Postempiricist Foundations: Social Constructionism and Practical Discourse

Frank Fischer

in Reframing Public Policy

Published in print June 2003 | ISBN: 9780199242641
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191599255 | DOI:
 Postempiricist Foundations: Social Constructionism and Practical Discourse

Show Summary Details


This is the first of four chapters offering a postempiricist methodology for policy inquiry based on the logic of practical discourse, and examines the problems of policy research from an epistemological perspective. Focusing on the empiricist and technocratic aspects of policy analysis, the discussion first offers a critique of the neopositivist premises that have shaped and guided the enterprise; then, drawing on the theories of social constructivism and practical discourse, it sets out the foundations of a value-critical postempiricist framework for policy inquiry, emphasizing the need to integrate empirical and normative inquiry. The analysis shows the way in which what is understood as ‘science’ is influenced by the socio-historical context in which in emerges, and that social meanings and value judgements are built into scientific practices otherwise described as ‘value neutral’. In particular, it shows that in a world of multiple realities there is no ‘objective’ reality in which a scientific social science can anchor itself, rather, social science –– like science generally Vis a social activity and its products are based more on consensus than proof in the traditional understanding of the term. Towards this end, postempiricism offers a craft-oriented discursive or deliberative approach to policy science, one that better explains what social scientists are already doing; in this view, the analyst functions as an interpretive mediator between the available analytical frameworks of social science and the competing local perspectives. The chapter closes with a discussion of the problem of relativism traditionally associated with intepretivist approaches.

Keywords: discourse; empirical inquiry; epistemology; history; intepretivist approaches; neopositivism; normative inquiry; policy inquiry; policy research; postempiricist methodology; practical discourse; relativism; social constructionism; social constructivism; social science

Chapter.  12115 words. 

Subjects: Political Theory

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.