Conceptions of “practices”: Part I

Content:  I want to forecast at the outset that the topics taken up recently, including this one, appear to be getting more and more difficult and abstract. It is daunting to attempt to summarize briefly the extensive literatures on questions of “the subject”, “practices” and “agency”. Please consider my comments, therefore, as introductions or first attempts to bring together aspects of the debates around these topics that seem to require more reflection.

Everyone is talking about practices recently, indicated in the references to the “turn to practice” in contemporary social theory (for example, Postill 2010; Shatzki 2001). However, not everyone means the same thing when they use the term. As Pellizoni (2015: 77) says, “the definition of practice itself … is anything but straightforward”. He offers a much-quoted definition: a practice

is a routinized type of behaviour which consists of several elements, interconnected to one another: forms of bodily activities, forms of mental activities, “things” and their use, a background knowledge in the form of understanding, know-how, states of emotion and motivational knowledge. (Reckwitz 2002: 249 in Pellizoni 215: 77)

But, as Pellizoni goes on to say, this definition does not really take us far since “each of the elements is semantically dense and empirically opaque”.

If indeed this is the case, it seems fair to say that “a practice is the opposite of a self-evident phenomenon”: “One has no more direct access to practices, in any analytically useful sense of the word … that one has to anything else” (Pellizoni 2015: 78). Therefore, taking up Tanesini’s (1994: 207) point that concepts are proposals about how we ought to proceed from here, the task becomes recognizing the connections between how we describe practices and the political implications of particular usages. Again, quoting Pellizoni (2015: 77), “ontological assertions inevitably work as justifications of particular accounts of politics” (Barnett 2007: 57).

Gherardi offers a useful way to begin reflections on this topic.  She (2009: 118) makes a distinction between conceptualizing practices “from the outside”, which directs attention to how people (in context) “do” practices, and conceptualizing practices “from the inside”, which rests on a posthumanist analytic in which practices “do” (constitute) “subjects”. Here, we can see that discussions of practices draw us back almost immediately to the competing conceptions of “the subject” considered in the previous two Research Hub entries. In accounts of practices “from the outside”, “the subject” is assumed to be an a priori, acting “individual”, engaged in doing things (“practices”). In the latter account of practices “from the inside”, we can observe how “subjects” are produced as particular kinds of “being” through examining what they do. It is this latter meaning that I intend to pursue here, hoping to make some sense of “practices” in Foucault and in those who draw upon his approach to practices. This will involve brief consideration, in a subsequent entry, of theories of performativity/enactment in STS studies (Science and Technology Studies) and Actor-Network Theory.

In the last two entries (30 Sept. 2019 and 31 Oct. 2019) we observed how Foucault challenged a priori stances on “the subject” and causality. I ended the last of these entries noting that in the place of “universals” he offered “practices”. The move here is from the general to the specific. “Micro-practices” replace generalized speculation about assumed “forces” shaping history. The goal is to make “visible a singularity at places where there is a temptation to invoke a historical constant, an immediate anthropological trait, or an obviousness which imposes itself uniformly on all” (Foucault 1991: 76; emphasis in original). To make these singularities visible requires detailed records of discontinuity, provided through genealogies that trace “an unstable assemblage of faults, fissures, and heterogeneous layers” (Foucault 1977: 82).

To this end attention is directed precisely to “what is done” rather than to the motives or intentions of people, which would invoke the interior consciousness Foucault was challenging (see Research Hub, “Conceptions of the ‘subject’: Part 1”, 30 Sept. 2019). The analytic task becomes examining how it is possible for those things to be done, “constructing their external relations of intelligibility” and the knowledges (discourses) upon which they rely (Foucault 1991: 77). And the analytic target becomes “the connections, encounters, blockages, plays of forces, strategies and so on” in order “to show that things ‘weren’t as necessary as all that” (Foucault 1991: 76), demonstrating a clear challenge to deterministic views of social relations.

So, what are these practices that provide starting places for this analysis? Foucault (1991: 75) describes practices as “places” where “what is said and what is done, rules imposed and reasons given, the planned and the taken for granted meet and interconnect”. “Place” here is to be understood metaphorically to envisage a “point of linkage” between what one says and what one does (Flynn 2006: 31), an ensemble of ways of doing things “understood simultaneously as a mode of thinking and acting” (Foucault 1988: 15). Flynn explains that a practice in Foucault has a two-fold character as judicative and “veridicative” (Flynn 2006: 31; italics in original): “on the one hand, practices establish and apply norms, controls, and exclusions; on the other, they render true/false discourse possible”. For example, the practice of legal punishment “entails the interplay between a [judicial] ‘code’ that regulates ways of acting – such as how to discipline an inmate – and the production of true discourse that legitimates [verifies] these ways of acting” (Flynn 2006: 31).

This understanding of practices helps to explain why Foucault turned to what he called “practical texts” as points of entry for his analyses, and why he found the concept of problematization a useful theoretical intervention. On “practical texts” he noted:

The domain I will be analysing is made up of texts written for the purpose of offering rules, opinions, and advice on how to behave as one should: “practical” texts, which are themselves objects of a “practice” in that they are designed to be read, learned, reflected upon, and tested out, and they were intended to constitute the eventual framework of everyday conduct. (Foucault 1984: 12-13)

In a WPR approach, policies are “practical texts” since they tell us what to do, usefully challenging the view that “practices” and “texts” are somehow in opposition [see Research Hub entry: “WPR and Ethnography, Part II, 31 March 2019]

Late in his life Foucault suggested the usefulness of a focus on problematizations as a way to bridge the conventional divide between thought and practice. Using the example of the history of “madness”, he pointed out that, if you looked at how “the mad” were treated – how they were characterized and analysed (in practices) – you would observe how they were problematized (made into “a problem”). You would then have pointers towards “determining the role of politics and ethics in the establishment of madness as a particular domain of scientific knowledge [connaissance], and also of analysing the effects of the latter on political and ethical practices” (Foucault 1984: 8). To this end, in WPR, policies as “practical texts” provide a point of entry for identifying specific problematizing practices.

The question – what do these practices do? – will be pursued in the next entry, along with some examples of contemporary applications of this theoretical perspective.


Flynn, T. 2006. Foucault’s Mapping of History. In G. Gutting (Ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Foucault. Cambridge Collections Online: Cambridge University Press.

Foucault, M. 1988a. (Auto)biography MICHEL FOUCAULT 1926-1984, History of the Present, 4: 13-17.

Foucault, M. 1991. Questions of method. In G. Burchell, C. Gordon and P. Miller (Eds) The Foucault effect: Studies in governmentality. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Gherardi, S. 2009. Introduction: The critical power of the “practice lens”. Management Learning, 40 (2), 115–128.

Pellizoni, L. 2015. Ontological Politics in a Disposable World: The New Mastery of Nature. Surrey: Ashgate.

Postill, J. 2010. Introduction: Theorizing media and practice. In B. Bräuchler, & J. Postill (Eds.), Theorizing media and practice. Oxford and New York: Berghahn.

Reckwitz, A. 2002. Toward a theory of social practices. A development in culturalist theorizing. European Journal of Social Theory, 5(2), 243-63.

Schatzki, T. 2001. Introduction: Practice theory. In T. Schatzki, K.K. Cetina, E. von Savigny (Eds.), The practice turn in contemporary theory. London and New York: Routledge.

Tanesini, A. 1994. Whose language? In K. Lennon, & M. Whitford (Eds.), Knowing the difference: Feminist perspectives in epistemology. New York: Routledge.

Conceptions of “the subject”: Part 2

Content: I ended the last entry asking about the “subject” in Foucault’s strategy of “counter-conduct”. Importantly, Foucault does not wish to posit a “counter subject” to the humanist subject. Rather, he wants to show what is gained analytically and politically by putting common assumptions about the humanist subject or “human nature” into question. As Butler (1992: 9 in St Pierre 2000: 502-503) explains, “The critique of the subject is not a negation or repudiation of the subject, but, rather, a way of interrogating its construction as a pregiven or foundationalist premise”.

To this end, Foucault (1977: 87) “places within a process of development everything considered immortal to man”, including “feelings”, “instincts” and “the body”. Contra “human nature” he emphasizes the possibility of a changing subject, a subject in process, “a thoroughly contingent human, ‘one’ ever open to (juridical) reinscription” (Golder 2009; see also Golder 2010).

In a recent entry on “Gendering” (30 June 2019) I explain how this view leads to the conclusion that there is no such thing as “woman” by nature; rather we are constantly becoming “woman”. This proposition lies at the centre of the feminist debates introduced in the previous Research Hub entry (1 September 2019). On one side, the argument is that we need a concept of “woman” to ground political claims, that a Foucauldian stance leaves us with no actors to initiate political projects and drive change. On the other side, following Butler, the argument is that political claims are actually facilitated if one works with a “subject in process” because talking about “woman” as a natural category of existence locks us into particular, limited ways of thinking change.

An example may help explain this proposition. In a recent article on “women returning to cycling”, Jennifer Bonham and I (2017) note that research that focusses on cycling as a predominantly masculine activity can inadvertently naturalize certain characteristics as “feminine”, e.g. that “women” are naturally risk averse, or naturally inclined to perform domestic labour. Assuming an a priori subject (“woman”) in this way, we suggest, bypasses questions about the politics involved in the production of “subjects”.  In this sense, a pre-given subject can be described as “anti-political” (Brown 1995: 37), closing off “questions about the ways in which the assignment of subjectivity and agency can work to include some and exclude others, authorizing some to speak and act in ways that bind others, while denying the same privileges to others” (Stern 2000: 113).

Bringing this critical interrogation of “the subject” to research involves new questions. Instead of asking “what do I know?” there is a need to ask, “how have my questions been produced?“ (Olssen 2003) and “what assumptions do I make about the categories of analysis I deploy?”, with clear links to the practice of self-problematization (see Bacchi and Goodwin 2016: 52).

Think, for example, of how we treat research subjects in interview situations. Is there an assumption that we can access the “truth” of what happened through their accounts of their experiences (Bonham and Bacchi 2017: 688; Atkinson and Silverman 1997)? This question becomes particularly important when we recognize that research plays a central role in producing “reality” (see Research Hub entry on “ontological politics”, 10 Dec. 2017). In Poststructural Interview Analysis (PIA), Bonham and I (2016) suggest as an alternative analytic strategy locating interview “subjects” within discursive practices.

As with conventional uses of interview material, actor-centred models of political change tend to treat “subjects” as self-authoring (Krott et al.2014). For example, research on deliberative democracy can appear to posit a “self-authoring subject” who can “unproblematically enter into dialogical democratic discourse with others to achieve consensus” (Eagan 2009: 149). Similarly, interpretive research on framing focusses on “how actors create meaning in the policy process and how they package those meanings for instrumental and expressive purposes” (Koon et al. 2016: 7). In other work I use the example of the interpretivist proposal to train policy actors to shape problematizations effectively to indicate the political implications of such a focus on policy actors as self-directed “subjects”. The commitment to use political theory to guide and facilitate reform initiatives, I argue, neglects the need to critically interrogate governmental problematizations (2015 Bacchi The Turn to Problematization).

To query the dialogical and interpretive perspectives outlined here does not mean that actors cannot act. The question becomes how to theorize or think about those actors as always “subjects” in ongoing-formation (Bonham and Bacchi 2017). In earlier work I suggest the possibility of a “dual-focus agenda”, attending “both to the ways in which we are all in discourses, understood as institutionally supported and culturally influenced interpretive and conceptual schemas and signs, and to the active deployment of language, including concepts and categories, for political purposes” (Bacchi 2005: 207). I emphasized at the time that these two analytical perspectives need to be combined so that it becomes possible to recognize the contributions of policy actors while hanging on to the insights into subjectification. If, as occasionally happens, the projects are separated, there is a danger that “important insights into limitations imposed by our own subject positionings are lost” (see 2011: 6-7 RonnblomBacchiBudapest ).

Question 6 in WPR (see Bacchi WPR CHART) creates space for charting and analysing the actions of individuals and groups. It invokes the spirit of “counter-conduct” and reads: “How and where has this representation of the ‘problem’ been produced, disseminated and defended? How has it been and/or can it be disrupted and replaced?” As with the “dual agenda” (above), it is important to remember that the seven forms of questioning and analysis that constitute WPR form an integrated analytical strategy. Therefore, Question 6 needs to be considered together with the insights into subjectification (Question 5) and self-problematization (Step 7; Bacchi and Goodwin 2016: 2). In these complex interrelationships, the humanist subject, described in the previous Research Hub entry, is decentred.

Mansfield (2000: 10) reminds us of how difficult it is to shift our thinking on this question of “the subject”. The major vehicle of constraint, he argues, is language, “which petrifies the illusion that for every action there is a pre-existing subject responsible for it”. Think, for example, of the commonly used terms such as “self”, “subject”, “individual”, “consciousness”, and “agency” (the last pursed in a subsequent entry). Jones (1997: 268) explains that, through language – her examples are the pronouns “I” and “me” – , we produce ourselves as “rational choosing actors”. As she describes, “we behave as though we are, we run whole social systems on that premise”.  The task becomes interrogating these taken-for-granted usages and to consider how they close off certain avenues for thought. Consider, for example, how assumptions about human nature commonly underpin policy proposals, limiting the factors considered relevant (Bacchi and Goodwin 2016: 49). A step towards broadening our conceptions of politics and policy, therefore, involves politicizing “personhood” (Bacchi and Bonham 2016).

To replace a priori subjects and a priori structures, Foucault turns to practices – in his words, to “what happens” (Foucault 1982: 786), to “how things work at the level of on-going subjugation” (Foucault 1980). In the next entry I pursue what this position entails and how “practices” are deployed in several theoretical traditions – e.g. performativity theory and Actor-Network theory.


Atkinson, P. and Silverman, D. 1997. Kundera’s Immortality: the interview society and the invention of the self. Qualitative Inquiry, 3(3): 304–25.

Bacchi, C. 2005. Discourse, Discourse Everywhere: Subject “Agency” in Feminist Discourse Methodology. NORA: Nordic Journal of Women’s Studies, 13(3): 198-209.

Bacchi, C. 2015. The Turn to Problematization: Political Implications of Contrasting Interpretive and Poststructural Adaptations. Open Journal of Political Science, 5: 1-12.

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.

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.

Brown, W. 1995. States of Injury: Power and Freedom in Late Modernity. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Butler, J. 1992. Contingent Foundations: Feminism and the question of “postmodernism”. In J. Butler & J. W. Scott (Eds) Feminists theorize the political (pp. 3-21). NY: Routledge.

Eagan, J. 2009. The Deformation of Decentered Subjects: Foucault and Postmodern Public Administration. International Journal of Organization Theory and Behavior, 12(1): 141-162.

Foucault, M. 1977. Nietzsche, genealogy, history. In D.F. Bouchard, (Ed.), Language, counter-memory, practice: Selected essays and interviews.Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Foucault, M. 1980. Two lectures (lecture one: 7 January 1976). In C. Gordon (Ed.) Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972–1977. Translated by C Gordon, L Marshall, J Mepham, K Soper. NY: Vintage, pp 78–108.

Foucault, M. 1982. The Subject and Power. Critical Inquiry, 8(4): 777-795.

Golder, B. 2009. Foucault, Anti-Humanism and Human Rights. UNSW Law Research Paper No. 2009-39. Available at SSRN:

Golder, B. 2010. Foucault and the Unfinished Human of Rights. Law, Culture and the Humanities, 6(3): 354-374.

Hoppe, R. 2002. Cultures of Public Policy Problems. Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis: Research and Practise, 4: 305-326.

Jones, A. 1997. Teaching Post-structuralist Feminist Theory in Education: Student resistances. Gender and Education, 9(3): 261-269.

Koon, A. D., Hawkins, B. and Mayhew, S. H. 2016. Framing and the health policy process: a scoping review. Health Policy and Planning, 31(6): 801-816.

Krott, M. et al. 2014. Actor-centred power: The driving force in decentralised community based forest governance. Forest Policy and Economics, 49: 34-42.

Mansfield, N. 2000. Subjectivity: Theories of the Self from Freud to Haraway. NY: New York University Press.

Olssen, M. 2003. Foucault & Critique: Kant, Humanism and the Human Sciences. Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, 11-13 September 2003. Also: in M. A. Peters, M. Olssen & C. Lankshear (Eds) Futures of Critical Theory: Dreams of Difference. NY: Rowman & Littlefield.

Rönnblom, M. and Bacchi, C. 2011. Feminist Discursive Institutionalism – What’s Discursive About It? Limitations of conventional political studies paradigms.
Presented at the 2nd European Conference on Politics and Gender, Budapest: 13 – 15 January 2011, in section 4: Research Methodologies and Methods.

Stern, D. 2000. The return of the subject? Power, reflexivity and agency. Philosophy & Social Criticism, 26(5): 109-122.

St Pierre, E. A. 2000. Poststructural feminism in education: An overview, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 13(5): 477-515.

Conceptions of “the subject”: Part 1


A few months ago, I received an email requesting some discussion of Foucauldian poststructural conceptions of “the subject”, agency and practices. A concern was expressed that the “decentred subject” left little space to reflect on actors’ motivations or behaviours. I intend to pursue these topics over several entries, which hopefully will complement each other. Subsequent entries will pick up the topics of bodies and affect/“emotions”.

The question of “the subject” became central to feminist debates from the 1990s, making a link to the previous Research Hub entry on “WPR and feminism”. In Feminist Contentions, Selya Benhabib and Judith Butler set out clearly what is at stake in these debates. Benhabib argued that there are weak and strong versions of the poststructuralist position on “the subject”. The former she described as a “situated subject”, one where the environmental, social and discursive influences on subject formation are acknowledged. In the latter, stronger version, according to Benhabib (1995: 20), “The subject … disappears in the chain of signification of which it was supposed to be the initiator”. In her view the stronger version denies the possibility of rational agency and construes us as what David Hoy has dubbed “cultural dopes”. The self, Benhabib argues, becomes nothing but the roles assigned to it (in Stern 2000: 111-112), a position I go on to dispute.

The concern for some (self-identified) feminists is that this “stronger version” of “the subject” is incapable of emancipatory action as is required for feminist projects committed to defending “woman” and “women”. Butler (1995a: 46; emphasis in original) responds that we need not, nor should not, appeal to a “pregiven subject or agent”, that we do not need to assume “theoretically from the start a subject with agency before we can articulate the terms of a significant social and political task of transformation, resistance and meaningful political practice”. [A few references worth pursuing on this debate include: London Feminist Salon Collective, 2004; Clegg 2006; Heyes 2007; and Gammage et al., 2016.] The topic of “agency” is pursued in a subsequent Research Hub entry.

It may help at this point to consider just what is intended by a “decentred” subject. To “decentre” something means to move it from the centre. The question becomes, therefore, what is this subject “at the centre” that is challenged in Foucauldian poststructuralism? Butler (above; emphasis added) assists us on this point, questioning the need for a “pregiven subject or agent” as a starting point for thinking about social relations and change. It is this pregiven or a priori subject that provides the foundation of much Western philosophy and that becomes the target of Foucault’s critique. This “subject”, often referred to as “the Enlightenment subject” or “the humanist subject”, is characterized as rational, autonomous, asocial and ahistorical. Fraser (1994: 191) describes the humanist project as “making the subject pole triumph over the object pole”, representing man (see Lloyd 1984) as constitutor, as free, as all knowing, and as master of their fate and destiny. This a priori subject serves as a foundation anchoring objectivity and truth (Olssen 2003: 80).

Freud, of course, decentred this rational subject with his investigation of the subconscious. However, as Mansfield (2000: 8) points out, there is still an assumption that a “subject” is a real thing, with a fixed structure, operating in knowable and predictable patterns.

Foucault makes a different move, putting in question the whole idea of a separate interior consciousness, a director directing the show (so to speak) (see Blanco 2018). Foucault argues that the view of “the subject” as autonomous, rational, etc. is only one possible way to think about “the subject”. Supporting this point, he insists that “the subject” has a history (Foucault 1990: 23) and a good deal of his work involved tracing the history or genealogy of “the subject” (Foucault 1977).

This Foucauldian approach enables us to see that what we understand by “being human” has “shifted radically over the ages” (Davies 1997: 272). If we accept this claim that there are other ways to think about “the subject”, it follows that “subjectivity” is not the “free and spontaneous expression of our interior truth” but rather “the way we are led to think about ourselves” (Mansfield 2000: 10). In this view we shouldn’t take for granted that we are particular kinds of actors; rather, we should consider how we envisage ourselves as actors.

The task therefore becomes to explore “the history of morals, ideals, and metaphysical concepts” rather than to accept them as “given” and “true” (Foucault 1977: 86). In effect, what we refer to as “subjectivity” and “consciousness” are creations “produced by techniques of power-knowledge, such as the human sciences” (Simons 1995: 47); think here of psychology. Likewise, the concepts of “attitude”, “behaviour”, “perception” and “motivation” assume that the individual has an interior consciousness that “processes and produces true meanings of the world” (Bonham et al. 2015: 184). Therefore, says Foucault (1988a: 15), we need to study how this “subject” has been produced: “We must descend to the study of the concrete practices through which the subject is constituted within a field of knowledge”; think again of psychology (topic pursued in next Research Hub entry). It follows that, instead of assuming a subject “at the start”, we need to ask about the assumptions that inform the particular position on “the subject” we decide to adopt.

Foucault goes on to question the assumptions underpinning the sovereign subject of Enlightenment thinking, especially the assumption that this “subject” can access “truth” (Taylor 2013: 90). As Olssen (2003) explains, for Foucault, “the unresolved tension of Kant’s philosophical project is that he fails to appreciate the contingent and historically contextualized character of all truth-claims”.

To understand this position, we need to say a few things about conceptions of power and of government in Foucault.

For our purposes it is sufficient to register that Foucault did not see power as something people possessed. He challenged the humanist view where power is generally considered to be the product of agency (see forthcoming Research Hub entry for discussion), a “universal resource to which all humans qua humans have access” (Butler, 1995b). Nor did he believe it possible to define a priori the “acceptable conditions of power” by locating some underlying structure, e.g. class. In place of universals he sees power as the complex working out of heterogeneous relations in which “subjects” and “objects” are produced (Foucault 1988b: 11).

Foucault is particularly concerned with how “governmental mechanisms of power” try to impose on groups of individuals a specific form of conduct deemed desirable for governing purposes, captured in the term “governmentality”. The objective of government, thus understood, is to “build subjects who are voluntarily subjugated (assujettis) – subjects who want what the other wills, who want not to will anything different from the other, and who want not to will” (Lorenzini 2016: 17: emphasis in original). As Dean (2010: 43, 83) explains, following this proposition, “governing is concerned with the fabrication of certain kinds of subjectivity and identity”, or rather identification. He offers the examples of “the consumer”, “the active job seeker” and “the poor”. It is these forms of subjectivity and identification that are considered in Question 5 of the WPR approach on the subjectification effects of governmental problematizations (see Chart Bacchi WPR CHART).

This mode of governing, through the creation of “subjects”, derives its strength “from the fact that it does not impose itself upon individuals through constraint or threat” (Lorenzini 2016: 16). In Foucault’s understanding, by definition we speak of “government (instead of constraint, domination and so on) if and only if the individual is free to choose to be governed or not to be governed like that” (Lorenzini 2016: 7-8; emphasis in original). Dean elaborates:

Regimes of government do not determine forms of subjectivity. They elicit, promote, facilitate, foster and attribute various capacities, qualities and statuses to particular agents. They are successful to the extent that these agents come to experience themselves through such capacities (e.g. rational decision-making), qualities (e.g. as having a sexuality) and statuses (as being an active citizen). (Dean 2010: 43).

By definition, therefore, in Foucault’s account (2000: 324), “there is no power without potential refusal or revolt”.

A critical point that often gets missed here is that a Foucauldian analysis considers governmental attempts to create certain kinds of subjects. While governmental mechanisms of power are “extremely efficient” (Lorenzini 2016: 16), there is no assumption that they are always successful. [The word “attempts” does not imply intentionality or deliberate manipulation.] To make this point Foucault developed the notion of counter-conduct, which is specifically to do with refusing governmental shaping of conduct (see Lorenzini 2016). Counter-conduct entails “the endless questioning of constituted experience” (see Rajchman 1985: 7 in St Pierre 2000: 493).

So, who or what is this “subject” deemed to be capable of counter-conduct? I will take up this topic in the next entry.


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Blanco, A. G. 2018. Processes of Subjectivation: The Biopolitics and Politics of Literature in the Later Foucault. Comparative Literature and Culture, 20(4): Article 1.

Bonham, J., Bacchi, C. and Wanner, T. 2015. Gender and cycling: Gendering cycling subjects and forming bikes, practices and spaces as gendered objects. In J. Bonham and M. Johnson (Eds) Cycling Futures. Adelaide: University of Adelaide Press.

Butler, J. 1995a. Contingent Foundations. In S. Benhabib et al. (Eds) Feminist Contentions: A Philosophical Exchange. NY: Routledge.

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Davies, B. 1997. The Subject of Post-structuralism: A reply to Alison Jones. Gender and Education, 9(3): 271-283.

Dean, M. 2010. Governmentality: Power and Rule in Modern Society. London: Sage.

Foucault, M. 1977. Nietzsche, genealogy, history. In D.F. Bouchard, (Ed.), Language, counter-memory, practice: Selected essays and interviews. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Foucault, M. 1988a. (Auto)biography MICHEL FOUCAULT 1926-1984, History of the Present, 4: 13-17.

Foucault, M. 1988b. Power, Moral Values, and the Intellectual. An Interview with Michel Foucault, conducted by Michael Bess, San Francisco, 3 November 1980. History of the Present, 4: 1-2; 11- 13.

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Lorenzini, D. 2016. From Counter-Conduct to Critical Attitude: Michel Foucault and the Art of Not Being Governed Quite so Much. Foucault Studies, 21: 7-21.

Mansfield, N. 2000. Subjectivity: Theories of the self from Freud to Haraway. NY: New York University Press.

Olssen, M. 2003. Foucault & Critique: Kant, Humanism and the Human Sciences. Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, 11-13 September 2003. Also: in M. A. Peters, M. Olssen & C. Lankshear (Eds) 2003. Futures of Critical Theory: Dreams of Difference. NY: Rowman & Littlefield.

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Simons, J. 1995. Foucault & the political. NY: Routledge.

Stern, D. 2000. The return of the subject? Power, reflexivity and agency. Philosophy & Social Criticism, 26(5): 109-122.

Taylor, D. 2013. Resisting the Subject: A Feminist-Foucauldian Approach to Countering Sexual Violence. Foucault Studies, 16: 88-103.

WPR and feminism

I have been asked on occasion if WPR is a feminist theory. I am commonly referred to as a “feminist researcher”, an attribution I am happy to accept. However, I would not characterize WPR as “feminist” in any clear and obvious sense. This is because I do not believe that feminism has a clear or obvious meaning. I start from the premise that I can only attribute the descriptor “feminist” to someone who so identifies. Otherwise, the effect is to impose an agenda on people who might well support alternative views. As just one example, there are many self-identified feminists who would take issue with the concept of gendering, as introduced in the previous two entries, and the associated project of questioning gender binarism (man/woman, etc.)

I have long engaged with debates among (self-identified) feminists on a range of issues. My early work in the area considered how different groups of feminists developed contrasting positions on the question of sexual difference due to their specific socio-political locations (Bacchi 1990). More recently, I have applied the WPR (“What’s the Problem Represented to be?”) approach to divergent views among gender mainstreaming advocates about the meaning of “equality” (Bacchi and Eveline 2010). As a result, I have always considered feminism to be a contested space embracing diverse objectives and methodologies.

The WPR approach emerged from my engagement with the work of those (self-identified) feminist theorists who stressed the urgency of asking a particular form of question about epistemological and ontological assumptions (Harding, Haraway and Young, with many others). It made sense to me to apply those questions to various (self-identified) feminist positions on a range of policy issues, positions commonly associated with a project of “equality” for “women”. These analyses form the basis of Women, Policy and Politics: The Construction of Policy Problems (Bacchi 1999), which offers an early version of WPR.

In Analysing Policy (Bacchi 2009), where the WPR approach is developed more fully, I note that the approach should not be restricted to so-called “women’s issues”. At the same time, I insist that “women” need to remain a focus of study in any account. Relatedly, in my recent work (Bacchi 2017) I describe gendering as a dynamic that needs to be considered alongside other political dynamics, including racializing, heteronorming, third-worldizing, disabling, classing, etc.

There is no doubt that there exists in the (self-identified) feminist research community a heightened sensitivity to what, for simplicity’s sake, can be described as “differences among women”. What surprises, and dismays, me is that, alongside this sensitivity, there are references to feminism as if it represents a singular political stance. I find this tendency even among some researchers who associate themselves with poststructuralism, where we would expect acknowledgement of plurality and contingency.

I do not wish to single out particular researchers but need to provide a few examples. Gherardi (2019: 45) suggests that one can “think like a feminist”, a rather surprising reference to a singular political stance or ethic. Usefully, Kantola and Lombardo (2017a: 11) emphasize the need to acknowledge a “diversity of approaches to feminist political analysis”. They (2017a: 16) mention the inspiration they draw from Breny Mendoza’s (2012) “critique about the epistemic violence of Anglo-American political science on Latin American disciplines of gender and politics”. They also mention my work on contested meanings of equality among (self-identified) feminists (2017a: 9). However, they then conclude that examples of discursive politics analyses have shown “how the meaning of gender equality is reproduced in political debates in ways that can take it far from feminist aims”, as if those aims are readily identifiable and agreed upon (Kantola and Lombardo 2017b: 329).

What I detect here is a moving backward and forward between recognizing the contestation around meanings of feminism and a tendency to refer to feminism as if its meaning is clear and generally supported – an example, perhaps, of what I described in the previous entry as “fixing” and “unfixing” meanings. There I suggested that the decision to engage in such practices – i.e. when to “fix” meanings and when to “unfix” meanings – is tied to reflexive thinking about political goals.

Given the current widely shared commitment among self-identified feminist researchers to recognize the diversity of political views held by “women”, I suggest that efforts ought to be made to avoid language that produces feminism as an “it”. Currently I am wrestling with ways to amend this tendency. With St Pierre (2000: 493) I hope to resist the tendency to impose “one grand vision of liberation for all women” and to recognize that “though many different women do organize at critical times to fight for certain issues, others resist those agendas and do not desire others’ particular brand of liberation”. St Pierre’s examples include African American feminists who have been “clear about the very different projects and goals of feminists of color and white feminists”, and feminists who work in the area of “postcolonial theory”.  In line with this thinking I endorse the practice of using, wherever possible, a plural form, such as “feminisms”, “to indicate that those who call themselves feminists do not necessarily see the world in the same way” (Bacchi 2017: 36 fn 1). In this same spirit I now refer to “feminists’ theories” rather than to “feminist theory”.

Hence, I would conclude that WPR reflects the thinking of some (self-identified) feminist theorists. However, it is not a feminist theory if that designation is taken to mean an agreed upon political vision of “gender equality” – since there is no such shared vision. Rather, WPR is associated with a normative commitment to an egalitarian politics that is subject to “a work of problematisation and of perpetual reproblematisation” (Foucault 2001: 1431; see Research Hub entry on normativity, 30 April 2019).


Bacchi, C. 1990. Same difference: Feminism and sexual difference. Sydney: Allen and Unwin.

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.  2017. Policies as Gendering Practices: Re-Viewing Categorical Distinctions. Journal of Women, Politics & Policy.  18(1): 20-41.

Bacchi, C. and Eveline, J. 2010. Approaches to gender mainstreaming: What’s the problem represented to be?  In C. Bacchi and J. Eveline, Eds.  Mainstreaming politics: Gendering practices and feminist theory. Adelaide: University of Adelaide Press. pp. 111-138. Available as a free download from University of Adelaide Press website.

Foucault, M. (2001) [1984]. À propos de la généalogie de l’éthique: Un aperçu du travail en cours (rewritten version). In D. Defert, & F. Ewald (Eds.), Michel Foucault: Dits et Écrits, tome II. Paris: Gallimard.

Gherardi, S. 2019. If we practice posthumanist research, do we need ‘gender’ any longer? Gender, Work and Organization  26: 40-53

Kantola, J. and Lombardo, E. 2017a. Gender and Political Analysis. NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Kantola, J. and Lombardo, E. 2017b. Feminist political analysis: Exploring strengths, hegemonies and limitations. Feminist Theory18(3): 323-341.

Mendoza, B. 2012. The Geopolitics of Political Science and Gender Studies in Latin America. In Jane H. Bayes (ed.) Gender and Politics: The State of the Discipline. Opladen: Barbara Budrich, pp. 33–58.

Prügl, E. 2016. How to Wield Feminist Power. In M. Bustelo, L. Ferguson and M. Forest (eds) The Politics of Feminist Knowledge Transfer: Gender Training and Gender Expertise. NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

St. Pierre, E. 2000. Poststructural feminism in education: An overview. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 13(5): 477-515.

Gendering: A dilemma for researchers

Following on from the last entry, the poststructural stance on the production of gender categories (e.g. “woman” and “man”) produces huge difficulties for those involved in policy development and for researchers generally. There is no denying the fact that most research in the field uses such a binary logic, as does most policy.

Confronting this situation Carol Chetkovich (2019) offers several strategies to include non-binary thinking in policy research and design. However, her analysis is limited by the way in which policy is conceptualized as a response to a gendered world, rather than considering how policy practices are involved in the production of such a world.

Still, as Chetkovich points out, a binary logic proves politically useful in specific instances – e.g. discussion of pay equity. What are we to do, then, when we recognize that research and policies intended to alter social practices that impact negatively on those marked as “women” necessarily reinforce the very binaries we have been questioning (e.g. man/woman, male/female)?

Westbrook and Schilt (2014: 46) give the example of “women-only spaces”, often set up to provide “safe” environments for those marked as “female”. Such spaces, the authors argue, naturalize presumed differences between “vulnerable” women and “predatory” men, reinforcing a binary logic. And, since such spaces rely on biological factors rather than on identity factors, they create difficulties for transgender people. Furthermore, the sense of “male” threat is linked to sexuality so that gender-segregated spaces “can be conceived of as both homophobic and heterophobic” (Westbrook and Schilt 2014: 49).

I and my colleagues (Bonham et al. 2015) were directly involved in research that, similarly, illustrates this tension between trying to destabilize the categories “man” and “woman” while attempting to disrupt hierarchical relationships between those marked as “man” and “woman”. In a study of women returning to cycling, we undertook to illustrate the wide range of practices and relations that together work to produce “women bike riders” as distinct from “men bike riders”. For example, we identify how the designation of “women’s jerseys” and “men’s jerseys” operate to reinforce the categories of “woman” and “man”.

At the same time, we acknowledge that, in the very act or practice of advertising and setting up interviews for women cyclists, the project itself participated in gendering – that is, in reinforcing a gender binary. Now, our purpose in advertising for “women who cycle” was to interrupt the tendency in some studies to explicitly link women to (and consequently risk normalising women as) “not cycling”. Clearly, a tension exists between these two political goals.

Our research also highlighted places where the interviewees accepted and endorsed their location in a particular category “women”. One of the interviewees, for example, speaks of her way of cycling as cautious and genders herself by relating this way of moving to women in general. At the same time, we identified places in the interviews where categories were less fixed or settled, such as where the same interviewee distinguished a group she calls “Alpha women”, who are described as being “more like men in their willingness to be more aggressive on the road” (note that this description retains an assumed “man”/”woman” distinction).

This research illustrates the challenge faced in attempting to destabilize gender binarism. Laying out this challenge is a first and important step to confronting it. Identifying tensions in positions, as we do with the interviewees, opens up a kind of flux that enables what Joan Eveline and I call “a politics of movement” (Bacchi and Eveline 2010: 335).

In Mainstreaming politics, we describe how, at times in the text, we use quotation marks around “women” and “men”, raising questions about their status as essential categories; at other times the quotation marks disappear and the terms are treated as unproblematic (Bacchi and Eveline 2010: 13). You may have noticed the same thing happening in this entry. Such a practice, we argue, envisions and allows a “politics of movement”, which starts from the premise that “knowledge” is always political. This stance relies upon willingness to self-identify as critical researchers, with the decisions about when to fix or stipulate meanings and when to unfix meanings dependent upon reflexive judgement about the political exigencies of the particular situation.

The question, in our view, is not whether to fix meaning – since for a range of reasons fixing must occur – but when to fix meaning and who to involve in the “fixing” exercise. The task, as we describe it, is to formulate guiding principles for this inevitably political process. This suggestion resonates with Elisabeth Prügl’s (2016) call to formulate “feminist ethical principles” concerning “How to Wield Feminist Power”, with a particular emphasis on reflexivity (which I prefer to describe as self-problematisation; see Research Blog entries 21 October and 5 November 2018).

While engaging with these debates, I have been struck by the way in which the term “feminist” is used, often with an assumption that its meaning is clear and indeed fixed (settled). I pursue this topic in a subsequent entry.


Bacchi, C. and Eveline, J. 2010. Mainstreaming politics: Gendering practices and feminist theory.Adelaide: University of Adelaide Press. Available as a free download from University of Adelaide Press website.

Bonham, J., Bacchi, C. and Wanner, T. 2015. Gender and Cycling: Gendering cycling subjects and forming bikes, practices and spaces as gendered objects. In J. Bonham and M. Johnson (eds) Cycling Futures. Adelaide: University of Adelaide Press, pp. 179-202. (Available as a free download from publisher’s website).

Chetkovich, C. 2019. How non-binary gender definitions confound (already complex) thinking about gender and public policy, Journal of Public Affairs Education, DOI: 10.1080/15236803.2018.1565050

Prügl, E. 2016. How to Wield Feminist Power. In M. Bustelo, L. Ferguson and M. Forest (eds) The Politics of Feminist Knowledge Transfer: Gender Training and Gender Expertise. NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Westbrook, L. and Schilt, K. 2014. Doing Gender, Determining Gender: Transgender People, Gender Panics, and the Maintenance of the Sex/Gender/Sexuality System. Gender & Society.  28(1): 32-57.

Why “gendering”?

In the previous entry (31 May 2019) I suggested the usefulness of gendering as a concept. An earlier entry (11 February 2018) introduced this topic. In this brief contribution I summarize the intent of this conceptual intervention (as I use it), preparing the ground for two subsequent entries on dilemmas associated with this position: first, how to operationalize a gendering concept in research; and, second, the relationship between gendering and claims about feminism.

In a recent article (Bacchi 2017) I make a first attempt to clarify the many ways in which feminist researchers deploy the concept “gendering”. I have found additional uses since that article. For simplicity’s sake it is useful to identify two trends in this literature: first, interventions by researchers to insist that a particular phenomenon needs to be understood as displaying “gendered” characteristics (as an example, see Staudt, “Gendering development”, 2008); and, second, interventions that use gendering to refer to how social practices, including policy practices, produce “women” and “men”. I use the term in this second sense.

To repeat a point I have made on several occasions, my comments on “gendering” as a concept do not reflect a conviction that I am offering the one, correct definition of gendering. Rather, I think it is important to be clear about the political intent of specific adaptations of the term. To talk about “gendering” to refer to how social practices produce “women” and “men” offers a political attempt to challenge gender binaries, including male/female, man/woman, boy/girl, masculine/feminine. The grounds for this challenge are that such binaries impose unacceptable and harmful boundaries on forms of human interacting.

This stance is associated with a poststructural view that political subjects are beings in process rather than fixed or essential types/entities – described as an ontology of becoming rather than an ontology of being. Many poststructuralists find it helpful to replace nouns with verb forms as a strategy for displacing essences. Gerunds, produced by adding “ing” to a noun, constitute one such verb form.  Poststructural Policy Analysis: A Guide to Practice (Bacchi and Goodwin 2016, p. 100) offers the example of “bordering” (van Houtum 2005). When one talks about bordering rather than borders one draws attention to the practices involved in producing things called borders. In this way it becomes possible to highlight or make visible the politics – the heterogeneous relations – involved in producing geopolitical entities.

To apply this thinking to “women” and “men” through the concept of gendering is a challenging exercise since the common distinction between male and female biological entities is longstanding and ingrained in many cultures. In The Politics of Affirmative Action (Bacchi 1996, p.4) I make the simple point that, if these categories are common-sensical, one needs to wonder at the amount of effort expended in reinforcing them. More significantly, of course, transgender and intersex positions pose important challenges to conventional gender distinctions.

Brought to the policy domain, a gendering analysis examines policies as productive of gender. Policies are treated as social practices involved in the production of the categories of “women” and “men”.  Westbrook and Saperstein (2015) make a useful contribution on this point.  They show how social surveys are “gendering” in the ways in which sex/gender categories are applied to respondents, both directly and indirectly, through the forms of question asked (about grandsons and granddaughters, for example) and through gendered pronouns. The poststructural position makes the case that in these instances gender is not only attributed to subjects; rather, such practices take part in the ongoing constitution of “women” and “men”. This position is developed in the WPR argument that policies produce “subjects”, alongside “problems”, “objects” and “places” (see Bacchi and Goodwin 2016).

As an example, according to a 2017 OECD Report, women at home looking after their children represent “the greatest untapped potential” in Australia’s workforce ( The Report concluded that the Australian economy might continue to suffer unless “stay-at-home mothers are encouraged back to work”.  Encouraging “stay-at-home mothers” into paid labour appears to challenge conventional gendered domestic roles. However, because the Report pays no attention to how caring responsibilities will be carried out (a silence), the presumption is that those marked as “women” will continue to perform these responsibilities. The Report therefore almost counter-intuitively constitutes “women” as carers; it impels those marked as “women” to fulfill expected obligations and so genders [verb] them.

The political implications of this stance are far-reaching. Such an argument means that, instead of asking how particular policies impact on women and men, as assumed categories, we, as researchers, ask what I call the “gendering question” – how policies and policy research produce “women” and “men” as particular sorts of being. For a helpful illustration of how research and policy are gendering practices that take part in the co-constitution of gender binaries, see Moore et al., 2017.

Such a focus on the constitutive effects of policies entails the need to also ask questions about policies as racializing, heteronorming, third-worldizing, disabling, classing, etc. (Bacchi 2017). In each case the emphasis is on how policies produce realities rather than the conventional view of policies as reactions to assumed “problems”, creating a whole new agenda for policy research.

The next entry considers the challenges such a theoretical position poses for policy development and research.


Bacchi, C. 1996. The Politics of Affirmative Action: “Women”, Equality and Category Politics.London: Sage.

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

Bacchi, C. 2017. Policies as Gendering Practices: Re-Viewing Categorical Distinctions, Journal of Women, Politics & Policy, 38:1, 20-41.

Moore, D., Fraser, S., Keane, H., Seear, K. & Valentine, K. 2017. Missing Masculinities: Gendering Practices in Australian Alcohol Research and Policy”. Australian Feminist Studies, 32(93): 309-324.

Staudt, Kathleen. 2008. “Gendering Development.” In Politics, Gender, and Concepts: Theory and Methodology, eds. G. Goertz and A. Mazur. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 136–56.

van Houtum, H. 2005. The geopolitics of borders and boundaries. Geopolitics, 10: 672-679.

Westbrook, L. and Saperstein, A. 2015. New Categories are Not Enough: Rethinking the Measurement of Sex and Gender in Social Surveys. Gender & Society. 29(4): 534-560.

“Concept-as-method” and/or “method” as concept

Comment: This entry was prompted by Silvia Gherardi’s (2019) recent contribution to an anniversary issue of Gender, Work and Organization, entitled “If we practice posthumanist research, do we need ‘gender’ any longer?”  The article is important because it directs attention to some challenging work produced by those who have taken up “post qualitative inquiry”, a mode of inquiry developed by Elizabeth St Pierre (2019). In a previous entry (WPR and ethnography Part I, 28 Feb 2019) I suggested possible tension between my attempts to “redeem” some ethnographic methods (e.g. interviews) and St Pierre’s argument. In this entry I explain my hesitations about post qualitative inquiry.

First, I should say that I share St Pierre’s concerns about the sorts of questions that need to be brought to “research methods” in a post humanist perspective. Indeed, in an earlier article on the challenges of using interviews given the need to displace “assumptions about an ‘interior’ self who constructs versions of the world”, Jennifer Bonham and I (2017: 687) quote St Pierre (2011: 620): “If we no longer believe in a disentangled humanist self, individual, person, we have to rethink qualitative research methods (interviewing and observation) grounded in that human being as well as humanist representation”.

From this starting point, St Pierre (2019: 2, 10; emphasis added) concludes that, in post qualitative inquiry, there can be “no post qualitative data or methods of data collection or methods of data analysis”. Such a mode of inquiry therefore requires us to put “methodology aside” and, instead, read “widely across philosophy, social theories, and the history of science and social science to find concepts that reorient thinking”.

Gherardi picks up this discussion in the quest for such concepts, elaborating what it means to approach research through a “concept-as-method” orientation (2019: 40; see keyword “concept-as-method”). The argument here (and in St Pierre) is that “to think like a feminist” is “about the generation of new thought, new concepts, as much as if not more than it is about the critique of existing knowledges” (Grosz  2011: 77 in Gherardi 2019: 45).

As Gherardi (2019: 45) explains, the theoretical background to this approach is Deleuze’s and Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophy, often mediated by Colebrook’s (2002) interpretation of their work. Colebrook (2017: 654; emphasis added; see also in Taguchi and St Pierre 2017: 645-646) explicitly links “concepts” to “problems”:

“We might begin to think of concepts as methods, precisely because concepts are at once prehuman (emerging from the problems or plane of thinking in which we find ourselves), but also reconfigure or reorient the plane precisely by being prompted by a problem. Concepts are methods precisely because they emerge from problems rather than questions.”

I am enthusiastic about the focus on concepts and what they can do. In an earlier contribution I borrow from Law and Mol, and indeed from Deleuze and Guattari, to defend the use of concepts as political interventions (Bacchi 2012: 142-145; 151-152).

However, I would suggest that there is a distinction between my argument and that put forward in Gherardi, St Pierre and Colebrook. Primarily I tend to stress the political implications of concepts rather than suggesting that they can (simply) open up ways of thinking, that they are “prehuman” in some sense. To this end I draw on Tanesini (1994: 207) who argues that concepts have no fixed meaning; rather, “they are proposals about how we ought to proceed from here”. In Tanesini’s account, the purpose of concepts is “to influence the evolution of ongoing practices”. Note that there is no suggestion here of a plot or of deliberate manipulation; rather, the focus is on concepts as having necessary political effects.

Given this stance, I am hesitant to describe “concepts-as-method”. In places this intervention is characterized as “concept as/instead ofmethod”, described by Jackson and Mazzei (2012; 2017) as “post-methodological” (see also Jackson 2017). However, above Colebrook says that “concepts are methods”, which unfortunately continues to privilege the notion of “method” (see Jackson on this point 2017: 673).

In contrast I would stress that the term “method” is itself a concept, as I signal in the title to this entry, and it is a concept about which critical researchers need to be wary. Some years ago Sandra Harding (1987: 1; emphasis added) declared it unwise to seek a “distinctive feminist method of inquiry” because “preoccupation with method mystifies what have been the most interesting aspects of feminist research processes”. Looking back to the Research Hub entry on critical realism (1 February 2019), John Law (2004: 143) reminds us that “method is not, and could never be, innocent or purely technical” because it “unavoidably produces not only truths and non-truths, realities and non-realities, presences and absences, but also arrangements with political implications”.

For this reason I do not describe WPR as a method. Rather, given my focus on the political implications of concepts, I describe it as an “analytic strategy”. My intervention on today’s topic, therefore, is the usefulness of talking about concepts as “analytic strategies” rather than as “methods”, as “proposals about how we ought to proceed from here” (Tanesini 1994: 207) rather than as “prehuman” (Colebrook 2017: 654). It follows that, if concepts are proposals, they can be assumed to contain problem representations that need to be subjected to a WPR analysis (see Bacchi 2018: 7).

A concept that, in my view, always requires this form of critical interrogation, is the concept “problem”. Unfortunately, as noted above, post qualitative inquiry picks up Colebrook’s suggestion that concepts “emerge from problems”. Colebrook (2017: 654; see above) contrasts “problems” to “questions”, suggesting that the latter (but not the former) “already have a determined field of answers”. Such a stance, in my view, downplays the ways in which “problems” are deeply imbricated in social and political fields. Again, some time ago, Harding made the slightly different but still relevant point that “a problem is always a problem for someone or other” (Harding 1987: 6; emphasis in original).

I was also disappointed that Gherardi (2019) did not explore recent attempts to reconfigure “gender” as an analytic strategy. Here I am referring to the verb form or gerund “gendering” (Bacchi 2017; Research Hub 20 November 2018).

By drawing attention to the central role of concepts in research practices post qualitative inquiry raises important questions about the purposes of research and how to go about it. In this brief entry I suggest that there is a need to examine more explicitly the political implications of our theoretical interventions. I am concerned that the post qualitative stance can be depoliticizing. On these grounds , I believe we need to create room to explore the possibility of adopting “a wide gamut of empirical techniques, as part of a commitment to selected political goals” (Bacchi and Goodwin 2016: 23), remembering that “judgments on the basis of this material have to remain open to disputation, variation, and revision”.

Refusing the position that “concepts are methods” (Colebrook 2017: 654; emphasis added; see Jackson 2017: 673), and treating them as “analytic strategies”, in my view, opens up the opportunity to deploy carefully and critically (see Research Hub entry 28 Feb 2019) some ethnographic methods (e.g. interviews) for political purposes (see Research Hub entry 1 May 2019) rather than abandoning “methods of data collection or methods of data analysis” altogether (as in St Pierre 2019: 10; see Jackson on this point 2017: 666). There are clear implications here for the myriad of policy workers currently engaged in these forms of data collection – a topic pursued in a subsequent entry.


Bacchi, C. 2012. “Strategic interventions and ontological politics: Research as political practice”. In A. Bletsas and C. Beasley (Eds) Engaging with Carol Bacchi: Strategic Interventions and Exchanges.  Adelaide: University of Adelaide Press. Available as a free download from University of Adelaide Press website.

Bacchi, C. (2017). Policies as Gendering Practices: Re-Viewing Categorical Distinctions. Journal of Women, Politics and Policy, 38(1): 20-41.

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

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.

Colebrook, C. 2002.Understanding Deleuze. Crows Nest, Australia: Allen & Unwin.

Colebrook, C. 2017. What is this thing called education? Qualitative Inquiry, 23(9): 649–655. 1077800417725357

Gherardi, S. 2019. If we practice posthumanist research, do we need ‘gender’ any longer? Gender, Work and Organization  26: 40-53.

Grosz, E. (2011). Becoming undone: Darwinian reflections on life, politics, and art. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. https://

Harding, S. 1987. Feminism and methodology: Social science issues. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Jackson, A. Y. 2017. Thinking without method. Qualitative Inquiry  23(9): 666-674.

Jackson, A. Y. and Mazzei, L. A. 2012. Thinking with Theory in Qualitative Research: Viewing Data Across Multiple Perspectives. NY: Routledge.

Jackson, A. Y. and Mazzei, L. A. 2017. Thinking with Theory: A new analytic for qualitative inquiry’. In Norman K. Denzin and Y. S. Lincoln (eds) The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research– 5thedition.  SAGE publications.

Law, John 2004. After Method: Mess in social science research. New York: Routledge.

St Pierre, E. 2011. Post Qualitative Research: The Critique and the Coming After. In N. Denzin and Y. Lincoln (eds) The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research, 4th edn. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. pp. 611-25.

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

Taguchi, H. L. and St Pierre, E. A. 2017. Using Concept as Method in Educational and Social Science Inquiry. Qualitative Inquiry  23(9): 643-648.

Tanesini, A. 1994. Whose language? In K. Lennon and M. Whitford (Eds) Knowing the Difference: Feminist perspectives in epistemology.  NY: Routledge.