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Eva Lövbrand and Johannes Stripple

This chapter explores what kinds of critical policy studies may transpire from Michel Foucault’s nominalist engagement with traditional political concepts such as power, government and the state. We argue that Foucault’s work paves the way for a decentred form of policy analysis that asks how we govern and are governed in micro-settings including at the level of the individual subject. The focus on the ‘how of governing’ stems from a rejection of any a priori understanding of the distribution of power or location of government, and arises instead from an interest in, and awareness of, the historically situated practices, rationalities and identities by which governing operates. Viewed in this manner, Foucault-inspired policy studies neither offer us a substantive theory about the forces that shape public policy, nor does it tell us what constitutes public policy (e.g. actors, interests, structures). The role of the analyst is instead to critically interrogate how these political spaces come about, how power operates through them, and, ultimately, how they could be different.

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Laureen Elgert

Conventional approaches to the relationship between knowledge and policy take indicators as a means of packaging and presenting knowledge in objective and universally valid ways for transparent and democratic policy analysis. This chapter uses the case of ‘responsible soy’ certification standards to analyze the political role of indicators in the knowledge-policy interface, both as technologies of knowledge production and technologies of governance. The chapter concludes that indicators are better understood as a way of disseminating norms and values than as mechanisms of transparent and efficient global governance.

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Thomas Saretzki

Habermas influenced the field of policy studies indirectly by stimulating critical insights on epistemological and methodological issues and on the relation of theory and practice. His work inspired policy scholars on their way from conventional policy analysis to critical policy studies. To get a sense of the corresponding elements and significance of Habermas for the development of policy studies, the chapter starts with a short recollection of the program for the policy sciences of democracy and its conceptual problems between scientific methods and democracy. Recalling Habermas’s interventions in the positivist dispute, the technocracy debate and the controversy on the relation of hermeneutics and critical theory, the chapter then goes on to explain why policy scholars committed to democratizing policy deliberation found an interest in Habermas and how his theoretical perspectives and concepts played a role in the discussion on policy evaluation. The chapter ends in a self-reflective and self-critical sense, considering some of the problems that have been experienced by those who tried to recommend his concepts to design and implement strategies to democratize processes of policy analysis and policy-making.

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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.
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Douglas Torgerson

Despite the technocratic connotations evoked by the term ‘policy sciences’, Torgerson finds in Harold D. Lasswell’s post-WWII proposal for the ‘policy sciences of democracy’ a precursor to critical policy studies. That is not just because Lasswell favored democracy, but also because he was unsatisfied with established liberal democracy. He advanced, in contrast, an image of the ‘progressive democratization of society’, which included a participatory imperative to advance human freedom and dignity. What we find central to Lasswell’s approach, indeed, is a critical interest in emancipation. Providing not only a precursor, Lasswell also provides a model. In other words, Torgerson argues, Lasswell’s example can help us to more clearly recognize key issues facing critical policy studies. What is the relationship between critical inquiry and democratic commitment? What implications does a commitment to democratization have for advocacy and for intervention into political controversies? How should inquiry deal with contexts of power? What is the role of political judgment? By examining key concepts from Lasswell’s proposal – especially his emphasis on contextual orientation – we enhance our ability to identify such questions and to address them clearly.

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Frank Fischer

This chapter will begin with a short history of the emergence of the argumentative turn in critical policy studies from the 1970s forward. Beginning with the argumentative turn, it will explain more specifically what the argumentative approach has meant for standard models of policy analysis, and in particular what makes it critical. Along the way it will show how the perspective has evolved over two decades, moving from argumentation to deliberation, discourse, citizens panels, participatory expertise, interpretation, a recognition of the importance of emotions in policy deliberative processes, among others. A four-level model of policy discourse will be presented, with particular reference to the limitations of the advocacy coalition framework. Before concluding, the chapter will briefly discuss the relationship of argumentation and discourse to politics with an emphasis on policy change.

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Timothy W. Luke

This chapter provides a provisional reading of how critical interpretative policy studies could productively approach the challenges of interpreting power as an object of political analysis. It presents this case by re-evaluating the sites and settings in which power typically is studied by policy analysis. The discussion, however, makes a case for interpreting power, as a set of directive relations, which is co-evolving and co-constituting in agent-structure interactions with knowledge. It encourages critical policy analysis to thoroughly contest technocratic uses of power in policy-making, and endorses the acceptance of more flexible and fluid interpretations of power at work in multiple sites and settings at all levels of governance.

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Frank Fischer, Douglas Torgerson, Anna Durnová and Michael Orsini

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Anna Durnová

Durnová’s chapter sketches out the recent research on discourse and deliberation in policy in order to show that emotions represent a crucial point of intersection between the individual and the collective dimensions of discourse and, as such, structure deliberation. Emotions affect the nature of the knowledge at stake in deliberation, they shape the repartition of actors who take part in the process, and they shape the way in which they take part in it.

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Helen Ingram and Anne L. Schneider

In this chapter we explore the social construction of target populations. Policies have a wide variety of pathways through which various problems might be addressed or purposes achieved. Policy makers often choose roundabout courses of action and select target groups whose actions are only loosely related to goals. Target groups are decided upon on the basis of various criteria, including importantly their power and the social construction of their deservedness. We offer a template for classifying target groups into four basic kinds: advantaged, disadvantaged, contenders and deviants, along with the policy tools and implementation structures usually directed towards each kind. The categories we suggest are a useful tool to critical policy scholars. A worthy aim of critical research is to unmask the ineffective, illogical and unfair policy treatment and undemocratic values embedded in policies in which citizens have unequal voices and are treated inequitably.