Interpreting Public Policy: Normative Frames and Methodological Issues

Frank Fischer

in Reframing Public Policy

Published in print June 2003 | ISBN: 9780199242641
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191599255 | DOI:
 Interpreting Public Policy: Normative Frames and Methodological Issues

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This is the second of four chapters offering a postempiricist methodology for policy inquiry based on the logic of practical discourse, and explores the role of interpretation in policy analysis. While empiricists have sought to restrict the focus on meaning to the observable dimensions of social reality, the interpretive orientation requires the social scientist also to pursue the unobservable. Because language is able to carry and transmit meanings among people, access to the realm of meaning often can be gained through the study of communication (both spoken and written), but such meanings are generally only indirectly made available through such communications, so it is necessary for the analyst to move beyond empirical methods (such as content analysis) to an interpretive reconstruction of the situational logic of social action. This involves inferring other people’s meanings by identifying patterns that emerge through an examination of the verbal and non-verbal messages they give about their beliefs and experiences. Narratives, for example, are a way of making the subjective dimensions of verbal actions more accessible, and the social world is in significant part organized and interpreted through narrative exchanges in their various forms. The different sections of this chapter look at interpretative policy analysis, interpretative frames, methodological strategies, policy analysis as ‘thick description’ (an approach for exploring and discovering the meanings embedded in the language and actions of policy actors), the objectivity of interpretation, validity as credibility, and social meaning and the question of causality.

Keywords: causality; communication; credibility; discourse; interpretation; interpretative frames; interpretative policy analysis; interpretive reconstruction; meaning; narratives; normative frames; objectivity of interpretation; policy analysis; policy inquiry; postempiricist methodology; practical discourse; public policy; social action; social meaning; thick description; validity

Chapter.  12376 words. 

Subjects: Political Theory

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