Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Relational Approaches to Policy Analysis: Prague, September

I have accepted an invitation to participate in, and present at, the ECPR (European Consortium on Political Research) conference

"The ECPR's General Conference is the largest political science event in Europe, bringing some 2,000 political scientists together every autumn. The 2016 Conference will be held at Charles University, Prague"

The group I will join are concerned with "Relational Approaches to Policy Analysis: Knowing, Intervening and Transforming in a Precarious World". It is my first time to be involved with this group and to join this conversation which is characterised by section chair, Henk Wagenaar, as:

"The Interpretive Turn (Fischer and Forester, 1993; Wagenaar, 2011) has introduced hermeneutic and discursive methods in the analysis of public policy. Approaches such as narrative analysis, frame analysis, governmentality, Critical Discourse Analysis and poststructuralist political theory are increasingly common in the discipline and practice of policy studies. These foster a politically and socially relevant policy analysis that is both appreciative and critical of daily policy practice and the argumentative and discursive processes that constitute it.

Of these, a ‘second wave’ of interpretive approaches is distinctive in incorporating anti-dualist or relational elements. Examples are practice theory (Shove et. al, 2013; Nicolini, 2013; Schatzki et al., 2001; Cook and Wagenaar, 2012), process philosophy (Stout & Love, 2015), critical pragmatism (Forester, 2013; Healey, 2007; Griggs et al., 2014, Ansell, 2011), collaborative governance (Ansell and Gash, 2008; Innes and Booher, 2011), discursive institutionalism (Carstensen 2015), the strategic-relational approach (Jessop, 2005) and co-production and action research (Reason, 1988; Bartels & Wittmayer, 2014). At the same time, the relational element within this body of research has not been fully articulated. Drawing on ideas from the new relational sociology (Emirbayer 1997) would contribute to developing this dimension of policy research by contributing to a more fully-fledged relational policy analysis, with the potential to integrate interpretive, constructivist and other new institutionalist theories of policymaking.

Although seemingly disparate and originating in different philosophical traditions, these approaches share a number of ontological and epistemological principles that set them apart from first-generation interpretive policy analysis

Read on to explore the different abstracts that have been accepted....but here are some key points many of which resonate with my own work: 
  • Relational approaches attempt to overcome the traditional dualisms of social and political science (structure vs. agency, knowing vs. acting, human vs. material) by conceiving of the world in terms of ongoing events and dynamic processes generated by recursively related elements (e.g. while action is shaped by structure, structure is reproduced trough action).
  • Ontologically our world is a world of becoming. It is open-ended, complex and unpredictable. Therefore, strong control is a misguided ideal; harnessing complexity is a more realistic prospect.
  • Relational approaches emphasize the power dynamics inherent in all social exchanges.
  • In terms of practical implications, in relational approaches knowledge is not aimed at finality and (intellectual or physical) control. Instead knowledge has the character of an encounter; between individuals or between individuals and the world. Knowledge is fundamentally bilateral, dialogical, and provisional (Wagenaar, 2011, ch. 8). It aims as much at shared understanding as at joint transformation.
  • We know the world by acting on it. In the epistemology of anti-dualism knowledge is performative. Relational approaches do not play down the importance of language, but they emphasize the primacy of practice, and the way that practice mediates language and vice versa. Intervening, knowing, learning and transformation are inextricably linked in practice and inquiry.
  • Experience is central in our dealings with the world. Experience is not an individual feeling, but instead a web of relations that ties individuals into the world. In relational approaches there is a fundamental awareness that we are inescapably woven into ecological and social webs.
  • Materiality is central. Things, technologies the stuff the word is made of, are repositories of understandings, competences, meaning and traditions. They make our actions possible, and constrain and afford them, by structuring them but also by resisting our interventions.
  • In their emphasis on joint acting, warranted assertability (exposure to recalcitrant experience), the fusion of practical and moral judgment, and the importance of open, deliberative forums, relational approaches bring out the ‘intelligence of democracy’ but also the limitations of contemporary liberal-electoral institutions. 

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