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Chapter 7: Interpretive Analysis and Comparative

Dvora Yanow

In Isabelle Engeli and Christine Rothmayr, eds., Comparative policy studies: Conceptual
and methodological challenges, 131-59. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

Imagine a comparative analysis of primary school breakfast programmes, an undertaking
of different states’ health agency policies intended to make more nutritional food
available to young children whose families cannot afford it. All schools serve dry
cornflakes with milk for breakfast. Informed by a model of comparative research that
begins with naming and defining concepts, operationalizing them as variables, and
hypothesizing relationships among dependent and independent variables before going to
the field to test those hypotheses, you select your cases. In keeping with the positivist
ontological and epistemological presuppositions underlying that model, you then assess
the number of bowls of cereal consumed per day, by school type (public, church-
sponsored) and/or location (city, town, rural), perhaps with additional independent
variables thrown in for good measure. Your findings show some correlation between
cornflake consumption and, say, children’s height, weight, and grades, varying by type of
school and rural-urban location, leading you to recommend particular courses of action
intended to improve protein intake.
But your findings also show that in one state, school children eat very little of the
cereal by contrast with other states’ schools, thereby drastically lowering their nutritional
intake. You assess your variables to see what might explain this finding, which remains
puzzling to you – until a colleague whose research is informed by interpretive
methodological presuppositions asks if you have taken the temperature of the milk into
account. Having lived in that ‘non-conforming’ state for some time, in both city and
village, as a participant-observer conducting a different research project, your colleague
knows something of its eating culture and explains that local residents think it entirely
inappropriate, not to say unhealthy and perhaps even unlucky, to begin the day by eating

cold food. Furthermore, warm milk turned the cornflakes mushy, much like wet paper, a
taste deemed unpalatable. Not having your interpretive colleague’s local knowledge,
developed from living among and interacting with parents, teachers, children, and
community elders and other leaders, you were unable to explain the finding, an
explanation that to your colleague, with first-hand background in the setting, seemed self-
A set of increasingly widely known and cited ‘rules’ for the comparative analysis of
social and political phenomena have been elaborated and codified in the last decade (for
example, Mahoney and Goertz, 2004; George and Bennett, 2005; Gerring, 2007), as the
chapters in this book also show. These methods rules have been articulated by scholars
working within positivist traditions of social science – those that presuppose a realist
social world and the possibility of knowing that world from a position external to the
social realities being studied. To decide, for example, on a selection of cases that are most
similar or most different, one needs to stipulate several things in advance of beginning
field research, from that external position: (i) the concepts that are most relevant to what
one wants to study; (ii) what they mean; (iii) how they are related; and (iv) how one will
test those hypothesized relationships.
These points of departure pose difficulties, however, for researchers working within
an interpretive scientific tradition that presupposes other methodological priors. This
tradition presumes collectively, inter-subjectively constituted social ‘realities’ and the
possibility of their know-ability only ‘from within’, from the contextualized perspective
of the situational actor – the situated participant, the researcher herself, or, as in most
research situations, both, as research-related knowledge develops as they interact.
Consequently, research rests on requisite flexibility in research processes and unfolding
learning over its course (Schwartz-Shea and Yanow, 2012). For such researchers, central
to analysis is allowing the meanings of the key concepts and, often, of the concepts
themselves to emerge from the field, as discussed below.2

My thanks to Peri Schwartz-Shea for help in turning Homi Bhabha’s story about eating
cornflakes in India (quoted in Schwartz-Shea and Yanow, 2012: p. 45) into this imaginary
comparative research design story.
This chapter rests on three nomenclature points. One, methodological refers to the ontological
and epistemological presuppositions that inform specific methods (or ‘tools’). Two, on the use

Such approaches to policy studies have become known as ‘interpretive policy
analysis’ (Jennings, 1983, 1987; Healy, 1986; Torgerson, 1986; Yanow, 2000, 2007;
Fischer, 2003). A broadly postpositivist perspective that places meanings – values,
beliefs, and feelings or sentiments – at the centre of inquiry, this approach developed in
the context of the wider interpretive turn taking place across the social sciences (see, for
example, Geertz, 1973; Rabinow and Sullivan, 1979/1985; Hiley et al., 1991). Moving
beyond a debate over analytic techniques, interpretive policy scholars call for a
reconsideration of the aims of public policy studies in favour of meaning-focused
understandings of social and political realities resting primarily on word-based modes of
analysis (see also Verloo, 2007; Bacchi, 2009). As Homi Bhabha explained with respect
to the cornflakes, ‘. . . you have to know something about . . . a place and its cultural
rituals’ in order to understand what is meaningful to situational actors – to know, that is,
why some might prefer ‘the sturdier Indian corn flake’ with warm milk, even though its
taste is perhaps inferior to ‘Mr. Kellogg’s corn flakes’, or might even pass up the
cornflakes altogether rather than eating them with cold milk (quoted in Schwartz-Shea
and Yanow, 2012: p. 45).
This is not the place to rehearse methodological or philosophical critiques of
positivist social science, which have been expounded elsewhere at length (for example,
Hawkesworth, 1988, 2013/2006; Chabal and Daloz, 2006; Jackson, 2011; Yanow and
Schwartz-Shea, 2013/2006a).3 Instead, this chapter traces the origins of interpretive
policy analysis and the methodological grounding for its approach and then turns to the
question of what it might mean to do comparative research from an interpretive

of interpretive rather than qualitative, see Yanow (2003a), Yanow and Schwartz-Shea
(2013/2006b); on other terminological and conceptual differences and their implications for
research design, see Schwartz-Shea and Yanow (2012). Three, I use field in reference both to
interviewing and observational research (with whatever degree of participation) and to archival
research (considering not only documentary but also visual materials such as paintings; see,for
example, Bellhouse, 2011).
Concerning the historical grounding of comparative analyses, Adcock’s reading of the
development of comparative method (2006, 2011) may serve further to extend these critiques.
See, in particular, his reading of Mills’ methods (Adcock 2009), commonly cited as the basis
for comparative research.

is commonly transported over federally funded highways. various forms of cost-benefit analysis. such as Policy Sciences in 1970 and Policy Studies Journal in 1972). Hawkesworth.Interpretive policy analysis and its methodological presuppositions Central to interpretivist methodologies is the role that meanings – values. and other US cities adopted policies proclaiming themselves ‘nuclear-free zones’ and prohibiting the trans- shipment of nuclear waste across their borders. began to see that these tools did not always work well for assessing certain features central to policy enactments and related practices. Berkeley. and feelings (sentiments) – play in the understanding of social realities. Their evaluative tools – in particular. city councils in Cambridge. 1976. and they are also included when they figure in the specific policy under consideration. Rein. Santa Cruz. Interpretive policy analysis emerged in the United States in the late 1970s and early 1980s out of perceived limitations of the modes of analysis established at the beginning of the policy studies ‘movement’ of the late 1960s and early 1970s (seen in the founding of new postgraduate degrees and key journals. 1988). For example. rendering those local policies unimplementable and – from the ‘fact-value separation’ perspective – ‘meaningless’. capable of being easily ascertained. Ann Arbor. Such an approach argues in favour of thickly contextualized renderings of social realities and of recognizing the inescapable subjectivity of the researcher as well as of the researched. and federal law. could be separated out from the realm of facts. Nuclear material in the United States. it was assumed. such as Policy-Planning-Budgeting System (PPBS) – rested on the assumption that social values. which were. interpretive policy analyses have largely engaged discourses. both written and oral. some policy analysts. however. Hayward. quite aside from whether they were translatable into assessable measures. as well as non-verbal and other forms of language-based theories and methods. along with the intersubjective making of situated meaning. beliefs. both academic and practice-based. which regulates traffic on those roadways. Policy research or evaluation seeking to assess these legislative acts by . Oakland. takes precedence over local law. Somerville. As one of the main evidentiary sources of policy meanings and their communication is language. But as the conceptual ground shifted concerning the possibility of disengaging values from facts (see. but evidentiary sources also include acts and material artefacts. for example.

sometimes in the same reader (Redman. was instrumental-rational in character. 2001/1973: p. empirically observed and experienced in legislative processes. and the theoretically derived understanding of authority embedded in Weberian bureaucracy theory.establishing the facts of the case in order to determine the feasibility of the policy. The model of the policy process that emerged. and conceptual innocence and naïve belief in Weberian theorizing characteristic of theoretical assumptions about policy implementation at the time: What strikes many readers of this book most forcefully was something I hadn’t expected: surprise that bills do not advance strictly on their merits. organizational. whether in cost-benefit or other terms – on the assumption that values can be separated from facts and. In this view. isolated outside the realm of the study – would be of little use here as it would miss the point that these policies were all about values. the seeming arbitrariness of it all. His reflection. It treated the policy process as a set of stages in a linear. A second source of dissatisfaction with a policy analysis built on positivist presuppositions emerged from tensions between empirical research into implementation processes. to choose one and drop others. This thinking typically assumed that legislative intent is (or should be) capable of being made clear and known. This theorizing routinizes the power dimensions of policy implementation. Eric Redman presented such power dimensions. I need first to bring in another issue. when undeniable. on readers’ responses to his descriptions captures some of what from today’s vantage point seems the same political. for all intents and purposes. in particular. in fact – can be decisive in influencing a chairman or chief counsel or sponsor or staffer to aid this bill and not that. This apparent revelation. assembly-line fashion marked by a top-down decision-making authority. as aberrations violating bureaucratic organizational principles. 304). In Dance of Legislation. what Shore and Wright (2011) call ‘authoritative instrumentalism’. nearly 30 years after its publication. that complex calculations of self- interest – perhaps having nothing to do with the merits. provoked fascination and revulsion. for governmental bodies to legislate policies that are incapable of being implemented is irrational. effectively. invisible or. as an explicit part of policy making. and that the policy process (from policy formulation through implementation) is exclusively rational and instrumental in its orientation towards stipulated goals. based on this separation of politics and power from organizational action. rendering them either. that language itself is (or is capable of being made) transparent (with respect to its referent) and unambiguous. To explain this further. .

in general. policies that were supposed to be being implemented in a-political administrative fashion were actually subject to local interpretation at the hands of street-level bureaucrats (due to particular constraints designed into bureaucratic organizational structures). Why would so many cities go to such lengths to behave irrationally. 2010/1999. 2003. for second-generation studies see Maynard-Moody and Musheno. An evaluation of those cities’ policies that insists on the separation of values from facts and that rests on assessing their instrumentally rational goal-attainment would miss something central to them. from the perspective of those residents (by conversing with them. including with respect to what bureaucracy and other organizational theorists had argued was and should be a-political administrative practices. takes time and effort. These insights led Lipsky (1978) to argue – in a major critique of Weberian bureaucracy theory as applied to public policy processes – that the understanding of implementation needed to be inverted. an interpretive analysis would focus on the meaning-ful character of these ‘nuclear-free zone’ policies as expressions of the values. but also by reading the documentary record of legislative debates and local newspaper coverage. as embodied in particular political identities. 2004). Weatherley. In this case. so . perhaps also taking up residence among them and/or otherwise ‘hanging out’ on site in order to observe those values. needed to be re-thought. including street-level bureaucrats (Prottas. beliefs. and/or feelings in everyday practices. Let’s return to the nuclear waste shipment case. instrumental-rational model of policy making and implementation was joined by field-based studies of the work practices of implementers in various settings. 1980. 1990) posed to the top-down. 1990. Lipsky. it would seek to articulate what those values. in other words. We know that policy making. These bureaucrats were then being understood by clients as themselves making governmental policy through their acts. Fox. at whatever level of government. surely. Dubois. Yanow. but are also expressive of human meaning. are not only instrumental-rational acts. 1979. 1984/1973. 1979. Pressman and Wildavsky.The challenge that empirically grounded research and theorizing in policy implementation studies (for example. beliefs. and/or feelings are. and feelings (or sentiments) of residents (including policy-makers) of these cities. As experienced and observed rather than as theorized absent empirical input. see also Stein. beliefs. The whole conceptual apparatus. adopting policies that were irrational? Here is where an interpretive perspective is useful: it argues that policies.

beliefs. and at times is. To be clear: the expressive dimensions of policies are rarely explicitly and intentionally crafted. schools. that is. sought to communicate those identities. From an interpretive point of view. July 1996). so that we can adopt a “symbolic” policy’ (one that communicates values. For example. values. and solely legitimate. Interpretive policy analysis shifts the analytic focus in policy studies to meaning-making – its expression as well as its communication – seeing that policies and policy processes may also be avenues or vehicles for human expressiveness (of identity. and feelings. with a subsequent change in national policy (Raymond Nairn. police work. US policies establishing. streets. and using race-ethnic categories enable the polity and member groups to tell various kinds of identity stories (national. Yanow. Interpretive analysis makes room at the scientific table for the expression and communication of meaning. those meanings. This third set. as in the census and various affirmative action-related practices in hospitals. There is little sitting down (in city council meetings. and origins. and it would explore who the audience(s) was (were) to whom those residents. 2003) at the same time that they enable very instrumental actions. and/or feelings through their representations in language. It is rare to have policies that are speak). critiquing (logical and neo-) positivist 4 There is nothing to suggest that expressive acts cannot also be instrumental (or vice versa). . All human action is potentially symbolic in that it is representative of embedded. group. Or. about its identity. public policies can be understood as embodying and expressing the stories each polity tells itself and other publics. rational-instrumental action can also be. and/or acts). beliefs. explicitly and intentionally. beliefs. defining. and so on. ‘Let’s figure out what is meaningful to us. symbolic as well. objects. values. and feelings – in short. the assumption built in to positivist modes of policy analysis that instrumental rationality is the sole. the interpretive turn across the social sciences more broadly. for instance) and saying. of meaning). what we want to express and how. and offices across New Zealand influenced then-newly-elected Prime Minister David Lange's decision to change his stance on the matter. often tacitly known. raison d’être of public policies. near and far. through the legislated policies. then. a campaign that included hanging anti-nuclear signs on numerous homes.4 A meaning-focused approach to policy acts unsettles. personal communication. for symbolic communication alone. These critiques joined a third which had begun to develop at around the same time and from which interpretive policy analysis derives its name.

1972. Taylor. some in other branches of political science. joined by critical theory’s focus on power. for example. 1999). dialogical turn (for example. ‘Interpretation’.. McDonald. including that generated through lived experience (acts. These included phenomenological and hermeneutic philosophies. 1976. 1995. ethnomethodology. metaphoric. Fraser. for example. Schatzki et al.thought. and pragmatism. White. Bernstein. the recursiveness of the hermeneutic circle. Fish. Polkinghorne. 2012a. Schneider and Ingram. 2003) which counters the denial of agency to those ‘targets’ on the ‘receiving ends’ of policies (see. 2000. by contrast. 2007. and symbolic interaction’s everyday action-meaning links. 1971. 1973. re-linked policy analysis to forms of governance that are more participative and ‘democratic’. for example. Sapolsky. and indeterminacies of meaning (see. 1979/1985. in this account. one would also add science studies (the sociology of scientific knowledge). 2004). Gusfield. economics. activity theory. 1981. their intersubjective meaning- making (of texts and ‘text-analogues’. and literary studies. Geertz. Fox. and so forth (see. Hajer and Wagenaar. these ideas have proved generative to the understanding of public policies. drew on a range of ideas developing along parallel lines. S. and literary studies (for example. see also Miettinen et al. Büger. Dryzek. That move has. takes from hermeneutics mainly its focus on epistemic (or interpretive or discourse) communities.. their processes and practices. 1983. Joined with phenomenology’s insistence on the role of prior knowledge. practices). Büger and Gadinger. 1975. see Hacking. 1982). some in anthropology and sociology. 1983. semiotics. 2013/2006. Lorenz. attention to symbols and their meanings within symbolic-cultural anthropology. K. In response to Habermasian theorizing and theoretical developments in other fields. 2009). Edelman. Latour. for several theorists. Today. 1964. conflicting interpretations. from affirmative action to whaling. for example. 1983. 1993. see below) and potentially multiple. Brandwein. Rabinow and Sullivan. Fischer and Forester. 2008. psychology. 1990. a significant segment of interpretive policy analysis took a discursive. 1996. especially in their discursive . Fay. 1988). Interpretive policy analysis has incorporated additional elements from various other ‘turns’ that became central to social scientific thinking in the latter part of the twentieth century: linguistic. 1993. 1977. and actor-network theory to the mix of linked turns and influences (see. 2001. in shaping meaning-making/interpretation. historical. practice. pragmatist. 1998. 1971. others in philosophy.

1960. Walsh. 1949. Interpretive policy analysis potentially draws. Dubois. work to move beyond identification and description of communities of interpretation around specific policy issues and the understanding of what goes wrong (or right) in implementing them. on that. In their various approaches to the expression and communication of what is situationally meaning-ful. 1964.focuses (Dryzek. 1993. interpretive policy analyses potentially take into account the local knowledge of those for whom policies have been designed and legislated. 1992) as one of the ways in which policy and implementing organizations’ meanings are communicated. as much on participant-observer ethnography (useful in the study of acts and the material world) as it does on textual and other language-focused methods (such as discourse. akin to [participatory] action research. for example. 2009). 1997. clients. clearly. 2007. In other words. for classic and contemporary examples of the former. and category analyses. 1971. see. Kaufman. such as programmes and built spaces. (Some seek also to establish grounds for interventions to improve policy problems. rhetorical. interpretive policy analysts study various policy-relevant manifestations of the three broad categories of human artefacts – language. 2005. White. depending on the research question). Freeman et al. D. Yanow. then. Yanow. 2011. Many interpretive policy analysts. 2000. as ‘readers’ making sense of these ‘texts’ (Yanow. 2011). 2003. 2004. as communicative ‘media’.) In sum. 2009 and Shore et al. see also Ricoeur. through symbolic representation. and other policy-relevant publics. but also the acts (including non- verbal communication) and material objects that language references – which. 1971).. not necessarily restricting themselves to that of policy-makers and implementers (in both instances. 2013/2006. then.. 2010/1999. to an exploration of communities of ‘doing’ and the specific practices that are entailed in the communication of policy meanings (Hajer. at the same time that it ‘tak[es] language seriously’ (J. Blau. metaphor/metonymy. Fischer. 2004. Soss. near and far. Crozier. Stein. Selznick. 2007. see Greenwood and Levin. 1963/1953. 1990. the chapters in Schatz. Schneider and Ingram. policy enactments (quite aside from their legislative record) may be usefully viewed as ‘texts’ (following Taylor’s. and the essays in Symposium. This often includes essaying to make what is known . 1996. 2009). interpretive policy analysis also treats acts and objects (material artefacts). 1993). 1995a. potential clients. with implementers. argument about acts as ‘text analogues’. give expression to their creators’ meanings. In these several approaches.

more explicit. looking at various sources and genres of evidence and corresponding analytic modes. and communicated (Yanow. which represent unarticulated meaning(s) (values. What is perceived and accepted as a relevant ‘fact’ is often part of the contestation. and. 2012). a community organizer (possessed of what we might call an interpretive analytic bent) convened a meeting at which she asked one member of each group to talk about what the dogs meant to them. 2009). 1993. This includes perceiving the possibility that conflicts among such groups may reflect epistemological differences and not simply contests over facts. owning a pedigreed dog had become a visible marker of their newly acquired middle-class status. interpretive forms of policy analysis have shifted attention from the search for (and belief in the promise of finding) one correct policy formulation (correct in its definition of the policy problem. 1996. older couples who had survived the Nazi concentration camps. as Rein and Schon (1977) argued in respect of policy framing (see also Bacchi. The representative of the young couples stood up and explained that in a socioeconomic context in which affording pets had been a luxury until very recently. Interpretive policy analysis asks not only what a policy means – a context-specific question about a specific policy – but also how policies mean – questions about the processes by which meanings are learned. 1987). hence. known. which many of their neighbours. a framing that entails the seeds for problem resolution) to focus instead on the multiplicities of interpretation across policy-relevant groups.tacitly. began to poison. Borrowing a term from recent developments in cognitive linguistics. and acts that are symbolic – that is. professional couples with newfound disposable income acquired pedigreed dogs as pets. in Polanyi’s sense (1966). Maynard-Moody and Stull. 1985). 2008). objects. something further theorized as the ‘mapping’ for exposure and intertextuality that characterizes interpretive methodologies and methods more broadly (Schwartz-Shea and Yanow. One of the survivors then stood and explained that the ‘German shepherds’ these young couples had chosen as their pets were the very breed . conflict (see. Seeking to resolve the ensuing unrest and restore neighbourhood peace. we might say that this focus on ‘how’ entails a multimodal form of analysis (Müller. for example. see also Torgerson. and/or feelings/sentiments) – enable multiplicities of (possible) meaning-making. Language. beliefs. To take one example. young. In addition. a demarcation among communities of interpretation and of practice. some years ago in a Jewish neighbourhood in Jerusalem.

and that seeing them around the neighbourhood brought back bitter memories. With each of the two parties to the conflict understanding the meaning of the dog for the other. treating their local knowledge as itself an important kind of expertise repositions the expertise of both practicing policy analysts and policy researchers. and participant–observer ethnography. the older residents stopped putting out poison (Leah Shinan-Shamir. discussed further below. and in practice. Here we see several characteristics of interpretive analysis: attending to meaning and its expression and communication through various modes of symbolic representation (objects and other elements in the non-human.or intervention-oriented research. interpretive policy analysts draw on meaning-focused methods appropriate to the character of the data (for a list of such methods. To analyze those data. acts. Swaffield. attacking relatives. 1977. perhaps even more importantly. In this fashion. see Yanow. 1979). personal communication. 2000). conversational talk and formal interviewing. Much of the work on framing in interpretive policy analysis. from purely subject-matter knowledge to knowledge of inquiry processes. on framing theory in policy analysis. and even themselves. explores the sorts of miscommunications that can arise from multiple interpretations of the same symbol (for example. 1998. according legitimacy to ‘local’ knowledge (that ‘locality’ shifting along with the research question). language). the practice of interpretive policy analysis intertwines its conceptual approach with a set of methodological concerns and attendant methods that themselves focus on local knowledge. a resolution was achieved: the young couples exchanged the German shepherds for another breed. 1994. Recognizing the agency of those conceptualized as policy ‘targets’ and. exploring the potential for symbols to accommodate multiple meanings. van Hulst and Yanow. 2013/2006a: p. for specific treatment of several. 2014). friends. in part due to the centrality to policy studies of documentary sources and. see Rein and Schon. Data in the form of language predominate in interpretive policy analysis. seeking to enable learning for purposes of enhanced communication and ensuing action. material world. These generate data through the close reading (literal and/or figurative) of policy-relevant texts and other kinds of physical artefacts. see Yanow and Schwartz-Shea. 1995. Schön and Rein. Linder. xxiii.used by the Nazis during World War II. taking language and the cognition it voices seriously. ca. for interacting with .

1993. Rasmussen. Swaffield. 1988. Kaplan. Edelman. such as the act of choosing or declining to regulate electro-magnetic frequency emissions (Linder. 1995). but because of the particular way that the policy issue itself has been framed (Linder. 2008. story-telling or other forms of narrative (Lakoff. adapted from science studies and actor-network theory (Latour and Woolgar. in policy and political contexts. Carver and Pikalo. 2012). 2011. Yanow. One stream of language- focused research investigates the work of metaphors in policy language. researchers might draw on ethnographic or participant–observer analysis of the various groups involved (see. To analyze policy-related acts. 2004. 2013/2006). 2009). 1993. . 2009). of interviewing. 2008. Nicolini. Interpretive policy analysts are also turning to ethnographic observation that. Yanow. 2012/1992. Schatz. Framing is central to interpretive policy analysis. whether ownership or occupancy. Müller. 2003. 1995. 1993. interpretive policy analysts have taken up discourse theories of various sorts (Howarth. Miller. 1988. Roe. 1993. 2002). 2013/2006). 1977. 2000. as noted above. van Hulst. in a particular housing policy that enables either purchase or rental. 1995b. the specific design of policy-relevant spaces. building on the work of Rein and Schon (1977. or the meaning of ‘home’. 1998. ambiguity in policy matters is often purposeful – and the ensuing multiple possible meaning-making of the same term or phrase. Cienki and Yanow. Other work looks at categories. near and far (Goodsell. Yanow. 2008. Examples might include the way photographs depict welfare recipients in the context of welfare policy reform (Schram. 1985. Schön and Rein. 2013). Schmidt. Furthermore. 1999. Abolafia. Schon. beyond analyzing whatever legislative or other language might be in play. 1980. much of it building on theories from cognitive linguistics (Lakoff and Johnson. More recently. 2008). language and acts also often invoke or use objects in the material world. 1987.legislators and others. Lakoff. Epstein. key policy-relevant material artefacts or actors. 1994). For such data. follows the policy. analysis might focus on the ways in which programmatic activities or built spaces communicate policy and/or wider societal meaning(s) and which meanings are being communicated and to what audiences. whose theorizing pointed to the extent to which ‘intractable policy controversies’ are often that way not because of failures in policy design. Researchers recognize the inherent ambiguity of language – indeed. for example. Forester. 1994. 1995b. 2007. Keeler. Yanow and van der Haar. 1979.

2008). Generalization typically bears on the ‘how’. 1998. Epstein. for example. and whether one designates a bit of policy evidence as belonging in one rather than another category may at times make sense only from the perspective of the analysis one is trying to advance. 1995) of policy arguments (for empirical examples. although an analysis may be. even suggest resolutions to the conflicts or improvements in practices. whether by reference to multiple evidentiary sources in a comparative vein or to the context of some theoretical literature to which the research question and analysis speak. They are specific to events and times – the ‘what’ of a policy – and hew closely to the meanings made by policy-relevant actors. and objects are intertwined and mutually implicating. in the dog-poisoning case). 1995. I could explain difficulties (at the time) in implementing policy . These and other analytic methods are useful in trying to elicit understandings of what specific policies might mean to various issue-relevant publics as well as in exploring how those meanings are developed. by contrast with many residents’ other interpretations of those centres. perhaps. In these several analytic treatments. In showing. and here are ways in which analysts may make sense of those meanings and conflicts and. 2007). 2000. Distinguishing among the three categories of data types is useful heuristically even though they are often not. some of these interpretations or discourses explain how and why conflicts took place (for example. in practice. and other publics make policy meanings in thus and such ways. or discourses play out in this case in thus and such ways. whether legislative document or state intention. authored text is implicitly replaced by the ‘constructed’ texts of multiple ‘readings’ at the hands of various policy-relevant publics. Swaffield. as a single. implementers. acts. and (potentially) variously understood (Yanow. communicated. in the founders’ views) aspire. The notion of a singular (that is. analysts seek to ‘map the architecture’ (Pal. the notion of policy. clients. fully distinct: language. Through them. and often is. collective) legislative ‘author’ is joined by multiple discourse communities in the form of collective ‘readers’. more broadly contextualized. and it tends to be more a generalization concerning meaning-making processes: legislators. All analyses emphasize the context-specificity of meaning. how agency policy- makers and founders expected the Israel Corporation of Community Centres’ buildings and programmes to ‘perform’ or enact the values to which residents of the ‘impoverished’ towns and neighbourhoods in which they were set up could (and should. see Linder.

by forces beyond them. a set of methods. without regard for the cultural. for being so involved with the individual ‘self’ as to neglect power. linguistic and conceptual challenges to its scrutability’. Implications for designing interpretive comparative research There are so many different ways of doing interpretive research that no single research design serves them all. a meaning- making process that could be generalized beyond that specific setting (along with a methodological orientation. See Linch (2011) on the importance of not treating the past ‘as a laboratory of test cases. analysts cannot help but include power dimensions. which stipulate the definition of concepts as a starting point. by choice. Rather than a deductive or inductive rationale. a surprise or a tension. seems not to obtain when phenomenological inquiry is directed towards policy matters. Although phenomenology. and some potentially key analytic concepts). for instance. This orientation towards power and the political can be seen in the discourse analysis and other empirical research examples described and cited throughout this chapter. the research design implications of positivist-informed approaches to comparative research. a researcher enters the hermeneutic-interpretive circle-spiral at any starting point. The analysis showed the role that the communication and interpretation of policy and organizational meanings played in policy settings.programmes (Yanow. in particular. Interpretive research has no such singular starting point. especially by critical theorists. Instead. interpretive research follows an abductive logic of inquiry: it begins with a puzzle. 6 This and the next paragraphs draw on ideas that are more fully developed in Schwartz-Shea and Yanow (2012). especially when they consider voices that have been silent. has been critiqued. 1996). .6 Consider. typically arising from the juxtaposition of 5 This discussion raises questions concerning interpretive comparative historical analysis which I do not have space to explore. although perhaps holding at the philosophical level.5 One final methodological point. including of organizations and other institutions. with whatever (prior) knowledge she has at that moment. this criticism. or silenced. In such applications.

1985. If an archived document points to another. Researchers need to be able to respond to field situations.expectations – themselves deriving from a priori knowledge. 2). Zirakzadeh (2009) could not have anticipated being shot at by Spanish police. a discussion of interpretive research design can only outline some key concerns. which has crucial implications for planning comparative research: the relative openness of the research process. nor did he 7 Interestingly. the researcher needs ‘research design flexibility’ to follow that lead. What one plans for. this precedes the separation of history and political science into independent disciplines. with the consequent requisite flexibility that is built into the design and execution of such research. is judgement-making on the spot. In light of this lack of singularity. For a methodology that puts situated meaning front and centre. he needs ‘research design flexibility’ to accept (or decline) the invitation. Interpretive research refuses to lose the local or historical specificities from which concepts emerge.) Comparison must work ‘from the [researcher’s] ability to make sense of the singularities of each system. cannot begin by presuming equivalences between or among polities. at best. whether theoretical or experiential – with field observations. This leads to one of the central hallmarks of interpretive research designs. making them clear by contrast with the tradition outlined in most methods textbooks and referring readers to other sources. or other member invites the researcher to join in a particular activity.7 I return to the matter of generalizability below. Comparison. indeed. a point Miller. and/or readings (for extended discussion see Schwartz-Shea and Yanow. Then again. rather than from the capacity either to slot them into pre- determined boxes or to place them on a continuum’ (Chabal and Daloz. 2012: ch. hitherto unknown archive. 128). community. If an organizational. 2006: p. . a method focused on deriving universally generalizable concepts is problematic. 63). Woodrow Wilson was of the opinion. makes clear). It is not possible to plan for such occurrences ahead of time. and because research is a practice whose ‘rules’ can only be learned and known in the practicing (as Büger. that comparative method in US political science should retain the historical context of the subject of study. from an interpretive perspective. according to Adcock (2006: p. 2012b. (Whether these are equivalences of similarity or difference is immaterial: both of these measures rest on posited identities. makes clear with respect to exchange and other metaphoric relationships that have clear analogies in comparative research. experiences.

act(s). but also which ones are most likely to serve as points for comparison. including policy analysts. against social ‘realities’. and has to be. local meanings of the event(s). and hypothesizing relationships among those variables. 2012: ch. in order to test those hypotheses in the field. on which the research focuses and their relationship to its theoretical frame. 4). open to the researcher’s on-the-spot judgements – whether in observational or archival fields. activities. in a deductive logic of inquiry. operationalizing them as variables. In this sense. documents. Comparative research in a positivist mode rests on this kind of a priori assumption of knowledge: in order to ascertain which cases will be most similar or most different. Moreover. the researcher needs to know enough beforehand in order to stipulate not only what the independent and dependent variables will be. Such openness and flexibility are neither an artefact of poor research design nor a failing of the researcher. assume that learning will continue throughout their research. Rather than being front-loaded.anticipate and plan on becoming a local celebrity in the bar that evening – resulting in leads to all manner of ‘evidentiary sources’ – or on thereby becoming persona non grata among other cadres of the Basque separatists he was studying. too. regardless of whether or not it crosses national borders (Rutgers. This. by contrast. as well as later during deskwork and textwork. This statement is used to designate a counter-position to one that begins by defining concepts a priori. This ‘front-loads’ research learning in the design process. learning is expected to unfold throughout the research process. and so forth and continuing through deskwork (analysis) and textwork (writing) phases (Schwartz- Shea and Yanow. Interpretive researchers. through research designs and their implementation in observational or archival fields. how situated actors see the matter under investigation and what they consider meaningful in it. interpretive researchers essay to . comparative research in an interpretive mode could well be understood as crossing semantic borders. 154). in encounters during fieldwork with situated members. Interpretive research is. and so on. means a limit to what can be presumed and stipulated a priori. interactions. for instance. 2004: p. taking place before and as the research design is being developed. Their privileging of ‘local’ or situated meaning leads interpretive researchers. or any other form of equivalence. to the methodological insistence on ‘allowing concepts to emerge from the field’. Researchers expect to learn. What is being learned are the specific.

we should see more explicit attention to the constant comparison embedded in such juxtapositions. often being known and appreciated only tacitly. 2009) – we might expect to see this initial point of comparison made increasingly explicit. sex. interview. Pachirat. Although the rationale for single cases is self-evident to interpretive researchers. The second aspect of interpretive research’s constant comparison is internal to the ‘case’ being studied. demographically (for example. thereby encouraging researchers to account for the sources of their puzzlement. Due to its explicit acknowledgement and incorporation of the researcher’s prior knowledge and expectations. drawing on a social movement frame. for example. Interpretive research projects typically take up only one case at a time because of the extensive immersion in a setting required to fathom local meaning- making and because of the ensuing degree of detail required to account contextually for that setting and what is meaningful there (reflected in the mounds of data in field notes recording observational. it often becomes a point of difficulty when they are asked by . and so on. been incorporated explicitly in research designs. and variances in field procedures from the research design. Abductive logic potentially makes part of this explicit by positioning puzzles or surprises front and centre in a research project. To the extent that interpretive methodologies increasingly call for explicit reflection on the researcher’s ‘positionality’ with respect to epistemological matters and knowledge claims – whether positioned ‘geographically’ (for example. or theoretically (for example. Predetermining the relevant axes of comparison would be precisely such a foreclosure in a study that is interested more in ‘local knowledge’ and concept definition-in-use than in the researcher’s own a priori concept definition. Shehata. constantly comparative. class. The first of these – the comparison of researcher expectations with field ‘realities’ – has typically not. and/or documentary detail.avoid the ‘rush to diagnosis’ that would result in the ‘premature closure’ of inquiry. The initial point of comparison – the researcher’s a priori knowledge and own political-cultural context – commonly remains unspoken. Zirakzadeh. As abduction is more widely taken up to explain interpretive methodologies. however. being on the processing floor or on the quality-control catwalk. 2011). interpretive research is innately and inherently always. education. due to the unexpected absence or unanticipated entry of key actors). ‘Comparison’ takes on a particular meaning in this methodological context. birthplace. 2013/2006). in a couple of respects.

a researcher may observe for 120 days (five days per week × four weeks per month × six months) and. Although the research may be conducted in a single setting. and practices and objects engaged. state or other case setting. casual conversations and/or interviews conducted.those unfamiliar with this logic of inquiry to justify their methods. documents read and studied. in language borrowed from experimental research design. That understanding. it also betrays a misunderstanding of the character of ‘n’ in interpretive research. the more robust the knowledge claims derived from the research – that is. acts. say. and physical artefacts to be analyzed. In organizational or community studies. there’s another . and movements analyzed. Either of these constitutes far more than a single observational ‘n’ – even if the research is being conducted on a single policy. where analysis often compares different departments or neighbourhoods. as that term originally meant in experimentation. when conducting the more typical observational research project ‘24/7’. Such design searches for intertextuality (or its absence). as judged on the grounds of statistical probability. This could be literal as when multiple documentary genres use the same or similar language across time periods or setting locations (or don’t). as the interpretive researcher ‘maps’ research settings for exposure to a variety of possible meanings/interpretations within them concerning the matter of interest. one that is different from the logic of interpretive science. the greater the ‘n’ subjected to analysis. look. rests on a particular logic of scientific inquiry. such research is commonly designated ‘single n’ research: the ‘n’. Kathy Ferguson (2011) captured the comparative character of this research when voicing her exhilaration in the moment of discovery in archival research: ‘Oh. Consider a relatively short-term field research project of six months’ duration (by contrast with a more customary year-long immersion or even longer). designates the number of observations made in a research project. such mapping for exposure could be horizontal or vertical across a bureaucratic organization or spread geographically within a community (or other polity). Comparison is ongoing across all of these elements. but to the number of words. In that time. From other methodological perspectives. acts. 960 hours (at eight hours per day) – more. Or. considering observational moments. interactions. the ‘n’ entails far more than just a single ‘observation’. however. the more valid its general principles. documents. the ‘n’ is also more than one – especially if it refers not to the sum total of interviews or time in talk.

. perhaps. and language promises. documents. intertextuality is manifested when the researcher encounters ‘cross-referencing’ across data genres. ‘studying up’ (as anthropologists put it. of her theoretical frame – and the setting under study and its events and circumstances.. 1960) – it can lead analysts to trace the sites of agenda setting. 4). 172). Following policy ‘components’ in these ways is a particular form of ethnographic method. 1974/1969) where legislative decisions are framed and made. Nader. This is what following a policy and its relevant actors. and the new kinds of networks. archives. Participant- observer. Shore has argued that policies require not so much studying up as studying across and every which way in a network sort of fashion. activities. 2009). with the ‘n’ of settings in a field research project (Yanow et al. and texts in which and among whom to pursue the research question (see Schwartz-Shea and Yanow. events. . Comparison is inherent and constant. a new way to talk about an older method used in early bureaucracy studies (for example. mistakenly. starting with choices of settings. implementation studies can entail both. Rather than focusing on ‘case selection. as well as the most appropriate timing for adequately studying that case and its full roster of ‘n observations’ (persons. whether national or organizational. even when engaging ‘only’ a single case. as they are in looking ‘at the top’. The ‘n’ of observations in an experiment has been conflated. ethnographic research is particularly useful in these as it generates a fine- grained evidentiary base that can support robust inferences. Adapted into interpretive policy and other analyses from science studies – or. for example. Interpretive policy analysts can be as interested in understanding what is happening with policies ‘on the ground’. 2012: ch. identical key words or phrases appearing across talk and print sources. not only between the researcher’s prior knowledge – of her home setting and its meanings and cultural practices. discourses and institutions . ‘studying down’. with consequent erroneous judgement concerning the scientific adequacy of a single-site study and of the character of comparison in such a study. . actors. Kaufman. ‘teasing out connections and observing how policies bring together individuals. acts. interpretive research design expends considerable attention on questions of access. objects. then. but also across multiple ‘sites’ and various sources and genres of data within the one setting. and so on).’!’ In a more figurative sense. relations and subjects this process creates’ (2012: p.

following conceptual travel would be of great interest to an interpretive researcher. and that researchers and ‘subjects’ are interchangeable. not some geographically bounded entity. All of these are conceptually and methodologically problematic from the perspective of interpretive research. experimentation serves as the model for the assumptions that underlie generalizability: that the world being studied is or can be rendered stable (achieved through researcher controls over research design. The need for a comparative research design that stipulates a priori points of comparison appears to be driven by the desire to generalize findings across cases. Comparative analysis of two or more cases may also unfold through sequential studies across the span of a research career. is situated – specific to the setting in and from which it has been generated. and other locuses of power and of silent and/or silenced voices without constraining the study within the borders of a specific physical setting. interpretive analyses assume a research setting that is dynamic and which cannot be subjected to researcher control. The policy itself is the site. such that interactions between them with respect to the focus of study will not contaminate findings. With respect to causality. 1998). as is amply evident in. 2006. By contrast. that the meanings of ‘democracy’ in Senegal. choice of participants and control groups. both researchers’ and participants’. Again. Tracing how a policy issue might be framed at one moment and reframed at another can transcend both physical boundaries and those of time. for instance. mechanistic sort. 2010) adds another locus of comparison to his theorizing concerning the meanings of ‘democracy’ as practiced in different places (see also Schaffer. focused on Senegal (Schaffer. and the United States might have influenced each other (see also Adcock. Furthermore. the comparison is rendered explicit in his research question. the Philippines. In fact. that stability also presupposes cases that are discrete. In his first study.decision making. where positivist comparative research is in search of mechanical causality – akin to a cue hitting a ball on a pool table – . This does not rule out the possibility that concepts have travelled – for example. and a learning process in which knowledge. Epstein’s (2008) discourse analytic study of whaling. His subsequent research in the Philippines (Schaffer. Schaffer’s inquiry into the meaning(s) of ‘democracy’ when ‘translated’ from Western states to others is an example. and so on). 2011). Forthcoming). and the need to generalize entails establishing causal relationships of a particular.

even unanticipated. and so on. Whether the differences will be great (most different) or small (most similar) cannot be determined a priori. interpretive policy analysis is more of an approach than a stepwise method. Instead. 2012: chs. physical artefact. issue. it provides an inadequate design rationale. One might even say that interpretive researchers assume that a different case setting will. that is. even concept of interest – be meaningful in key ways? Where else might the researcher find cases of this X which might expand the understanding of its range of meanings or rationales for action of particular sorts? In keeping with an abductive logic of inquiry. category analysis. quoted in the chapter epigraph).interpretive research is after constitutive causality: explanations that rest on the ‘interweaving of codes [of meaning] in particular situations’ rather than being ‘logically derivable from the codes themselves’ (Hammersley. Because interpretive methodology . ‘an “understanding” (verstehende) interpretation of human events reaches to relationships and regularities but not to necessity. 6). As Rudolph and Rudolph put it in their interpretation of Weber’s methodological position. dimensions of the subject of study. The question is.). pursuing an abductive logic of inquiry. semiotics. see Schwartz-Shea and Yanow. it encompasses too many of these to lay out a general. 55. the comparative interpretive researcher is open to being surprised – even with the surprise that X is not at all operative in the new setting. however. 3. showing further. ethnomethodology. generate different situated meanings (although the meaning-making processes in different settings might be similar). 2008: p. Concluding thoughts In sum. For research done from a methodological perspective animated by a concern for situated meaning which intends to compare two (or more) cases in equivalent detail. metaphor analysis. for example. ipso facto. the interpretive comparative policy (or other) analyst would look for additional settings relevant to the policy element being tracked which might shed further light on the initial ‘surprise’. it is governed by meaning. where else might X – the event. step by step design (although such detail can be found in literature engaging specific methods. not by laws’ (2008/1979: p. An umbrella term from the perspective of analytic methods. the a priori designation of what is locally meaning-ful is a logical contradiction. 173.

and later. however. has been a long-term project intended to eliminate. the mice in their mazes. and political dimensions of that setting. later juxtaposing scientific ‘testability’ against religious ‘tests’ of faith. and that includes the social. Schwartz-Shea and Yanow. first in experimentation with its ‘controls.insists on researcher learning throughout a research project. historically. more and more. as Adcock (2011. 2008). The eighteenth-century Europe out of which positivist philosophies and ‘science’ – initially natural and social ‘philosophy’ – emerged was driving towards the ‘enlightenment’ project which set science against religion. 2012) and Oren (2003) have amply demonstrated. Control. see Jackson 2011: 208- 10. the human subjects in their pseudo-electric- chairs and mock prisons (see Yanow and Schwartz-Shea. It took up a central place in laboratory experimentation and research design. 8). that activity is based on a different logic of inquiry. these ontological and epistemological differences make it logically inconceivable to combine interpretive and positivist methodologies and their attendant methods in the same research question (although they may be used to address different questions within the same. The desire to stipulate ahead of time the steps that a researcher will undertake harks back to the matter of control that lies at the heart of science in its emergence.’ later in other forms. on this point. Natural and social philosophies and their subsequent scientific counterparts shifted the locus of judgement and meaning-making to individuals’ powers of reason. unmediated by religion-supported authorities and liberated from metaphysical explanations. broad research project. researchers have little control over the places . however. did not disappear from the picture. the human hand (so to speak) from those procedures as well as to rationalize the power of the scientist through the authority of science. requiring an openness and flexibility in its research design and allowing concepts to ‘emerge from the field’. Adcock and Vail. against the backdrop of judgements made at the hands of monarchs and others in medieval European feudal and church hierarchies. In interpretive research. No science is independent of the setting in which it develops. there is also no step by step process for selecting cases. Moreover. 2013/2006. cultural. Part of this development required the separation of facts from values. This telescopic view of the development of ‘science’ makes clear that the routinization of scientific procedures. 2012: ch. in which researchers control the cells in their Petri dishes.

which enables that breakdown of the fourth wall in adding readers’ meaning-making to the question of where meaning comes from. in general. and is being. What perhaps challenges positivist research most profoundly about interpretive research is the latter’s willingness to ‘break through the fourth wall. carried out and to dissolve that separation. in the way that an experimentalist can redesign a laboratory or eliminate a potential subject who does not fit the study’s parameters (Schwartz-Shea and Yanow. thereby displacing researchers from centre stage. non-explicit ways. . rendering comparative method so systematic disappears the dance of power that is inherent in research.’ in theatre-speak: through involving ‘participants’ and their knowledge more centrally in the shared work of knowledge-generation. Whereas positivist-inflected or positivist-influenced methods. in fact. seek through these sorts of processes to make their existence and presence more transparent. through more different/more similar and other design tactics. 9 April 2011). ‘political scientists do political work indirectly through the way they structure transatlantic comparisons to tell competing stories about how nations “lead” or “lag” one another’. On Weber’s success in this effort (or lack thereof). the whole project of interpretive methodologies and methods that is seeking to break through that wall. The increasing ‘rule-ification’ of comparative analysis.8 As Robert Adcock notes (personal communication. 2012). These observations speak to some of the political dimensions of science. see Rudolph and Rudolph (2008/1979). seeks after a ‘routinization of power’ within comparative research. Iser. 1989). accepting the limits of researcher control and knowledge. in similarly indirect.they go to study or the ‘occupants’ of those places: an interpretive researcher cannot rearrange a research setting or dismiss a participant who is native to that setting. which occludes matters of power and control. interpretivist-inflected methods. for instance. Much as Weber intended with respect to authority in bureaucratic organizational structures. lays the conceptual groundwork for seeing that it is. The growing systematization of comparative method similarly achieves political work. disappear ‘the political’ and ‘the emotional’ from science. on the whole. Positivist 8 An exchange with Robert Adcock helped me clarify this thought. to call attention to the separation between researcher power and that of those on or among whom research has been. Reader-response theory (for example.

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