Humanising the ‘policy analysis’: The values, beliefs and acts in the policy-making (Book Review)

Last week, I finished reading Dvora Yanow’s book ‘Conducting Interpretive Analysis. Yanow has been in the forefront of the movement which has proposed an alternative to the traditional way of policy analysis, where policy goals were considered as the ‘measurable facts.’ This development was part of a movement towards a more wholesome analysis of the phenomenon or a given reality. It was also helped by, in parts, by the publication of texts such as ‘social construction of reality’ etc. where the reality was actively constructed by the subjects, and they were not the mere ‘targets.’ During the 70s and 80s, the popular movements for gay rights, demand for equal rights for Blacks and Hispanics, growing popularity of women’s rights movements raised questions over the efficacy of positivist framework of policy analysis. In one of his lectures delivered at World Economic Forum, David Harvey talks about this intellectual ‘turn’ quite in detail. When he, like others, has arrived on the shores of Baltimore in the late 70s, what he saw all around him was chaos and uncertainty. The established ways of looking at the reality provided no answers to him. While he sought answers from Marx, others like him began to apply the insights gained from fields such as phenomenology, anthropology, political philosophy, linguistics, etc.

Quite contrast to the ‘absolutist’ outlook of traditional policy frameworks, interpretive approaches offered the possibilities of various interpretations. It shifted analytical focus in policy studies to ‘meaning-making’- both in its expression and as well as in communication, from the instrumentality of rational human beings in the earlier approaches. Seen through the lens of interpretivism, the whole policy process turned into a performance or act. If there was a stage performance, there were several backstage negotiations and contestations among the actors. If the ‘said’ words conveyed some meaning during the act, ‘unsaid’ words were had deeper meanings. Hence, resulting not only in a different policy discourse but also in a different course of action, which was inclusive of different languages, understandings, and perceptions. The ‘framing’ of the problem statement became very important, as it expressed the values, beliefs, and feelings, responding to the three dimensions of human meaning-making; emotive/aesthetic (pathos), cognitive (logos), and moral (ethos).

While the traditional approaches to policy analysis were always prescriptive or suggestive, the interpretive approach limited itself to the diagnosis of the ‘problem,’ expressing it as the one perspective among the many. Nonlinear in nature, an interpretive policy framework may have these elements (though not strictly);

(I) Identify the artifacts (language, objects, acts) that are significant carriers of meaning for a given policy issue, as perceived by policy-relevant actors and interpretive communities

(II) Identify communities of meaning/interpretation/speech/practice that are relevant to the policy issue under analysis

(III) Identify the ‘discourses’; the specific meanings being communicated through specific artifacts and their entailments (in thought, speech, and act)

(IV) Identify the points of conflicts and their conceptual sources (affective, cognitive, and moral) that reflect different interpretation by different communities

EdTech, Educational Data Sciences, Childhood Studies, History of Education & Policy Sociology, curate @central_ed , Currently @IIMAhmedabad

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