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7th Interpretive Policy Analysis Conference

Understanding the Drama of Democracy. Policy Work, Power and Transformation

When: 5 – 7 July 2012

Where: Tilburg (the Netherlands)

Organisation: Tilburg University


Civil organizations, citizens groups, businesses, and experts in contemporary democracies face unique challenges. Where public agents and academic experts once secured legitimacy and authority through the formal arrangements of government and the scientific practice; these arrangements no longer are sufficient as they are more and more negotiated in interactions. This shift is captured in the growing interest in “governance” which involves governing among diverse political actors.

Public officials, politicians, citizens, professionals and entrepreneurs bring in their own expertise and resources to the public sphere. In the age of mediatisation, network governance, and multi level governance, all public agents, including government officials and academic experts, must now be credible, in addition to being legally legitimated and effective. In such an environment, policy work and its evaluation are not only established through formal positions and legal responsibilities, but are also negotiated through the policy practices of civil organizations, experts, journalists and the general public. This challenges actors involved to cross boundaries, to learn, transform, to deal with constantly alternating power relations, and to be perceived as authentic or trustworthy.

The performative dimension of democracy is increasingly important. This challenges actors involved to cross boundaries, to learn, to transform, to deal with constantly alternating power relations, and to be perceived as authentic or trustworthy. It also challenges interpretive research to study how public actors perform in practice and suggests a need to pay attention to action-oriented and language-oriented dimensions of practice. Moreover, a focus on performance raises questions about the role of interpretive research in the mediation and transformation of different meanings and in creating or supporting policy learning.

The panels and papers of this conference addressed these challenges of public agents and other actors. They studied the “drama” of democracy by examining questions such as:

  • What does the metaphor of drama bring to policy analysis?
  • Can and should actors involved in policy work – like public managers, administrators, layers, politicians and experts – maintain legitimacy and credibility as they have done in the past?
  • Or is there a movement toward a different kind of credibility that goes beyond these groups of actors?
  • How do they express authority?
  • How are they granted authority?
  • How do they deal with emotions?
  • What civil groups are successful in negotiations, why?
  • And how do citizens and business representatives participate in problem solving and decision making for the public good in ways that are believable?
  • How does boundary crossing take place?
  • How does interpretive research interfere with the “drama” of democracy?

Panels on other interpretive themes were also welcome. The conference featured full paper-based panels, roundtables and practice workshops. Also up to three conference sessions were devoted to methodology workshops. The conference was preceded by a pre-conference course.

Keynote speakers

John Forester
Aletta Norval
Mieke Verloo


Laurens de Graaf
Tamara Metze
Gabriel van den Brink
Merlijn van Hulst