Comment: The short answer to the question in the title is “yes”, as I will go on to explain. I will also explain why I coined the term “problem representation” and how it functions in a WPR analysis.

To address these issues I draw on some passages from an article I wrote in 2012 entitled: “Why Study Problematizations? Making Politics Visible” (Open Journal of Political Science, 2(1: 1-8). The whole article, with accompanying references, is attached for convenience Bacchi Why study problematizations?).

As a first step in clarifying the different terminologies, it is necessary to see how Foucault used the term “problematization”:

Foucault employs the term “problematization” in two ways: first, to describe his method of analysis and, second, to refer to a historical process of producing objects for thought. His particular method of analysis, which he calls “thinking problem- atically” (Foucault, 1977: pp. 185-186), is the method just described [above in the article], where the point of analysis is not to look for the one correct response to an issue but to examine how it is “questioned, analysed, classified and regulated” at “specific times and under specific circumstances” (Deacon, 2000: p. 127). In the second meaning problematization captures a two-stage process including “how and why certain things (behavior, phenomena, processes) become a problem” (Foucault 1985a: p. 115), and how they are shaped as particular objects for thought (Deacon, 2000: p. 139; see also Deacon, 2006: p. 186 fn 2). These problematized phenomena become problematizations, the foci for study.

The key sentence in this passage for our purposes is the last sentence: “These problematized phenomena become problematizations, the foci for study.” This same point is clear in this quote from Foucault (fn 2 in Bacchi 2012; emphasis added):

The archaeological dimension of the analysis made it possible to examine the forms of problematization themselves, its genealogical dimension enabled me to analyze the formation out of the practices and their modifications (Foucault, 1986: pp. 17-18; emphasis added).

“The forms of problematization themselves” are the “problematized phenomena”, “the foci for study”. Note how here the “problematizations” take a noun form (and a plural form) in contrast to the first meaning of problematization in the above passage where problematization describes a method of analysis (a verb form – i.e. to problematize something, meaning to subject something to critical scrutiny). The task in approaching “the forms themselves” becomes characterizing identified problematizations (noun form).

These “problematized phenomena” are precisely the target in a WPR analysis. As with Foucault, the focus is on how “things” are problematized and the aim is to scrutinize the shapes (“the forms themselves”) given to “problems”. As we shall see, however, there are differences in how I identify problematizations and where, in a WPR analysis, they are located. These differences explain why I coined the term “problem representation”.

I introduced the term “problem representation” for several reasons. First, it follows directly from asking the initial question in the WPR approach: “what’s the problem represented to be?” Reply: “The problem is represented to be …” (i.e. a problem representation).

I also found that the term “problem representation” was easier to deploy in analysis than “problematization”, which gets used in so many different ways (Bacchi The Turn to Problematization).

More than this, I introduced “problem representation” to set WPR apart from other forms of policy analysis that targeted “problem definition” and “problem identification” (see Bacchi, Women, Policy and Politics, 1999, p. 21).

I also used the term to contrast the form of analysis I encouraged from that produced by Foucault. As I explain in “Why Study Problematizations?” (2012 p. 2),

Foucault selects his sites—his “problematizing moments”— by identifying times and places where he detects important shifts in practices—for example from flogging to detention. As Flynn (1989a: 138) explains, for Foucault, “The problem in the case at hand is to account for the fact that from about 1791 a vast array of penal methods was replaced by one, incarceration”. In these “crisis” moments (Foucault, 1985a: Chapter 2), “givens” become questions, or problems, providing an opportunity to inquire into the emergence of what comes to appear self- evident because it is firmly in position, in this instance incarceration as a method of punishment.

As I go on to argue, “The WPR approach broadens Foucault’s agenda” (2012, p. 5):

It does not look for “crisis” points, places where practices change, stirring up debate. Rather, it suggests that all policy proposals rely on problematizations which can be opened up and studied to gain access to the “implicit system in which we find ourselves”.

In Analysing Policy: What’s the Problem Represented to be? (Pearson Education 2009, p. 31), I discuss another, related, distinction between WPR and Foucault:

For Foucault, that which “instigates” the process of problematisation has a more material existence than in a WPR approach (see discussion in Rabinow 2003, pp. 18-19), as seen in this quote:

Actually, for a domain of action, a behavior, to enter the field of thought, it is necessary for a certain number of factors to have made it uncertain, to have made it lose its familiarity, or to have provoked a certain number of difficulties around it. These elements result from social, economic, or political processes. (Foucault 1984, pp. 4-5)

By contrast, in a WPR approach there is no assumption that some set of “difficulties” sparks a “response” from governments.

Rather, the emphasis is on the shape of the implied “problems” within any and all proposals. “Problem representation” refers to the form of a problematization – the problematized phenonmenon – within a policy or policy proposal (and in other forms of proposal).

As an example I often use, if there is a policy or a proposal to introduce forms of training for women in order to increase their representation in positions of influence, the “problem” is represented to be women’s lack of training. The proposal for training schemes problematizes women’s underrepresentation in terms of their lack of training, producing the “problem” as “women’s lack of training”. The problem representation (“women’s lack of training”), therefore, is implicit within the proposal to introduce training schemes. Hence, in the Glossary for Analysing Policy (p. 277; emphasis added), I offer as a meaning for problem representations: “the implied “problems” in problematisations”.

Therefore, “problem representations” and “problematizations” can best be described as co-extensive and the term you select will depend on your analytic objective. However, “problem representations” involve different processes from the commonly referenced Foucauldian mode of problematization. As described above, they are not historical phenomena prompted by some external change. Nor are they uncommon “turning points” in history. Rather they are part and parcel of every policy proposal and other forms of proposal (see Bacchi 2018; see entry in Research Hub, 14 Jan. 2018, “Buildings as Proposals”). All policy proposals (and other forms of proposal) contain implicit representations of “the problem” they purport to address. These implicit representations are problem representations. Just what it means to suggest that a “problem” is represented to be a particular sort of problem will be pursued in the next entry.


Bacchi, C. 1999. Women, Policy and Politics: The construction of policy problems.London: Sage.

Bacchi, C. and Goodwin, S. (2016). Poststructural Policy Analysis: A Guide to Practice. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Bacchi, C. 2018. Drug Problematizations and Politics: Deploying a Poststructural Analytic Strategy. Contemporary Drug Problems, 45(1): 3-14.

Foucault, M. 1984, ‘Polemics, Politics and Problematizations’, based on an interview conducted by P. Rabinow, Trans. L. Davis, in Essential Works of Foucault, Vol. 1:Ethics, New Press, New York, <;, accessed 9 August 2008.

Rabinow, P. 2003. Anthropos Today: Reflections on Modern Equipment. Princeton: Princeton University Press.