Table of Contents

Handbook of Critical Policy Studies

Handbook of Critical Policy Studies

Handbooks of Research on Public Policy series

Edited by Frank Fischer, Douglas Torgerson, Anna Durnová and Michael Orsini

Critical policy studies, as illustrated in this Handbook, challenges the conventional approaches public policy inquiry. But it offers important innovations as well, in particular its focus on discursive politics, policy argumentation and deliberation, and interpretive modes of analysis.

Chapter 6: Poststructuralist discourse theory and critical policy studies: interests, identities and policy change

David Howarth and Steven Griggs

Subjects: business and management, critical management studies, politics and public policy, public policy, regulation and governance, research methods, qualitative research methods


Explanations of policy change have generated a number of perennial stand-offs between those who privilege ideas and those who advance interests, or those who foreground agency and those who turn to structures. This chapter rejects such binary oppositions. It demonstrates how poststructuralist discourse theory offers a novel articulation or synthesis of the role of ideas, interests, agency and structures in accounts of policy change. More specifically, it recognises the centrality of politics and power in the forging, sustenance and grip of policy frames or discourses in particular social and historical contexts. In substantive theoretical terms, this emphasis involves the articulation of the concept of hegemony to account for the emergence and formation of policy discourses, and the recognition of the constitutive character of rhetoric, while drawing on Lacanian psychoanalysis and the category of fantasy to account for the stabilisation and grip of policies. In conclusion, the chapter underlines the complexity of the different elements that need to be brought together in order to explain policy change, seeking to trigger debates as to how we might begin to grasp and render comprehensible the ‘messiness’ of the policy process and the practices of policy-makers.

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