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6th Interpretive Policy Analysis Conference

Discursive Spaces. Politics, Practices and Power

When: 23 – 25 June  2011

Where: Cardiff (UK)

Organisation: Cardiff University


The conference provided a forum to explore long-standing themes in the interpretive tradition, in particular governance, democracy and deliberation, the use of discourse and interpretive methods in critical policy analysis, and the relationship of discourse to power. It also explored new places and horizons for interpretive policy analysis. This was particularly evident in the keynote presentations and roundtables which were focussed on the contribution of interpretive policy analysis to addressing major political and social questions of our times; the use of interpretivist and deliberative methods in non-Western contexts; and the inclusion of non-cognitive perspectives on human agency. The conference also offered an opportunity to assess how interpretive methods can help to understand new forms of governance, the role of the state, and various modes of policymaking from the local to the global scale. It provided an opportunity to discuss the theory and practice of democracy, and for debating different methods of interpretation and critical explanation.

Interpretive methods were now well established in a wide range of research fields, from policy analysis to the sociology of knowledge, science and technology studies, international relations, cultural political economy, urban research, planning, and many others. They often informed policy and practices, in particular in areas like participatory and deliberative policy analysis and planning. The relationship between interpretive methods, governance and policy practice raised several important questions that underpinned the conference themes listed below:

  • Interpretive Methods and Policy Processes: How exactly can and do interpretive and critical methods inform the policy process? Under which circumstances are they accepted as legitimate modes of knowledge production? What evidence do we have about their impact on policy-making? How does interpretive policy analysis relate to everyday policy knowledge, how does it alter our understanding of modes of knowing, and how is this important for policy-making? Which modes of governance are conducive to, or even reliant on, critical policy analysis?
  • Sustainable Development and Interpretive and Critical Policy Analysis: Developed as a response to a complex and global set of crisis-like phenomena, the term “sustainable development” is both dominant in many policy discourses and highly contested. How can interpretive and critical policy analysis help to clarify issues and enhance democratic approaches in the face of technocratic and even autocratic visions of sustainability? How can it encourage participatory and context-sensitive approaches? What is the contribution to creating links between global problems and local practices?
  • Meaning, Practice and Policy: The complex interplay of meaning and practice has been a central theme of interpretive and critical policy analysis for a long time. How are meaning-making, framing and category-making important for the policy process? What are the merits and limitations of hermeneutic, pragmatist and structuralist informed approaches? How can they help us to understand changing modes of governance? What is their potential to enhance democracy?
  • Emotions and Feelings in Policy: New avenues for interpretive and critical policy analysis have been opened up by recent research on the role of emotions, feelings and the unconscious in the policy process. How can we include non-cognitive dimensions in policy analysis? How does this contribute to our understanding of the policy process? What are the practical implications both for the research process and for policy-making?
  • Globalising Interpretive Analysis: Interpretive and critical policy analysis has been developed in the context of Western democracies. How far have they travelled to other places? How do they fare in contexts that are often very different? What are the methodological limitations? What is their potential in less affluent, less open, less secularised societies (and are such deficit descriptions appropriate at all)? Are there regionally different approaches and ways forward? How is the critically reflexive concept of knowledge been received in non-Western contexts?
  • Interpreting the State in Policy Analysis: The state has been a centrepiece of political thinking since its inception. But political thinking has often been led astray by essentialist and even idolizing notions of the state. How can interpretive, narrative or performative approaches inform more democratic views of the state? How does this enhance our understanding of governance? What are the practical implications for policy analysis?

Panel and paper proposals were encouraged to engage with the conference themes, but were equally invited to address other themes and issues in the realm of interpretive policy analysis and adjacent fields. The conference featured full paper-based panels, roundtables and practice workshops. Also up to three conference sessions were devoted to methodology workshops.

Keynote speakers

Maarten Hajer
James Meadowcroft
Dvora Yanow


Peter Feindt