Comment: In the last entry I explained how problem representations and problematizations are coextensive – how they cover the same analytic terrain – and why I coined the term “problem representations”. In this entry I want to reflect on the challenges associated with adopting the language of representation in “problem representation”. As might be anticipated, the use of representation in WPR does not mean accepting a correspondence view of knowledge where there is a “real” world that is then “represented”. As stated in Women, Policy and Politics, “there is no assumption that there is a reality that stands outside representation” (Bacchi 1999, p. 37).
Problem representations, therefore, are not just images of realproblems. Nor are they competing interpretations of a real problem. Rather, they are how the “problem” is produced, or created, or constituted as real – how the “problem” is made to be a particular kind of problem within a specific policy, with all sorts of effects (Bacchi and Goodwin 2016, p. 17). A problem representation therefore is the way in which a particular policy “problem” is constituted in the real (Bacchi 2009: 35).
In the last entry I offered the example of training schemes for women and how they produced the “problem” of women’s underrepresentation in positions of influence as their “lack of training”. The argument here is that, training schemes, in their very existence, produce the “problem” as to do with women’s lack of training. In this proposal and its application in training courses, the “problem” is women’s lack of training.
As I stated in the last entry, problem representations are implicit in policies and policy proposals – so we are not talking about some sort of sequential process in which a problem is represented in a certain way and then a policy is developed. Rather, the policy contains the problem representation. The policy and the problem representation are coterminous. There is no suggestion that this problematization cannot be challenged but it is important to recognize that the proposal itself to give women training has direct consequences for how women’s position is produced as “lacking in training”.
This point is clearly delineated in Farrugia et al. (2017: 5), so I quote them at some length:
Rather than solely emphasising that policy makers and others can take different perspectives on phenomena such as problems, Bacchi argues that problems are ontologically constituted in the interventions designed to solve them. That is, there are not simply multiple perspectives on problems and solutions but onto- logically fluid problems constituted differently through different policy and practice.
This position is aligned with a focus on the performative character of practices and a productive view of power (see Bacchi and Goodwin, 14, 28-30). As Shapiro (1988, p.xi) says, ‘representations do not imitate reality but are the practices through which things take on meaning and value …’.
This key point, that representations are practices and interventions, is exactly the stance defended in what is called (apparently paradoxically) non-representation theory (see Anderson and Harrison 2010: 14), an important development in human geography:
As things and events they [representations] enact worlds, rather than being simple go-betweens tasked with re-presenting some pre-existing order or force. In their taking-place they have an expressive power as active interventions in the co-fabrication of worlds.
Dewsbury et al. (2002, p. 438) clarify that non-representation theory takes “representations seriously”: “representation not as a code to be broken or as an illusion to be dispelled rather representations are apprehended as performative in themselves; as doings”. Problem representations in WPR are performative in exactly this sense – they produce “problems”, “subjects”, “objects” and “places” (see Bacchi and Goodwin 2016). The use of quotation marks around “problems”, and the other terms, signals their ongoing production within policy practices, rather than “things” sitting outside those practices as essences. As a result the goal is not to solve “problems” but to examine how these problematized phenomena operate as governing mechanisms or technologies (see WPR questions, Bacchi WPR CHART).
Several researchers have suggested replacing the word “representation” in “problem representation” with a different word, either “constituted” or “enacted”. Both these terms clearly describe the way in which problem representations do their work – how “problems” are actually produced as particular sorts of problems. For the reasons elaborated above, I recommend retaining the term “problem representation” and adopting the language of “constituted” and “enacted” to reinforce this key theoretical point.
To summarize WPR does not involve an interpretive exercise. The goal is not to consider people’s different views on a “problem” but to reflect on how governing takes place through problematizations – through the ways in which “problems” are produced( or constituted or enacted) as particular sorts of problems.
Anderson, B. & Harrison, P. (eds) 2010. Taking-Place: Non-Representational Theories and Geography. Ashgate.
Bacchi, C. 1999. Women, Policy and Politics: The construction of policy problems. London: Sage.
Bacchi, C. 2009. Analysing Policy: What’s the problem represented to be? Frenchs’ Forest: Pearson Education.
Bacchi, C. and Goodwin, S. 2016. Poststructural Policy Analysis: A Guide to Practice. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Dewsbury, J., Harrison, P., Rose, M. and Wylie, J. (2002) Introduction: Enacting Geographies. Geoforum, 33, 437-440.
Farrugia, A., Seear, K. and Fraser, S. 2017. Authentic advice for authentic problems? Legal information in Australian classroom drug education, Addiction Research and Theory, 26(3).
Shapiro, Michael. 1988. The Politics of Representation: Writing Practices, Photography and Policy Analysis. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.