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Advancing Critical Policy Discourse Analysis Section - European Consortium for Political Research

Seg, 09/04/2023 - Sex, 09/08/2023
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Charles University


This Section seeks to bring together scholars using critical text and discourse analytical approaches in the study of policy and politics. Section Chairs are particularly interested in exploring:

• how policies are constituted and contested

• how critical discourse approaches can enable better understanding of policy formation

• whether critical discourse approaches lead to better policy or better policy making processes

• how to approach to the role of ideology in critical discourse analysis.

We aim to discuss these questions under the analytical umbrella of Critical Policy Discourse Analysis (Montesano Montessori, Farrelly, and Mulderrig, 2019), and we invite proposals for themed Panels and individual Papers which critically interrogate the role of text(s) in constituting, legitimating, and contesting policy problems in a range of political contexts.

Critical Policy Discourse Analysis (CPDA) combines critical discourse analysis with critical policy studies by establishing theoretical and methodological synergies between these two fields to enrigh our understanding of how policy is constituted and contested in various contexts. It does so by bringing the rigorous and systematic analysis of texts, informed by linguistic theory, into transdisciplinary dialogue with theoretical frameworks capable of recognising the socially structuring potential of discourse, but which alone tend to overlook the micro-textual processes.

This approach seeks to achieve explanatory adequacy in critical policy research by attending to the micro, meso and macro levels at which policy ideas operate; identifying what Bacchi (2018) calls (policy) ‘problem representations’ and the knowledge, values and ideologies which underpin them; unpacking the discursive processes that either sustain and naturalise them; or that hinder their contestation and disruption.

CPDA emerges from two long-standing traditions in social science research whose origins lie in Linguistics and Political Science respectively. Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) combines detailed analysis of texts with theoretically informed accounts of policy problems. It asks how political language construes specific policy problems in a way that transmits and naturalises ideologies, thus linking directly to patterns of injustice, discrimination and power (Fairclough et al., 2011).

There exists a variety of traditions within CDA (for recent surveys see Wodak and Meyer, 2016; Flowerdew and Richardson, 2018), all of which share a critical, emancipatory agenda; a discourse-dialectical ontology; and a commitment to using text and discourse analysis to explore the relationship between language and power.

More familiar to the ECPR community, Critical Policy Studies (CPS) continues Lasswell’s commitment to developing critical and democratic policy science, while placing a strong theoretical emphasis on the idea of ‘contingency’ in policy formation. It pays particular attention to (ideological) norms, values and assumptions which underpin policy processes (Fischer et al., 2015).

As such, CPS shares an analytical focus with CDA on the socially constitutive role of knowledge, power and discourse. Furthermore, both CPS and CDA mark the ‘ideational’ turn in social science, which views discourse as having causal powers in social life (Fairclough, Jessop, Sayer, 2004) and, therefore, deserving particular attention.

CPDA has emerged over the last decade as an addition to interpretive policy analysis, in particular facilitated by our series of panels at the annual Interpretive Policy Analysis conferences since 2011, which embrace interdisciplinary research in CDA (later CPDA), Hegemony, and Discourse Theory. This – as well as activity in other panels and conferences, led to the publication of Critical Discourse Policy Analysis (Montesano-Montessori, Farrelly, and Mulderrig (eds.), 2019).

Section Chairs invite proposals for Panels and Papers which follow the tradition of CPDA in combining textually oriented discourse analysis (TODA) with theoretically informed explanatory critique of policy and political texts. Panels should be organised around a particular theme which may be based on a particular policy field, political issue, theoretical framework, or methodological approach. We particularly welcome proposals which advance CPDA by focusing on its application in the following areas of policy and practice.

• Water Governance

• Health Policy

• Education Policy

• Security Policy

• Economic Policy

• Environment and Sustainability Policy (SDGs and beyond)

Research questions which might be explored in those areas include, but need not be confined to, the following:

• What are the specific ideological issues at stake? How are these legitimated?

• Are there identifiable political ‘mantras’ which naturalise particular policy perspectives? (e.g. ‘There is no alternative’; ‘Expert knowledge is redundant in the digital era’; ‘Globalisation is the ultimate determining force’; ‘Policy must keep pace with rapid social and technological change’)

• How does policy operate and translate across scales? (from the local to the national/global)

• How do policy imaginaries (simplifying discourses) seek to reduce complexity? What problems arise from this?

• (How) is policy constrained and framed by discourses of risk and resilience?

• (How) is policy inflected by populist political discourse?

We also welcome Papers which explore the tensions between policy hegemony and counter-hegemonic resistance, for instance:

• The role of the digital in new social movements

• Initiatives to free ‘sustainability’ from the grip of technology and digitalisation


Bacchi, C (2009) Comparing WPS and Critical Discourse Analysis https://carolbacchi.com/2018/05/14/comparing-wpr-and-critical-discourse-analysis/

Fairclough, N (1995) Critical Discourse Analysis London: Longman

Fairclough, N., Mulderrig, J. and Wodak, R. (2011). ‘Critical Discourse Analysis’, in T Van Dijk (Ed.) Discourse Studies: a multidisciplinary introduction, London: Sage (357-378)

Fairclough N. Jessop R. and Sayer A. (2004). Critical realism and semiosis. In: Joseph J. and Roberts J. (Eds.) Realism discourse and Deconstruction. London: Routledge

Fischer, F., Torgerson, D., Durnová, A and Orsini, M. (2015). Introduction to critical policy studies. In Handbook of Critical Policy Studies, (Eds, Fischer, F., Torgerson, D., Durnová, A and Orsini, M.) Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, pp. 1-24

Flowerdew, J. and Richardson, J. (Eds.) (2018). The Routledge Handbook of Critical Discourse Studies Oxon, New York: Routledge

Montesano Montessori, N., Farrelly, M., Mulderrig, J. (Eds) (2019) Critical Policy Discourse Analysis Cheltenham: Edward Elgar

Wodak, R. and Meyer, M. (Eds). (2016, 3rd Ed.). Methods of Critical Discourse Studies. London: Sage

Nicolina Montesano Montessori, Utrecht University of Applied Sciences
Jane Mulderrig, University of Sheffield
Michael Farrelly, University of Hull

Endorsed by ECPR Standing Group on Theoretical Perspectives in Policy Making
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