Methods of Interpretive Policy Analysis: A Practice Perspective (Severine van Bommel)
This chapter takes as its focus the actual practice, with respect to methods, of practitioners in Interpretive Policy Analysis (IPA). In textbooks on interpretive methods, a lot of space and time are devoted to the differences in the scientific grounding that underpin the interpretive approach in contradistinction, particularly, with positivist methods. The focus on these differences means less attention to what in fact interpretive practitioners ‘do’ in terms of methods and how they do it. Using a ‘practice perspective’ – itself a relevant method informed by the ‘practice turn’ in social theory – this paper discusses how the practical work of doing interpretive policy research is structured as well as which interpretive research designs are predominantly used (language-based case studies, ethnography and action research). Then the chapter proceeds by discussing some similarities and differences in interpretive methods and practices with regard to: 1) the position of the researcher (distant and retrospective or involved and observing meaning in the making as it happens); 2) political engagement (analysing meaning making or influencing meaning making more actively) and 3) reflexivity (reflecting on one’s own positionality and its result for the meaning produced in research more strongly or not). Last but not least the chapter identifies some upcoming trends in methods and practices of interpretive research namely: 1) the fast-tracking of online research in times of COVID which is likely to remain an important means of doing research; 2) increased focus on multi-sited or multi-event studies and a related increased interest in the travel of meaning; 3) increase ethnographic methods and practice-based research; 4) increase in action research methods focussed on learning as well as a call for methods that can support transformations; 5) last but not least, beyond fieldwork, textwork and headwork, interpretive research is also increasingly becoming “teamwork” with institutional research groups all around the world now reuniting through innovative interpretive research experiences. I conclude by proposing that interpretive methods and practices are shifting along three dimensions: site, instrument and fieldworker.
Severine van Bommel is an interdisciplinary social scientist from University of Queensland. Her research and teaching are shaped by an overall interest in the negotiation of meaning in relation to planned interventions in agriculture and natural resource management. Current research interests include knowledge boundary work, travel of meaning, multispecies ethnography and dilemmas in fieldwork. She is a member of the Advisory Board of the International Interpretive Policy Analysis conference (IPA) and she is a member of the editorial board of the Critical Policy Studies journal. She mentors early career researchers interested in interpretive methods within the framework of the APSA mentoring program. Previous affiliations of Severine van Bommel include Wageningen University and Research Centre.
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