, Paul was a major figure in the development of theories of the policy process, especially in co-founding (with Hank Jenkins-Smith) one of the major theoretical perspectives called the Advocacy Coalition Framework (ACF).   The ACF argues that the policy world is divided into many policy sub-systems in which political actors organize into advocacy coalitions to pursue preferred policies.  The advocacy coalitions are structured by shared beliefs, along with policy networks that facilitate relationships and coordinated decision-making.  Reflecting his experience with natural scientists, the ACF also offered a number of innovative ideas regarding the intersection between science and policy. The original book summarizing the theory, Policy Change and Learning: An Advocacy Coalition Approach (1993), has received over 3000 citations through 2016.  The ACF has been used as the foundation for hundreds of papers, and many scholars continue to refine and tests its hypotheses in current research. 

A further indicator of Paul’s status a “giant” in the field of public policy was his editorship of a book called Theories of the Policy Process, which invited all of the major figures in policy theory to summarize their ideas for a general research audience.  This book became a cornerstone throughout the world for upper division undergraduate and graduate courses in the policy process.  Paul’s UC Davis classes that he taught around this book continue to be offered today, and his students and colleagues have inherited the editorship of the book itself to continue its relevance the field.

Graduate education and mentorship was one of Paul’s strongest passions.   In 2009, Paul received the Excellence in Mentoring Award from the Public Policy Section of the American Political Science Association, his most cherished recognition. Paul’s students can be found in universities throughout the world, continuing to provide intellectual leadership in their fields.

Paul is survived by three children, Jennifer, Katrina and Daniel; and his brother Michael; as well as his former wives, Susan McLaughlin Sabatier and Peggy Roark. 

Alan Hastings
Mark Lubell
Peter J. Richerson