Comment: I have been asked to clarify the distinction between WPR and critical discourse analysis. I should preface this brief elaboration by saying that, while I distance WPR from critical discourse analysis, I am not saying that such forms of analysis are not valid or worthwhile. Rather, my intent is to assist those who want to use WPR to have a clearer idea of its goals and its way of proceeding.
Basically, WPR is not a form of critical discourse analysis because it has a different understanding of discourse. In WPR, discourse refers, not to language or language use, but to knowledges, which Foucault (1994) describes as “unexamined ways of thinking”. In Analysing Policy (Bacchi 2009, p. 35) I describe discourses as “forms of social knowledge that make it difficult to speak outside the terms of reference they establish for thinking about people and social relations”. Hence, the focus of analysis is not on how people shape arguments, as in critical discourse analysis, but on the deep-seated ways of thinking that underpin political practices (see Bacchi and Bonham 2014).
It needs to be made clear that, in WPR, “knowledge” is not treated as a form of foundational wisdom to be acquired. Rather, “knowledge” is a contested political creation. The interest is not in discovering or producing “knowledge”, but in analysing how all forms of knowledge are linked to power and politics.
Elsewhere I (Bacchi 2005) have suggested that it is useful to draw a distinction between two analytic traditions, that involved in “discourse analysis” and that committed to “analysis of discourses (knowledges)”. The first tradition, which includes Norman Fairclough’s version of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) (2010), focuses primarily on the content and linguistic construction of a text. By contrast, in the second tradition, exemplified in WPR, the task is “to identify, within a text, institutionally supported and culturally influenced interpretive and conceptual schemas (discourses) that produce particular understandings of issues and events” (Bacchi 2005).
The drawing of boundaries between theoretical stances is a fraught exercise. Siegfried Jäger and Florentine Maier (2009) agree that in Foucault discourses are knowledges but they locate him within Critical Discourse Analysis. In contrast, I believe it is useful to distinguish an “analysis of discourses” from the focus in critical discourse analysis on language use.
Question 2 in WPR (Bacchi WPR CHART) prompts such an “analysis of discourses”. The objective in this form of analysis is to better understand how governing takes place through knowledges (discourses), including psychiatry, behavioural economics and public health knowledges, among many others.
It follows from these contrasting foci that WPR is not intended as a tool for analyzing debates or forms of argumentation, which are studied in critical discourse analysis through identification of metaphors and other forms of language use. Nor is it intended to examine competing frames within arguments (Bacchi, 2016 Bacchi Problematizations Health Policy) or the “problem definitions” produced by policy actors (see Bacchi, 1999, p. 21; see Research Hub entry 2 April 2018). Rather it serves as a strategy for reflecting critically on deep-seated ontological and epistemological assumptions within “problem representations”.
Because “problem representations” are the starting point for a WPR analysis, it is important to clarify how we are to identify them. Clarity here is especially important since the language of representation can be misleading. To put it starkly, WPR does not examine how people represent an issue, which could form part of some CDA projects. Rather, problem representations are the implied “problems” in policy proposals – how a “problem” is characterized and conceptualised within a policy proposal or some other text (see Bacchi 2017; see also Research Hub entry, “Buildings as proposals”, 14 January 2018).
To gain access to “problem representations”, a WPR analysis begins by identifying the proposals for change (or proposed “solutions”) within governing texts. These proposed solutions may be stated directly or indirectly. For example, a government report that calls for social cohesion makes a form of proposal, creating lack of cohesion as the “problem”. Policies themselves are proposals for change and can be treated as such. If, for example, the government sends police and troops into outback Aboriginal communities in “response” to a report on child sexual abuse in those communities, the “problem” is constituted to be a matter of inadequate law enforcement (see Bacchi 2009, pp. 116-120).
Adopting a governmentality theoretical stance, governing in a WPR approach encompasses government in the narrow institutional sense, as in the above examples, alongside the full range of agencies and associated knowledges (discourses) that conduct conduct (Bacchi and Goodwin 2016, p. 5). By examining what is proposed, it is possible to grasp what is rendered problematic – what the “problem” is represented to be (Bacchi and Goodwin, p. 16). Hence it becomes possible to “read off” implicit problem representations from specific proposals.
This way of proceeding makes it possible to consider how “problems” are produced as problems of specific kinds within governing practices. There is no need to look outside the policy or other selected text to seek out starting points for analysis; these starting points (problem representations) are locatable within the material chosen for examination (hence the researcher is not imposing a schema upon the material). The argument in WPR is that, since governing takes place through these problem representations, it is important to reflect on where they come from and how they operate to shape “realities”. These tasks are undertaken in subsequent WPR questions (Bacchi WPR CHART).
The focus of analysis in WPR is therefore different from that within critical discourse analysis. The target is not linguistic devices or patterns of communication. Nor is it imposed frames or “problem definitions”. The goal is to tease out deep-seated “ways of thinking” in identified problem representations that play significant roles in how governing takes place. Due to researchers’ immersion within these “ways of thinking”, a practice of self-problematization – examining the problem representations in one’s own proposals – forms a central task in WPR (see Step 7, Chart).
Bacchi, C. 1999. Women, Policy and Politics: The construction of policy problems. London: Sage.
Bacchi, C. 2005. Discourse, Discourse Everywhere: Subject “Agency” in Feminist Discourse Methodology. NORA: Nordic Journal of Women’s Studies, 13(3), p. 199. Reproduced in C. Hughes (Ed.) (2012). Researching Gender. Sage Fundamentals of Applied Research Series.
Bacchi, C. 2009. Analysing Policy: What’s the Problem Represented to be? Frenchs Forest, NSW: Pearson Education.
Bacchi, C. 2016. Problematizations in Health Policy: Questioning how “Problems” are Constituted in Policies. Sage Open,April-June: 1-16. DOI: 10.11771/21582440/6653986.
Bacchi, C. (2017). Drug Problematizations and Politics: Deploying a poststructural analytic strategy, Contemporary Drug Problems, 1-12. DOI: 10.1177/009/450917748760.
Bacchi, C. & Bonham, J. 2014. Reclaiming discursive practices as an analytic focus: Political implications. Foucault Studies, 17 (March): 173-192.
Bacchi, C. & Goodwin, S. 2016. Poststructural Policy Analysis: A guide to practice. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Fairclough, N. 2010. Critical Discourse Analysis: The critical study of language, 2nd ed. Harlow: Longman.
Foucault, M. (1994) . So is it important to think? In J.D. Faubion, (Ed.), Power: Essential works of Foucault 1954–1984, vol. 3, Hurley, R. and others (trans.). London: Penguin).
Jäger, S. and Maier, F. 2009. Chapter 2: Theoretical and Methodological Aspects of Foucauldian Critical Discourse Analysis and Dispositive Analysis. In R. Wodak and M. Meyer (eds) Methods of critical discourse analysis (2nd ed.). London, England: Sage.