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  • Cited by 32
  • Print publication year: 2003
  • Online publication date: September 2009

8 - Accessing local knowledge


Interpretative policy analysis rests on a long tradition of philosophical argumentation that stands on its own, without reference to positivist argument. Its hallmark is a focus on meaning that is situated in a particular context. The language of ‘interpretative’ policy analysis underscores the extent to which methodological choices, rather than being a disembodied repertoire of tools and techniques, are grounded in a particular set of epistemological and ontological presuppositions – in this case, those associated with interpretative schools of thought (such as hermeneutics, phenomenology, and some critical theory). This chapter elaborates on the importance to policy analysis of ‘local’ knowledge relative to a policy issue and sketches out some interpretative research methods for accessing and analysing it.

Policy analysis and communities of meaning

The construction of diverse meanings for described political events shapes support for causes and legitimizes value allocations. The literature on the place of symbolism in politics explores the creation of meaning through political language and other actions … The student of symbolism is interested in how meanings are constructed and changed. Inquiry into the evocation of meanings entails seeing observers and the observed as part of the same transaction rather than as subject and object, and it also recognizes that values, theories, and facts are integrally intertwined with each other rather than distinct concepts.

Murray Edelman

The centrality of communities of meaning to policy analysis becomes evident in what was initially called a ‘cultural’ approach to public policy processes, including those organizational actions subsumed under implementation studies (Yanow 1987, 1990).