Making sense of policy practices

Interpretation and meaning

Dvora Yanow
Visiting Professor
Communication Studies Department
Wageningen University

The modes of analysis established at the beginning of the policy studies

“movement” in North America – chief among them cost-benefit analysis and

other forms that sought to evaluate policies in light of their planning objectives

and budgetary allocations – might be said to have worked well enough for

assessing policies whose goals could unproblematically be translated into

measurable quantitative terms. These evaluative tools rested on the assumption

that social values, whether or not they were translatable into assessable

measurements, could be separated out from the realm of facts, which were – so

it was assumed – capable of being easily established. But when public policies

entailed competing values that were not reconcilable with the passage of

legislation; when debates and contention entailed complex political relationships;

and, even more significantly, when the conceptual ground shifted concerning the

possible separation of values from facts and the ghettoization of the former

outside of the realm of policy analysis,1 some researchers, both academic and

practice-based, began to see that these tools did not always work well for

assessing the central features of policy enactments and related practices. If

Hawkesworth, M. E., Theoretical issues in policy analysis, Albany, NY, SUNY Press,
1988; Rein, Martin, Social science and public policy, New York, Penguin, 1976.


these approaches and tools, based on notions of rational, economic “man,”

were experienced as inadequate, to what might one turn for a more adequate

understanding of the successes or failures of public policies to achieve their

intended and stated purposes? Moreover, might policy purposes include other

than such explicitly stated intentions?

Here is where interpretive policy analysis began. It took its name from

the interpretive turn in social sciences more broadly,2 which had begun to

develop at around the same time and which drew on ideas from a range of

different sources. These included phenomenological and hermeneutic

philosophies, along with critical theory’s engagement with power; attention to

symbols and their meanings within symbolic-cultural anthropology, semiotics,

and literary studies; and pragmatism, ethnomethodology, and symbolic

interaction’s everyday action-meaning links. Interpretive policy analysis shifted

the analytic focus in policy studies to meaning-making – its expression as well as

its communication – as an alternative to instrumental rationality in explaining

human action.3 It also incorporated elements from various other “turns” that

became central to social scientific thinking in the latter part of the 20th century:

the linguistic turn,4 the historical turn,5 the metaphoric turn,6 the practice turn,7

Geertz, Clifford, The interpretation of cultures, New York, Basic Books, 1973; Hiley,
David R., Bohman, James F., and Shusterman, Richard., eds., The interpretive turn:
Philosophy, science, culture, Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 1991; Rabinow, Paul,
and William M. Sullivan, eds., Interpretive social science, Berkeley, University of
California Press, 1979, 2nd ed. 1985.
See Hawkesworth, loc. cit., for a detailed critique.
Fraser, Nancy, ‘Pragmatism, feminism, and the linguistic turn’, in Seyla Benhabib,
Judith Butler, Drucilla Cornell, and Nancy Fraser, eds., Feminist contentions, New York,
Routledge, 1995, 157-72.
McDonald, Terrence J., ed., The historic turn in the human sciences, Ann Arbor, MI,
University of Michigan, 1996.

Dvora. ‘The model of the text’. ‘Taking language seriously: Toward a narrative theory of knowledge for administrative research’. Karin. 2001. ‘Quite an experience: Using ethnography to study local governance’. Policy Sciences. 2/2. 1971. . 1996. such as programs and built spaces... Policy Studies Journal. 13 Yanow. positivism. 2008. Vincent. Theodore R. van Hulst. Review of Metaphysics. 310–35. ‘Organizational meanings of program evaluation’. Paul. 7 Schatzki. Yanow. American Review of Public Administration. 3/2. Jay D.. Richard. New York. The Cambridge companion to critical theory. 1998. Critical Policy Analysis 2/1.12 and of objects (physical artifacts). 1992. ‘Can histories be true? Narrativism. Critical Policy Studies.. Chris. “Interpretation.” in this account. 2008. 143-59. eds. Merlijn J. The practice turn in contemporary theory. 18/2: 149-64. as much on participant-observer ethnographic methods14 as it does on textual and other language-focused ones. ‘Built space as story: The policy stories that buildings tell’. as communicative “media. Critical Policy Analysis. too.8 and so forth. 3 the pragmatist turn. in Fred Rush. 75–88. 14 Dubois.. 309–30.13 seeing these. History and Theory. Eike von. Hal K.. 1995.. ed. ‘Interpretation and the sciences of man’. ‘Towards a critical policy ethnography: Lessons from fieldwork on welfare control in France’. 1-24. see also Ricoeur. 37. Social Research. 11 Colebatch. then. and Eike von Savigny. such as nonverbal communication during meetings. Routledge. 2009. 23/3. takes certain ideas from hermeneutics – mainly 6 Lorenz. Karin Knorr-Cetina. Charles. 8 White. interpretive policy analysis also treats of acts (Taylor’s “text analogues”10). 529–62. 38. ‘Learning by meeting’. 2004. 9 White. 407-22. 12 Freeman. 10 Taylor. and the “metaphorical turn”’. Stephen K. op. 1971. policy evaluation. 1995. 3–51. Cambridge University Press. At the same time that it “tak[es] language seriously”9 as one of the ways in which policy and implementing organizations’ meanings are communicated.11 and agency routines. 22. 221–39. cit. New York.. ‘The very idea of a critical social science: A pragmatist turn’. 25. chapter 7.” Interpretive policy analysis draws.

discriminatory educational. on epistemic (or interpretive) communities. when the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. see Yanow. Epstein. on the recursiveness of the hermeneutic circle. on whaling. Policy and political scientists’ initial 15 On the former. from affirmative action to whaling.15 This article expounds on this background. Theoretical background: Authoritative instrumentalism As a field of research. Auckland NZ. . 16 Parts of this section were adapted from ‘Narrative and practice in public policy analysis. Armonk. began to use policies ever more actively as social change instruments (consider. 8-10 July 1996. Cambridge. and on the possibility for multiple meanings/interpretations of policy-related elements – without getting caught in its historically-situated insistence on a specific.16 In the academy. Power of words in international relations: Birth of an anti- whaling discourse. 4 its focus on meaning. MIT Press. and other practices). Joined with phenomenology’s insistence on the role of lived experience in shaping meaning-making/interpretation. highlighting the ontological and epistemological presuppositions that lie at the heart of interpretive policy analysis and their methodological implications. set of rules for interpreting. political science. and thereby limiting. 2008. the civil rights policies attacking entrenched. Dvora. employment. these ideas have proved generative to the understanding of public policies.’ presented at the International Conference on ‘Narrative & Metaphor across the Disciplines’. their processes and practices. Charlotte. M E Sharpe. public policy studies developed in the US in the 1960s-1970s. for example. NY. and government (nomenclature across US departments varies). 2003. the “policy sciences” and policy analysis emerged out of a disciplinary base in departments of politics. supported by legislatures and courts. Constructing ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’ in America: Category-making in public policy and administration.

‘Social construction of target populations’. even into the 1980s (and later. Eric. 1973]. which saw its initial development in the US military toward the end of World War II (implementing Norbert Weiner’s cybernetics thinking. American Political Science Review. Under the heading of ‘systems analysis’. itself leading to the development of other cost-benefit modes of analyzing proposed policies. among other ideas). Harvey M. Anne and Ingram. University of Washington Press. 5 conceptualization of policy processes was. .. It was not uncommon. Cambridge. to find both policy developers and academics talking about people as the “targets” of public policies. McNamara’s leadership as Secretary of the US Department of Defense (DoD). which began in 1960. 19 Sapolsky.18) Under Robert S. 18 Idem. including the role of the President. The institutional approach that is the starting point of US studies of government – three branches. in balance. for instance. Helen. Harvard University Press. The Polaris system development: Bureaucratic and programmic success in government. following those works). Schneider. The dance of legislation. 1983. these included PPBS (Policy-Planning- Budgeting System). 2001 [orig. 1972.19 That unfortunate term suggests that the only 17 For a brilliant treatment of US legislative politics and processes of making policy. 334-47. see Redman. and advising-consulting practices of the time. not surprisingly. various analytic tools were developed which later became central to the new field of policy analysis. Seattle. research. framed by the discipline’s intellectual history. (Even legislative staff were an analytic non-entity until Redman’s empirical case study of the crafting of the National Health Service Corps policy appeared. with policy- making falling in the domain of the legislative branch17 – initially restricted the conceptualization of policy-“making” to legislative actions and legislators’ decision-making. 87. Such analytic tools entered the academic curricula.

.20 Such a formulation denies them agency over their own acts and the legitimacy of their “local knowledge” of the circumstances and contexts of those acts.g. ‘A ladder of citizen participation’. forerunners of the Great Society programmes. “policy-making” was expanded in the 20 DeHaven-Smith also comments on the missile imagery of social policies. VISTA). 21 This pattern continues in some of the recent social constructionist treatments in policy analysis which see “policy targets” themselves.22 intended to bring that local knowledge into policy processes. rather than seeing that it is the ideas about those things that are socially constructed – that is. and then maintained. defined “the good” in ways that denied policy “recipients’” expertise in their own local knowledge and their own agency. For a critique of the widespread inclination to treat objects as social constructions. of substituting a noun for what should be a verb and a process – see Ian Hacking. implementers. as socially constructed. 1988. 22 E.21 Even the “participatory planning” movement of this era. In its theoretical conceptualization. for all their social justice concerns and good intentions. Such a model is quite in keeping with the top-down. Philosophical critiques of policy analysis. including the Peace Corps and its domestic counterpart. was later critiqued for its frequent top-down treatment of participation and participants. 216–24. 1999. Lance. Sherry R. rather than policy-makers’ and others’ ideas about policy recipients. The metaphor positions those on the receiving end of policy decisions as sitting ducks just waiting for policy solutions to hit them. The social construction of what? Cambridge.DeHaven-Smith. These.. University of Florida Press. Gainesville. 6 persons with agency in a policy situation are “policy actors” – legislators. 1969. Journal of the American Institute of Planners 35/4. paternalistic mode of governmental policy-making inherited. Arnstein. by 1960s and 1970s administrations (such as in the Ford Foundation’s Grey Areas Programs. and the like. Error! Main Document Only. lobbyists. That top-down theoretical and analytic model is still the point of departure of most textbooks today. Harvard University Press. like the missiles of McNamara’s DoD. .

7 early 1970s to include “agenda-setting” on the front end of the process and “implementation” on its back end. Implementation and the policy process. poor information and communication. New York. The policy process was still conceived of in a linear. and needed to be. University of California Press. successful. Aaron. assembly-line fashion.24 Failures were seen as deriving from poor policy design (either a logic of problem solution that was erroneous or policy language that was ambiguous) or from inept bureaucrats and bureaucracies (including faulty organizational design. Implementation: How great expectations in Washington are dashed in Oakland. Jeffrey L.. Donald J. or interfering agency 23 Pressman. Administrative Science Quarterly. e. given their social justice aims. The literature in policy implementation is fairly extensive. marked by a politics-administration dichotomy that vested politics and power exclusively in the hands of elected decision-makers and treated the executive branch as a realm of a-political management. policy implementation studies focused on the actions through which policy ideas were put into practice. this being a saga of the Economic Development Administration as told by two sympathetic observers who seek to build morals on a foundation of ruined hopes. Articulated initially by Pressman and Wildavsky and quickly joined by others. lack of proper motivational incentives. eds. and Calista. Greenwood Press. why it's amazing that federal programs work at all. For a collection of essays that chart the development of thinking in the field. Analyzing such management processes.. Robert S.23 these analyses sought to account for the failures of public policies to do what they were supposed to. ‘The evaluation of broad-aim programs: Experimental design.. Or.g. its difficulties. 1990. and Wildavsky. 24 See. 1973. 97-109.Palumbo. . Dennis J. 1970. assessing the degree to which implementory action matched legislative intent. 15/1. Berkeley. see Error! Main Document Only. Weiss and Martin Rein. and an alternative’. largely out of a normative sense that those policies – the Great Society programs and their successors – should be.

and Davide Peró. based on this separation of politics and power from organizational action. 2011.g. 26 See.”27 Moreover. Oxford. The model of the policy process that emerged. New York. ‘Conceptualising policy’.. Calista. 1-25. Denise. Implementation failures have been sourced to structural impediments (improper bureaucratic design). W. I stumbled upon a 2007 newspaper column reporting on Nelson’s later research on the topic with Daniel Sarewitz. in Cris Shore. Palumbo and Donald J.25 Implementation studies’ concerns were encapsulated in the question. Richard R. eds. 375-414. ‘Intellectualizing about the moon-ghetto metaphor: A study of the current malaise of rational analysis of social problems’. why can't we win the war on poverty?”26 Such theorizing about legislative and implementation processes manifested the understanding of authority embedded in Weberian bureaucracy theory.html (accessed 6 April 2011). Susan. assembly-line fashion marked by a top-down decision- making authority. Dvora. thereby routinizing the power dimensions of post-legislative policy implementation and rendering them invisible. W. Implementation and the policy process. ‘Tackling the implementation problem: Epistemological issues in policy implementation research’. Nelson.’ The New York Times (11 March 2007).. systems constraints (the structural problems of an intergovernmental system that bridges national and local levels of government). Policy Sciences 5/4. Greenwood Press.Yanow. 1990. the instrumental. See Error! Main Document Only.. www. in Dennis J. 1977. see Caruso. also from the US of the 1970s: “If we can get a man on the moon. 1974... Policy worlds. and political dimensions (reflecting the exigencies of coalition- building across stakeholders). Susan Wright. goal-oriented rationalism that Shore and Wright call “authoritative instrumentalism. The moon and the ghetto. this thinking typically assumed that legislative intent is (or should be) capable of being made clear and known. that language itself is capable of being made transparent (with respect 25 Public policies are primarily implemented by organizations. Richard R. Nelson. Berghahn. This concern has apparently not abated: while writing this article. ‘Knowledge is power only if you know how to use it. e. New York. 213-27. 27 Shore.nytimes. was instrumental-rational in character: it treated the policy process as a set of stages in a linear. Cris and Wright. eds. problems in human relations (insufficient incentives to motivate personnel). and these analyses largely reflected theoretical developments in organizational studies. . 8 politics).

as well as in MPA (Master of Public Administration) and other undergraduate and post-graduate degrees. there is no reason for governmental bodies to legislate policies that are incapable of being implemented. . Redman’s reflection. that complex calculations of self-interest – perhaps having nothing to do with the merits. and other decision-makers. DC. public administrators. The instrumental-rational model. and the conceptualisations associated with it. were exported to the world of practice in a newly created professional degree. Through training for mid-career policy-makers. sometimes in the same reader. This apparent revelation.. and conceptual innocence and naïve belief in Weberian theorizing that characterized policy implementation theorizing 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. and that the policy process (meaning from policy formulation through implementation) is exclusively rational and instrumental. op cit. in fact – can be decisive in influencing a chairman or chief counsel or sponsor or staffer to aid this bill and not that.28 28 Redman. the model spread also to practice-focused conferences and journals – although many practitioners themselves admitted that their worlds did not operate in such exclusively rational-instrumental ways. including assumptions of language transparency. on audience responses to the legislative processes described in Dance of Legislation captures some of what from today’s vantage point seems the same political. nearly 30 years after it was first published. many of whom held positions in Washington. the seeming arbitrariness of it all. established at a number of US universities. nor should they. provoked fascination and revulsion. to choose one and drop others. the Master of Public Policy (MPP). 9 to its referent) and unambiguous. 304. organizational. In this view.

People-processing. see Stein. D. The “interpretive turn” in policy studies The challenge to the top-down. Russell Sage Foundation. Reforming special education. rather than as theorized absent empirical input. MIT Press. Richard. 30 Lipsky. 1999 [English translation. and Dubois.. Cambridge. 391-402. Other work building on that critique. Prottas. 1980. Cops. MA. 1979. 2010]. Steven and Musheno. Ann Arbor. 1978. 1979. Vincent. Cambridge. New York. ‘Standing the study of public policy implementation on its head. MA. see Maynard-Moody. as well as other developments across the social sciences. Teachers College Press. New York. 10 Empirically-grounded research emerging out of implementation studies began to challenge the usefulness of the instrumental-rational model for analyzing public policies. counselors: Stories from the front lines of public service. teachers. La vie au guichet. including their political dimensions. University of Michigan Press. London. 2004. eds. MIT Press.. Sandra J.’ in Walter Dean Burnham and Martha Weinberg. . Michael. Economica. joined in sparking the development of interpretive policy analysis. Ashgate. 2003. The added chapters in the 1984 third edition of Pressman and Wildavsky’s ground-breaking study seem less astonished by the mismatch between legislative intentions and implementation realities. Lexington.C. The culture of education policy. Street-level bureaucracy. Heath.. American politics and public policy. The bureaucrat and the poor. From a somewhat different angle. Weatherley.29 These insights led Lipsky to argue – in a major critique of Weberian bureaucracy theory as applied to public policy processes – that the conceptualization of implementation needed to be inverted30: as experienced and observed. policies that were supposed to be being implemented in a-political administrative fashion were 29 Lipsky. including street-level bureaucrats. Paris. Jeffrey M. Michael. instrumental-rational model of policy- making and implementation began to develop out of field-based studies of the work practices of implementers in various settings. For two recent studies that extend the theorizing. Michael.

Gusfield. 1979). University of Chicago Press. George Allen & Unwin. parallel to understandings of the hermeneutic circle as both a way of knowing and the interpretive community that follows that logic of inquiry (see also ‘Postscript—1969’ in the 2nd ed. which introduced phenomenological ideas and the notion of social constructionism (or . 1983. 1985. Methodology for the human sciences. Chicago. Philadelphia. 1981. Thomas S. 1975. University of Chicago Press.. 1964.’ Theory and Society. 2nd ed. The whole conceptual apparatus. Thomas. The rhetoric of economics.32 others in philosophy. The culture of public problems: Drinking- driving and the symbolic order. and Luckmann. Narrative knowing and the human sciences. Urbana. Brian. ‘Second thoughts on paradigms. McCloskey. Philadelphia. 1966. Polkinghorne. Taylor. University of Pennsylvania Press. Madison. The symbolic uses of politics. Bernstein. New York. cit. in other words.. or Kuhn. 32 Geertz. Cambridge..g. Rabinow and Sullivan. ‘Social theory as metaphor. cit. Peter L. 3. loc. Albany. Donald. Chicago. Donald. Fish. 33 E. supported by still another source.. The restructuring of social and political theory. some in other branches of political science. Richard Harvey. The social construction of reality. Beyond objectivism and relativism. Albany. economics. Polkinghorne. Joseph R. 1976. for instance.. Chicago. Murray. including with respect to what bureaucracy and other organizational theorists had argued was and should be a-political administrative practices. Is there a text in this class? The authority of interpretive communities. and literary studies. An account of this intellectual genealogy would be remiss without mentioning two other works: Kuhn. 174-210. the so-called interpretive turn across the social sciences: conceptual and philosophical works developing along parallel lines at the same time. 11 actually subject to local interpretation at the hands of street-level bureaucrats (given particular structural constraints).. The structure of scientific revolutions.. Richard J. 1988. University of Pennsylvania Press. Social theory and political practice. 1983. cit. Richard J. Doubleday. Edelman. which started many thinking about the ways in which scientific “discoveries” are made and the role of epistemic communities in that – ideas that encapsulate the two meanings of paradigm in the work. 169–97. 1983. loc. University of Illinois. Chicago. loc. and through these acts the latter were understood by their clients as themselves making governmental policy. 1971. Brown. needed to be re-thought. and Berger.’ in The essential tension: Selected studies in scientific tradition and change. Bernstein. Murray.31 some in anthropology and sociology.. Harvard University Press. Markham. Stanley. University of Chicago Press. 1970 [1962]. Donald.33 31 In political theory.. Thomas S. SUNY Press. University of Wisconsin Press. Fay. see Edelman. Interpretive policy analysis grew out of these critiques. SUNY Press. psychology. Politics as symbolic action. Boston. 1976.

Ethics. in Frank Fischer and John Forester.. 103-15. ‘Toward a policy culture approach to implementation’. 248-65. 115-35. engaging Habermasian theorizing and theoretical developments in other fields. 1993. 128-52. dialogical turn. Ronald D. Calista. Anne Larason and Ingram.. ‘Key political symbols’. 1990. among other things. 241-61. and Wagenaar. eds. New York. Discursive democracy.. Policy Sciences 15. 235–51. in Daniel Callahan and Bruce Jennings. Jennings. a significant section of interpretive policy analysis took a discursive. .. 128-41. 34 In Policy Sciences: Ascher. 199-212. Policy Sciences 19. Elsewhere. University Press of Kansas. 3-9. 12 Several of these arguments were sounded by sequential editors of Policy Sciences or in articles on its pages. New York. Newbury Park. ‘Contextual orientation in policy analysis’. Using social research in policy making. 381-96. William. eds. CA. Duke University Press. eds... which emerges from a hermeneutic phenomenology. eds. 1988. ‘Policy analysis as a hermeneutic activity’. Frank and Forester. Cambridge University Press. Sage.g. The argumentative turn in policy analysis and planning. Deliberative policy analysis. Rein.. 309-29.. 1985.35 which. the social sciences. Durham. 35 See. ‘Between knowledge and politics’. ‘Editorial’.. Torgerson. Jennings. Charles J. That move has. 7/1. Subsequently. Confronting values in policy analysis. counters the denial of agency to those on the “receiving end” of policies. 1982. 36 Dryzek. cit. Charles J.. Bruce. John S. MA.. Torgerson. The social meaning of civic space. Charles T. eds. Policy Sciences 19. Implementation and the policy process. Fox. Douglas. Schneider. Lawrence. see DeHaven-Smith.. Policy Studies Review 7/1. 1987. 307-405. 1987. Douglas. Donald. Sage. in Frank Fischer and John Forester.. John S.. ‘Problem setting in policy research’. 1986. Paul. Ronald D. Healy. Confronting values in policy analysis.36 constructivism... 1982. Douglas. Plenum. 1986. Lexington Books. 1987. Maynard-Moody. Maarten A. Steven and Stull. John. ‘Interpretive social science and policy analysis’. and policy analysis. re-linked policy analysis to forms of governance that are more democratic and participatory. cit. Dvora. the terms are used differently in different disciplines) to the English- reading academy.. Brunner. in Dennis J. ‘Interpretive policy inquiry’. Newbury Park. Helen. 53-76. 1990. Hendrik. loc. ‘Implementation research’. Cambridge. Torgerson. New York. 1983. Hawkesworth. Policy design for democracy. loc. Martin and Schon. eds. Yanow. 1987. Policy Sciences 19. Lexington. ed. ‘Interpretation and the practice of policy analysis’. CA. ‘Biases in public policy implementation evaluation’. ‘Interpretive policy inquiry’. Hajer. Cambridge University Press. 1987. 33-59. ‘The symbolic side of policy analysis’.. Dryzek. Policy Studies Review. Policy Sciences 14. Policy Sciences 20. Greenwood. 2003. Donald A. 1986. Palumbo and Donald J. 3-35. e. Fischer. NC. 1977.34 One of the points of critique centered on the potential for multiple possible interpretations of lived social realities. 1987. Goodsell. Bruce. for several theorists. in Carol Weiss. Policy Sciences 20. ‘The policy sciences as science’. Policy Sciences 18. Fox. Brunner.

2009. Hajer and Wagenaar. which puts their work close to that of (participatory) action researchers.. Oxford University Press. eds. ‘The communication of policy meanings: Implementation as interpretation and text’. policies may be viewed as “texts. interpretive policy analyses focus on meaning – both its expression and its communication. 26. ed. The argumentative turn in policy analysis and planning. cit. 127-227. ‘The practice of policy-making’. cit. to an exploration of communities of practitioners and the specific practices that are entailed in the communication of policy meanings. loc. Freeman. Davydd and Levin. Yanow. Duke University Press. NC. Annette. Sage..38 Beyond seeing policy actions as “text analogues. 40 For an extensive overview of this area..” in addition to that of policy-makers and implementers. Steven. Oxford University Press.”39 some theorists also want to establish grounds for intervention in order to improve the problems targeted by policies. 39 Taylor. 13 especially in their discursive focuses. and there is a strong desire on the part of most analysts to move beyond identification and description of communities of interpretation around specific policy issues and the understanding of what goes wrong (or right). ‘Discourse coalitions and the institutionalization of practice’. Dvora. 1995. 2003. cit. Still. 1997. Frank. 41-61. Evidence & policy. CA. loc. Reframing public policy: Discursive politics and deliberative practices. 7/2. Introduction to action research. Maarten. potential clients. 1993. eds. as “readers” of these texts. 37 Fischer. 43-76. 2011. Yanow. They seek to take into account the local knowledge of those on policies’ “receiving end. 111-26. ‘Practices of policy interpretation’. 29. Fischer.37 In these approaches. New York. 38 Error! Main Document Only. policy analysis – and especially implementation analysis – is grounded in action. near and far. and Boaz. Richard. 2006 [1998]. . Policy Sciences. in Frank Fischer and John Forester. and other policy- relevant publics. loc. Dvora. Griggs. University Press of Kansas. see Greenwood.40 In their various approaches.” with implementers.Hajer. Thousand Oaks. Special Issue. Policy Sciences. Fischer and Forester. New York... clients. 1993. This may include essaying to make what is Lawrence. Morten. Frank. Democracy and expertise: Reorienting policy inquiry. Durham.

see Schwartz-Shea. New York. Dvora. in Polanyi’s sense. Borrowing a term from recent developments in cognitive linguistics. Georgetown University Press. more explicit. 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. looking at various sources and genres of evidence and corresponding analytic modes. Doubleday. loc. 2008. How does a policy mean? Interpreting policy and organizational actions. Interpretive research design: Concepts and processes. Washington. 14 known tacitly. Dvora. Chicago. we might say that this focus on “how” leads to a multimodal form of analysis. 1993. 1966. the possible multiplicities of problem definition resulting from different interpretive communities’ experiences and perceptions. Metaphors dead and alive. Peregrine and Yanow. Cornelia. through symbolic representation.. And this leads further to the mapping for exposure and intertextuality that characterizes interpretive methodologies and methods more broadly. Yanow. New York. clearly. but also acts and the objects drawn on and/or referenced in both language and acts.43 In addition. instead. . Michael. cit. see Müller. 43 On multimodality in cognitive linguistics. 1996.42 Interpretive policy analysts study various policy- relevant manifestations of the three broad categories of human artifacts that. a narrative which entails the seeds for problem resolution) to engage. give expression to their creators’ meanings: language. Routledge. This includes exploring the possibility that conflicts among policy-relevant groups may reflect epistemological differences and not simply contests over facts: what is perceived and accepted as a relevant “fact” is often part of the contestation. The tacit dimension. sleeping and waking. 42 Yanow. DC. 2012. University of Chicago Press. as 41 Polanyi.41 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 communicated.

NY. One stream of research investigates the work of metaphors in policy language. Peregrine. beliefs. 46 For a cognitive linguistics approach. Schön. To analyze those data. ambiguity in policy matters is often purposeful – and its centrality to multiple possible meanings. Basic Books.46 Other work looks at 44 Rein and Schon. 15 Rein and Schon argued in respect of policy framing. Armonk. see Yanow. formal and conversational interviewing. Recognizing the agency of those previously seen as “targets” and.45 Data in the form of language predominate in interpretive policy analysis. objects. M E Sharpe. and Rein. Martin. see Error! Main Document Only. 45 For a suggestive. much of it building on theories from cognitive linguistics. which represent underlying meanings (values. Donald A. treating their local knowledge as itself an important source of expertise repositions the expertise of policy analysts from purely subject-matter knowledge to knowledge of inquiry processes. cit. Frame reflection: Toward the resolution of intractable policy controversies. as appropriate to the character of the data. and acts that are symbolic – that is.Lakoff. and/or feelings/sentiments) – enable multiplicities of (possible) meaning- making and a demarcation among communities of interpretation and of practice. interpretive policy analysts draw on a range of meaning-focused methods. Interpretation and method: Empirical research methods and the interpretive turn.. 1994.. perhaps even more importantly. xx. in part due to its reliance on documentary and interview sources. In this fashion. and participant-observer ethnography. but not exhaustive list of some two dozen analytic methods. George . Associated methods generate data through the close reading of policy-relevant texts and other kinds of documents.44 Language. Dvora and Schwartz-Shea. eds. 2006. loc. New York. the practice of interpretive policy analysis intertwines its conceptual-theoretical approach with a set of methodological concerns that themselves engage and legitimize local knowledge. Researchers recognize the requisite ambiguity of language – indeed.

Emery. ‘The contemporary theory of metaphor’. Carver. ‘Contextual meanings in policy discourse: A case study of language use concerning resource policy in the New Zealand high country’. Metaphors we live by. Sr. Yanow. 1985.. ‘Generative metaphor’. Merlijn. Political language and metaphor. Durham. see Keeler. 254-83 (also in 2nd ed. Armonk. On narrative. 612-30. New York. Steven H. in Dvora Yanow and Peregrine Schwartz-Shea. in Frank Fischer and John Forester. NC. Stamford. ed. 16 categories. ‘Contending discourses in the electromagnetic fields controversy’.Kaplan. NY. 31. More recent work in this area looks at conceptual blending and multimodal metaphor. Yanow. in Andrew Ortony. London. IL. 202-51. For applications to policy. Academic Press. Duke University Press. Linder. eds.S. cit. but instead because of the particular way that the policy issue itself has been framed. Yanow. Murray. 29-52.’ in Tineke Abma. Durham.. loc. ‘Supermarkets and culture clash: The epistemological role of metaphors in administrative practice’. On stories. Chicago. 48 Rein and Schon. Town hall tales: Culture as storytelling in local government. see also Edelman. cit. building on the work of Martin Rein and Donald Schon. 300-15. Simon. Duke University Press. ‘Framing moves: Interpretive politics at the Federal Reserve’. Sharpe. ‘Value-critical policy analysis: The case of language policy in the United States’. Chicago. George. whose theorizing pointed to the extent to which “intractable policy controversies” are often so not because of failures in policy design. see Miller. M. in Andrew Ortony. 209- 30. Political language.. 186-209.. CT. Narrative policy analysis. cit. 2008. loc. Administration & Society 39/5. 1993. See also Abolafia. The argumentative turn in policy analysis and planning. NC. fire. 14. 167-85. Schmidt.E.. eds.48 More recently.47 Framing is central to interpretive policy analysis. Lakoff. Jernej. Women. Policy Sciences. University of Chicago Press.. HIV/AIDS policy’. 47 On categories. loc. story-telling or other forms of narrative. John. 2008.‘Public policies as identity stories: American race-ethnic discourse. 1977. in Fischer.. 1994.. 199–224. 89-109. ‘Learning from practice stories: The priority of practical judgment’. The argumentative turn in policy analysis and planning. University of Chicago Press. eds. 2nd ed. Cambridge. 1992. 1999. 1979. Cambridge University Press. 349-70. Error! Main Document Only. Mitchel Y. Knowledge 7. Error! Main Document Only.. Donald A. Lakoff. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory. 1993. Dvora. 1980. and dangerous things. Policy Sciences 18/2. Interpretation and method: Empirical research methods and the interpretive turn. George. Frank and John Forester. ed. Donald F. cit. 1993.. Swaffield. Telling tales: On narrative and evaluation... Routledge.. Dvora. loc. . 2006. ‘Analysis of logic: Categories of people in U. JAI Press. ed.. Metaphor and thought. Delft. eds.. Mark. Rebecca. 2003.. Cambridge University Press. interpretive policy analysts have taken up discourse theories of and Johnson. 1987.. 2004. ‘Social policy: An exercise in metaphor’. see Müller. New York. 2007. 191-215..Schon. Ronald. Duke University Press. see Forester. 1995. 1998. American Review of Public Administration 22. Eburon. NC. Terrell and Pikalo. RoeError! Main Document Only. 1993). Durham. ‘Reading policy narratives’. van Hulst. Error! Main Document Only. Metaphor and thought. Thomas J. Schön and Rein.

. with a subsequent change in national policy. Buckingham. streets. leading to the legislating of policies that are. and federal law. of meaning). ethnographic analysis of the various groups involved might be drawn on.. To take one clear example. what is meaningful “in private” and in public.g. takes precedence over local law. which regulates traffic on those roadways. Open University Press. about its identity – its values and beliefs.49 Language is not the only form of data generated or analyzed in interpretive policy analysis. near and far. cit. 2008. Raymond Nairn (personal communication. and others – passed legislation declaring themselves to be “nuclear free zones. the bills are irrational. from an interpretive point of view. leads to unsettling another assumption built in to positivist modes of policy analysis: it highlights the social reality that policy processes may also be an avenue for human expressiveness (of identity. To analyze policy-related acts. loc. Massachusetts. Howarth. is transshipped over federal highways.” Nuclear material.. unimplementable. e. 2000. in one way or another. however. Cambridge. several city councils in the US – Santa Cruz. adding observational data to interview and/or documentary data. 17 various sorts. Discourse. for instance. and offices across New Zealand influenced then-newly-elected Prime Minister David Lange's decision to change his stance on the matter. schools. Hayward.50 49 See. 50 There is nothing to suggest that expressive acts cannot also be instrumental (or vice versa). and Berkeley in California. Oakland. such as the act of choosing or declining to regulate EMF (electro-magnetic frequency) emissions. July 1996) related the example of how a campaign that included hanging anti-nuclear signs on numerous homes. David J. they can be understood as embodying stories each polity tells itself and other publics. Epstein. Whereas from the perspective of rational- instrumental policy-making. A meaning-focused approach to policy acts. .

51 See. language and acts also often refer to or use objects in the material world. Policy Sciences. Yanow. and objects are intertwined and mutually implicating. 2007. in practice. loc. loc. Journal of Architectural and Planning Research. M E Sharpe. Armonk. eds. e. 18/2.. 1995. Examples might include particular programs or the specific design of policy-relevant spaces. Conducting interpretive policy analysis. Dvora. CA.‘How built spaces mean: A semiotics of space’. ‘Architecture as a setting for governance’. For such data. distinct: language. Special issue. cit. Leslie.. acts. Yanow. 52 Yanow. communicated. 2000. 1995. Error! Main Document Only. 53 Pal. Sage. in a particular housing policy enabling either purchase or rental. in Dvora Yanow and Peregrine Schwartz-Shea. 10/4. Newbury Park.. Yanow. Dvora. 2006. The three categories of symbolic artifacts are useful for heuristic purposes. Dvora.52 Through them analysts seek to “map the architecture”53 of policy arguments. Dvora. NY.. or the meaning of “home. ed. as well as exploring how those meanings are developed.. Charles T. 1993. and which meanings are being communicated and to what audiences. . analysis might focus on the ways in which programmatic activities or built spaces communicate policy and wider societal meaning(s).g.” whether ownership or occupancy. ‘Interpretation in policy analysis: On methods and practice’. Goodsell. cit. Goodsell. Interpretation and method: Empirical research methods and the interpretive turn.51 All of these and other analytic devices would be used to try to elicit understandings of what specific policies might mean to various issue-relevant publics. 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 mount. ‘Competing paradigms in policy discourse: The case of international human rights’. even though they are not always. and (potentially) variously understood.. 185-207. 18 Thirdly. near and far. 349-66. 109-21. Critical Policy Analysis 1.

although perhaps holding at the philosophical level. by choice. or silenced.” and it is a methodological or philosophical generalization: how legislators. by forces beyond them. how some of these interpretations may conflict with each other. has been criticized. including of organizations and other institutions. especially when they consider voices that have been silent. seems not to obtain when phenomenological inquiry is directed toward policy matters. In such applications. authored text is implicitly or explicitly replaced by the “constructed” texts of multiple “readings” at the hands of various policy-relevant publics. more broadly contextualized. how analysts may make sense of those meanings and conflicts. as a single.” Analyses emphasize the context-specificity of meaning. this criticism. implementers. 19 In these analytic treatments. They are specific to events and times – the “what” of a policy – and hue closely to the meanings made by policy-relevant actors – although an analysis may be. Although phenomenology. and other publics make policy meanings in thus and such ways. in particular. for being so involved with the individual ‘Self’ as to neglect power. and often is. One final methodological point. whether by reference to multiple evidentiary sources or to the context of some theoretical literature to which the research question and analysis speak. the notion of policy. interpretive policy analysts cannot help but include power dimensions. Looking forward . especially by critical theorists. clients. The notion of a singular legislative “author” is expanded by multiple discourse communities in the form of collective “readers. whether legislative document or state intention. Any generalization relates to the “how.

20 Interpretive policy analysis seems at this point secure within the academy. It is also generative in theoretical terms.”? Is it a specific program? From an interpretive policy analytic perspective. at this particular time? That kind of question.55 The more interpretive policy analysis stands on its own. Marleen. based in Europe and the UK. Journal of International Relations and Development. interpretive policy analysis continues to enable a generative engagement with some of the problems that seem analytically intractable from a positivist perspective. including its legislation and implementation. op. forthcoming. clearly 54 Shore and Wright. attempted or achieved. Is “policy” the formal document that is the outcome of a legislative act? Is it a set of inclinations. see Yanow. in this particular setting. and Oceania. takes place in June 2011 and draws attendance also from North America. leads to a dynamic definition of policies as working “to classify and organise people and ideas in new ways. the key question to ask may be not. 55 On integration. its associated journal is in its fifth volume. Dvora and van der Haar. Schön. cit. What is a policy? but instead. What work is a policy and/or its elements. as in “The government’s policy is . ‘People out of place: Allochthony and autochthony in Netherlands identity discourse B metaphors and categories in action’. on housing decay. cit. . doing.. loc. “governance” discourse – or of specific terms in particular policy issues – such as “integration” or “housing decay” – and their potential for multiple interpretations.. the sort of focus found in science studies. situation or other context. at least outside of the US: the 6th international conference. As a way of knowing. India. as in the definitional problem found in policy studies textbooks..” in a broader. South Africa. 1979.”54 It shifts analytic attention to the constructed character of concepts – such as “policy.

. currently enjoying increased attention.. ‘Making doubt generative: Rethinking the role of doubt in the research process. chapter 2. and Mitchell.. Logics of critical explanation in social and political theory. foreign policy has more commonly been left to international relations (IR). 32/4. 13/2. and policies – and. “Public policy studies. which they use in the same sense. op. often occasioned by the mis-match between the researcher-analyst’s expectations and policy-specific lived realities. has long meant domestic legislative processes and policies only – welfare. housing. 1145–54. John. Karen.’ Organization Science. 2009. transportation. their analyses – must do likewise. 2008. 286–303. 2007. 907-18. This is increasingly done today in IR. . Routledge. 2010. and looks for likely conditions that would “normalize” it. Jason and Howarth. International Organization. after all. on retroduction. Sørensen. Terence R. Glynos. 19/6. 2007. as well. ‘On acting and knowing: How pragmatism can advance international relations research and methodology’. Part of this grounding. NY. Jesper B. 63. ‘The interplay between theory and method’. has made the limitations of this boundary-making abundantly clear: environmental and other problems. is the abductive logic of inquiry that is increasingly being seen as lying at the heart of interpretive ways of knowing: analysis begins with a puzzle or surprise. One of these is the field’s substantive policy domain. and Feldman. the less it has to do defensive battle looking over its shoulder at positivist-informed ways of knowing. Friedrich. Michael. Martha S. perhaps in concert with interpretive methodologies and methods more broadly. Cf. hence. and the more it can engage and explore its own philosophical-theoretical grounding. Academy of Management Review. see also Agar. cit. The establishment of the European Union. cross state lines. 701-31. see Friedrichs. Jorg and Kratochwil. ontological and epistemological feet. and so forth..56 Interpretive policy analysis scholars might turn their attention to other matters. David. In a parallel field of study. where 56 Schwartz-Shea and Yanow. Van Maanen. Organizational Research Methods. ‘On the ethnographic part of the mix: A multi-genre tale of the field’. along with environmental issues and terrorism. Locke. 21 articulated. Karen.” at least in the US. Golden-Biddle.

Herbert. University of Chicago Press. feminist. University of California Press. interpretive policy analysis scholars are increasingly drawing on methods that have not been widely used in recent years. TVA and the grass roots. Jay. Kaufman. Selznick. Baltimore.g. Glencoe. Campana. Selznick.. for instance. Harper & Row. Gouldner. Emmanuel. and practice-focused analyses – are developing policy-making theories with respect to. Philip.g.. Few researchers were engaging participant-observer ethnography at the time that the field was developing (although it had been fairly common in earlier policy and administrative research58). Crozier. Chicago. 1964. 2007.. 22 scholars – many of them drawing on the full panoply of post-positivist methodologies and methods. security or securitization concerns. 1953]. and other language-focused studies to critical discourse. and interpretive ethnographic 57 See. and Henry. The forest ranger. Whereas European scholars seem already more likely to do so. Michel. . But they do so largely in ignorance of established interpretive policy analytic theorizing – and vice versa. 1954. Second.57 many departments and faculties are under pressure to adopt the US model. Strasbourg. New York. La construction des problèmes publics en Europe. 1949. Chicago. e. Both policy and IR scholars stand to benefit from crossing the hitherto existing disciplinary boundaries between domestic and “supranational” entities in their analytic work. Aurélie. Alvin W. 1954. Patterns of industrial bureaucracy. 58 E. Blau.. Published for Resources for the Future by Johns Hopkins University Press. a development that could lead to re- balkanization of this analytic terrain. narrative. University of Chicago Press. Philip. Free Press. and these need to be given a fuller account. But attention to policy ethnography is growing. Leadership in administration: A sociological interpretation. IL. Peter. Rowell. PUS. Berkeley. ranging from a phenomenological social constructivism and metaphor. 1963 [orig. 1957. eds. The dynamics of bureaucracy. MD. and studies have been biased toward policy documents and elite or expert interviews. The bureaucratic phenomenon.

” That is where power. acts. are key. if not also to include. chapter 9. Wright. those living out others’ policy decisions. loc. has largely engaged its subject matter “at the top.. discourses and institutions . another developing method in interpretive policy analysis – or. to undertake ethnographic work.”60 Following policy “components” in these ways. cit. The policy 59 See. Chicago. e. is widely presumed to reside. “teasing out connections and observing how policies bring together individuals. 23 approaches could well be cultivated further. decision- making. until recently. see Schatz. objects. and the new kinds of networks. and other sources of power and of silent and/or silenced voices without pressure to constrain the study to the borders of a specific physical setting. University of Chicago Press. relations and subjects this process creates. Political ethnography: The difference immersion makes.. .. This is what following a policy and its relevant actors. op. and Peró. cit. van Hulst. Dubois.59 For a field that wants at least to know about. 60 Cris Shore. methods that enable “studying-up. loc. Tracing how a policy issue might be framed at one moment and reframed at another can transcend both physical boundaries and those of time. Traditional policy analysis. cit. Cris Shore has argued that policies require not so much studying up as studying across and every which way in a network sort of fashion. On political ethnography more broadly. Edward. perhaps. the leitmotif of the discipline’s work.. a new way to talk about an older method – can lead analysts to trace the sites of agenda-setting. policy and the art of government: The British Secret Services and the war on Iraq’.” such as ethnography or participant observation. and language promises.. in Shore. as with nearly all political science.” Beyond this. 2009. This might partially explain the disinclination among interpretive policy studies scholars. ‘Espionage. despite an orientation toward wanting to understand what is happening with policies “on the ground.g.

Cheltenham. Additionally. increasingly central to the field’s research. analysis runs the risk of further removal from the world of 61 See. perhaps joined by increasing attention to spatial domains. Alfons and Yanow. which rematerialize the world of policy analysis. When research is animated by a concern for situated meaning. eds. For one. the policy analyst would follow policy issues to additional settings relevant to the policy element being tracked. . pursuing an abductive logic of inquiry. as is amply evident in. Edward Elgar. to the extent that treating language as the sole carrier of policy and implementing agency meanings. are appearing on the interpretive policy analytic horizon. Instead. 24 itself is the site. By contrast. e. such as physical artifacts and acts. A similar sort of logic appears to provide a scientific rationale for comparative analysis from an interpretive perspective. “most similar” or “most different” logics of case selection – which require a priori designation of what is locally meaning-ful – seem an insufficient rationale. 2010. researchers need to be clear about which among the several forms of discourse analysis they are engaging.. for instance. which might shed further light on the initial surprise. discourse analyses. alongside language and acts. as many of these studies do. call for a different sort of attention.g. not some geographically bounded entity. Science studies and actor-network theoretic approaches such as these.. van Marrewijk. Organizational spaces: Rematerializing the workaday world. Dvora. excludes an exploration of other forms of policy enactment.61 A more systematic account needs to be made of these and other methods as they figure in interpretive policy analysis. Such “following” also brings physical artifacts back into analytic focus. Charlotte Epstein’s study of whaling (mentioned earlier).

and explicitly communicable . an exclusive concern with written and spoken language constitutes a denial of the non-verbal. Moreover. acts – as vehicles for the communication of meaning. in the world of practice there are many times when meanings are made. and acted upon without such explicit. 25 practice. much like the centipede in response to being asked. "What is your 37th leg doing when your 83rd is up?" Even more. through the symbolic representations of meaning in metaphors. conscious reflection: we do communicate. and in particular the assumption that we cannot make sense of experience without converting it into verbal language. stories. while a key characteristic of academic work. The emphasis on explicit language as the (only) way to communicate meaning privileges cognitive understandings over non-verbal ones. As noted above. we must acknowledge that logocentrism. and theoretical and analytic room must be created for acts and objects as well. does not do justice to the panoply of meaning-communicative elements in policy practices: language is but one mode of meaning-making. if not stymies. But in the world of practice. action. It inclines us toward a privileging of explicit knowledge. of the immediacy and accuracy of aesthetic and emotive responses. and so on. much that we know only tacitly. If our initial question was what and/or how policies mean. the point holds as well for objects. and of the fullest reality of tacit knowledge. Taylor provides the philosophical grounds for considering not only literal texts but “text analogues” – in his case. such reflection and conversion often halts. intentional. conveyed. Both have a place in interpretive policy analysis.

2003.‘Introduction: Toward a practice-based view of knowing and learning in organizations’. NY. N. 2009. v.. and it is claiming a place within IR security studies. Davide Nicolini.g. 26 understandings over tacitly known ones. and Dvora Yanow. 259-76). Yanow. Silvia Gherardi. A newly developing subfield within anthropology that engages 62 See. if interpretive policy analysts are serious about questions of knowledge and its power dimensions. of those researched than to explicitly engage their own. Haridimos. 1339-64. Dvora Yanow. these are still very much contested methodological spaces in policy studies.. M E Sharpe. Interpretive policy analysis has been increasingly central in recent years in various branches of environmental policy. UK. e. Organization theory. Armonk.” without using that term. An interpretive policy analysis that encompasses “discursive spaces” in documents and policy talk without abandoning observed acts and/or material artifacts can enhance its analytic purchase. Dvora and Tsoukas. 1993. 2.62 Despite the fact that narrative and other language-focused turns create a space for tacit knowledge. Reflexivity links directly to issues of power – in this case. 373-90 (reprinted in Error! Main Document Only.’ Journal of Management Studies 46/8.” Although increasingly de rigueur in interpretive methodologies quite broadly. they are going to have to take on board the methodological concerns with reflexivity and positionality – personal as well as physical situatedness – in the generation of “truth claims. Journal of Management Inquiry. Cheltenham. 1. It should be central to interpretive policy analysis.. Scott D. and Yanow. they seem not to accord it the fullest weight and attention that it merits.Barbara Czarniawska. with respect to researchers and those researched – and not “just” to the subjectivities of knowledge generation. Edward Elgar. eds. ‘Culture and organizational learning’. 3-31. ‘What is reflection-in-action? A phenomenological account. 2006. where researchers are much more likely to consider the “positionalities. Lastly. Dvora. ed. Error! Main Document Only. in Davide Nicolini. Knowing in organizations: A practice-based approach. Cook. Silvia Gherardi. .

context-specific analytic domain. in the US. . as well.” and it will be interesting to see how the two fields engage one another. Congressional Research Service analysts and staff at one of the Forest Service agencies. among them. Interpretive understandings of policy processes is proving generative for practitioners. 27 public policy is similarly “interpretive. The challenge before us is to continue to explore and develop the several practices that fall within this meaning-focused.