COMMENT:  This entry is prompted by several queries about the category of “lived effects” in WPR, specifically about the possibility of using ethnographic methods to “fill out” the category. “Lived effects” appear as part of Question 5 in the approach (see Bacchi WPR CHART), together with “discursive effects” and “subjectification effects”. Importantly, in my discussions of Question 5, I note that the three “kinds” of effects are interconnectedand overlapping; they have been separated solely for heuristic purposes (Bacchi 2009: 15; Bacchi and Goodwin 2016: 23).

Hence, “lived effects” need to be treated as part of an integrated analysis of effects, not as a separate category to be “filled out”. The use of the term ensures that the way in which discursive and subjectification effects translate into people’s lives forms part of the analysis. For example, if welfare were constituted a “hand-out” rather than a “right”, the amounts distributed as welfare could be affected, posing possible life and death consequences for recipients (Dean 2006). One might also consider how the stigmatizing practice of being cast as a member of a “problem group” could affect a person’s life in a myriad of ways (Rance, Lafferty and Treloar 2018: 3; Bacchi 2009: 93; Bacchi and Goodwin 2016: 64;).

Turning to ethnographic methods, such as interviews and participant observation, to describe these “lived effects” is not straightforward, therefore. It is necessary to consider possible tensions between the ontological and epistemological premises of a WPR analysis and ethnography. As just one example, given the focus on subjectification effects in WPR, we need to consider the extent to which ethnographic methods rely upon a “humanistic ethnographic subject” (see Britzman 1995: 234).

In addition, a starting premise in WPR is that, as poststructural researchers, we are not seeking “truth”. Whatever methods we adopt, the findings have to remain open to criticism and questioning (see Bacchi and Goodwin 2016: 23). To the extent that ethnographers claim to access “experience” and hence to produce a kind of “truth”, tensions with WPR are unavoidable. There are connections here with earlier Research Hub entries on subjugated knowledges and self-problematization (3 Sept. 2018, 17 Sept. 2018).

Debates about the possible blending or the potential incommensurability of poststructuralism and ethnography have a long history (see Blitzman 1995). Any discussion of this topic needs to recognize the plurality of ethnographic approaches (Clair 2003), including “critical ethnography” (Pignatelli 1998), “ethnography of the state” and “stategraphy” (Dubois 2018),  “institutional ethnography (IE)” (Smith, D. E. 2005; Teghtsoonian 2016) and “diffractive ethnography” (Gullion 2018). Possible articulations between these developments in the field and WPR ought to be considered.

In the Appendix to Poststructural Policy Analysis (Bacchi and Bonham 2016) and elsewhere (Bonham and Bacchi 2017), my colleague, Jennifer Bonham, and I explore the possible uses of interviews, a common ethnographic method, in a WPR analysis. To this end, we develop an approach called Poststructural Interview Analysis (PIA). This attempt to “rescue” interviews as a research “method” sits in some tension with “post qualitative inquiry”, “invented” by Elizabeth St Pierre (2019), a topic pursued in a subsequent entry.

Tsolidis (2008) also considers the possibility of reconciling poststructural premises and ethnographic methods. Her major argument is the need to question the categories of analysis ethnographic researchers adopt. Her specific target is the category of “site”, a common starting point for ethnographic studies. Tsolidis (2008: 278) shows that the “sites” in her analysis of “student teaching” are not fixed places but “complex social relations”.  This notion of the production of place (“sites”) is a central premise in WPR (see Bacchi and Goodwin 2016: Chapter 7). This kind of “reflexive” approach to research categories (Tsolidis 2008: 278) opens up the possibility of adopting, or rather adapting, some ethnographic research methods (see Research Hub, 2 October, 5 November 2018).

Institutional ethnography (IE), developed by Dorothy Smith (2005), offers a possible strategy to bring together the insights of poststructuralism and ethnography. Institutional ethnography shares with WPR a focus on texts as springboards to study governmental practices, read broadly. According to Dorothy Smith (2001: 160), the approach explores “how texts mediate, regulate and authorize people’s activities”, expanding “the scope of ethnographic method beyond the limits of observation”. George Smith (2014: 36), for example, examines how legal concepts, such as “indecent act”, in a piece of legislation, “far from being theoretical entities”, constitute “a fulcrum from which a ruling apparatus gets purchase on the lives of those it seeks to govern”. This kind of analysis sits comfortably alongside that provoked by Question 5 and “lived effects”, though WPR eschews any suggestion of intentional manipulation.

A related question, raised by some ethnography scholars (Brady 2014; McKee 2009), is whether or not ethnography is a necessary complement to governmentality studies. The suggestion here is that the kinds of analysis offered in WPR, and in governmentality studies, ignore the “voices” of those affected by governmental prescriptions in texts. McKee (2009: 473), for example, describes governmentality studies as “top down” accounts, attentive to “government from above” but blind to the “messy empirical actualities” of lived realities – “actualities” discovered by interviewing and observing “real people” living their lives (i.e. ethnography). The emphasis in these ethnographic accounts is on the need to consider the “agency” of policy actors and their involvement in interpretation, contestation and resistance (Rodin 2017: 20). Other contributors to the debate talk about the need to examine “implementation” (Rutherford 2007) rather than staying at the level of governmental prescription. In the next entry I pursue these topics.


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Bacchi, C. and Bonham, J. 2016. Poststructural Interview Analysis: Politicizing “personhood”. In C. Bacchi and S. Goodwin, Poststructural Policy Analysis: A Guide to Practice. NY: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 113-121.

Bacchi, C. and Goodwin, S. 2016. Poststructural Policy Analysis: A Guide to Practice. NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Bonham, J. and Bacchi, C. 2017. Cycling “subjects” in ongoing-formation: The politics of interviews and interview analysis. Journal of Sociology  53(3): 687-703.

Brady, M. 2014. Ethnographies of Neoliberal Governmentalities: from the neoliberal apparatus to neoliberalism and governmental assemblages. Foucault Studies, no. 18, pp. 11-33.

Britzman, D. P. 1995. “The question of belief”: writing poststructural ethnography, Qualitative Studies in Education  8(3): 229-238.

Clair, R. P. 2003. Chapter 1: The Changing Story of Ethnography. In R. P. Clair (ed.) Expressions of Ethnography: Novel Approaches to Qualitative Methods. Suny Press.

Dean, M. 2006. Governmentality and Powers of Life and Death. In G. Marston and C. McDonald (eds), Analysing Social Policy: A Governmental Approach.Cheltenham, UK: Edward Edgar.

Dubois, V. 2018.  Chapter 2: The State, Legal Rigor, and the Poor: The Daily Practice of Welfare Control. In T. Thelen, L. Vetters, K. von Benda-Beckmann (Eds) Stategraphy: Toward a relational anthropology of the state. NY: Berghahn.

Gullion, J. S. 2018. Diffractive ethnography: Social sciences and the ontological turn. NY: Routledge.

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Pignatelli, F. 1998. Critical Ethnography/Poststructuralist Concerns: Foucault and the Play of Memory. Interchange  29(4): 403-423.

Rance, J., Lafferty, L. and Treloar, C. 2018. “Behind closed doors, no one sees, no one knows”: hepatitis C, stigma and treatment-as-prevention in prisons. Critical Public Health, DOI: 10.1080/09581596.2018.1541225

Rodin, L. 2017. Studies on Governmentality: Six Epistemological Pitfalls. Russian Sociological Review  16(2): 9-28.

Rutherford S. 2007. Green Governmentality: Insights and Opportunities in the Study of Nature’s Rule. Progress in Human Geography, vol. 31, no 3, pp. 291–307.

Smith, D. E. 2001. Texts and the Ontology of Organizations and Institutions. Studies in Cultures, Organizations and Societies, 7(2): 159-198.

Smith, D. E. 2005.Institutional ethnography: A sociology for people. NY: AltaMira Press.

Smith, G. W. (2014) [1988]. Policing the gay community: An inquiry into textually-mediated social relations. In D. E. Smith and S. M. Turner (Eds) Incorporating Texts into Institutional Ethnography.Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

St Pierre, E. 2019. Post Qualitative Inquiry in an Ontology of Immanence. Qualitative Inquiry  25(1): 3-16.

Teghtsoonian, K. 2016. Methods, discourse, activism: comparing institutional ethnography and governmentality, Critical Policy Studies, 10(3): 330-347.

Tsolidis, G. 2008. The (im)possibility of poststructuralist ethnography – researching identities in borrowed spaces”, Ethnography and Education  3(3): 271-281.