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8th Interpretive Policy Analysis Conference

Societies in Conflict: Experts, Publics and Democracy

When: 3-5 July 2013

Where: Vienna (Austria)

Organisation: University of Vienna


Affairs such as Stuttgart 21, the ‘Occupy movement’s’ response to the financial crisis, ecological problems, or diverse controversies around novel technologies, are examples of conflicts between groups of publics and the political establishment. Such movements put into question the status of legitimate knowledge and the articulation of legitimate representation. They question, at the same time, routine operations of traditional democratic institutions, and reintroduce the question of how to define “the political” and “politics” in general.

The 8th continuation of the IPA conference gave therefore a special focus to the intersection of policy analysis with Science and Technology Studies (STS) by highlighting the relation between publics and experts around one of the fundamental keywords of politics: “conflict”. We conceived conflicts as constellations of knowledge and power, in which diverse actors are gathered around values, meanings and practices. The complexity of policy issues and the institutional ambiguity created a demand for new forms of dealing with conflicts. They also invited us to study formats, in which the meaning of expertise and citizen participation can be renegotiated in performative manners.

Rearticulating policy settings along the relation between experts and publics is one of the main challenges of research on democracy, governance and policy practices at that time. Actors increasingly established their positions through argumentations or performances, while the increased need for public acknowledgment recasted the issue of citizen’s participation or the framing of “experts”. These ideas were not entirely new: interpretive policy analysts had investigated mechanisms through which knowledge becomes the central device of power, creates institutions and governs them and/or legitimizes agendas of policy actors. In a similar vein, STS scholars had shown that scientific knowledge can legitimize political agendas or block them. Towards that end, they investigated, how “experts” get their status and how they shape and are shaped by “publics”. By debating and analyzing the shape of diverse “publics”, they had also launched the question of whose knowledge counts as legitimate in specific time and place.

In the last decades, questions like these have regained the interest in both policy analysis and STS. How do we think about the study of conflicts through interpretive lenses? What aspects do we consider both as analysts and practitioners, when facing conflicts and controversies in environmental, urban, planning or health care policies? In how far do the current policy debates force us to rethink, what we mean by “political” and “politics”? What is the role or function of policy analysis and analysts in times of multiple crises? These are some of the pending issues that were addressed at the IPA conference 2013 in Vienna.

Panels reconsidered the relationship between publics and experts and engaged one or more of the following themes:

  • Questioning of traditional models of government, administration and policy-making in response to the relationship between experts and publics.
  • Theoretical reflections on the ontological dimension of a “conflict”: investigating the meaning of “politics” and “the political”.
  • The intersection of STS approaches with particular theoretical or philosophical approach (e.g. pragmatism, hermeneutics, post-structuralism, etc.).
  • The role of performativity and engagement in policymaking and democratic governance
  • Case studies from particular policy issue arenas that deal with “conflict” (e.g. the new challenges of environmental politics; bio-politics; local governance; asylum or immigration policy; food policy; urban and regional planning; issues of risk and novelty).
  • Interpretive perspectives on community conflict resolution practices; policy evaluation; leadership; network organizations; and other public management questions.
  • The relationship between practitioners and policy analysis.
  • Clarification of approaches in use (e.g. varieties of discourse analysis or narrative analyses; the role of rhetoric and metaphor, the role of arguments, the role of emotions).
  • Methodological issues in doing critical policy analysis (e.g. reflexivity in policy analytic practices; getting, and using, feedback from ‘informants’; issues in using new recording technologies; data collection and analysis; evaluating software programs).

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

Deborah Stone
John Law


Paul Just
Anna Durnova
Herbert Gottweis