In this section Bacchi responds to common queries about WPR. New sections will be added when readers raise questions that require attention. Please keep questions brief.
New questions will be addressed in the ‘Research Hub’ (see headings).
- Is it appropriate to use WPR in comparative analyses?
Reply: The short answer to this question is ‘Yes’. The reasoning behind using WPR in comparative analyses is introduced in “Why study problematizations? Making politics visible. Open Journal of Political Science, 2012, 2(1), p 6. [Bacchi Why study problematizations?]
As argued there, “Comparisons of problematizations … highlight the specific combinations of factors and relations that allow something to become a ‘problem’ in one situation and not in another”. As a result it becomes easier to identify both how a “problem” is characterized (problematized; see Question 2 in Chart, which is available in section “Introducing WPR”) and how a specific problematization came to be (i.e. its genealogy; see Question 3 in Chart).
- Is it possible to blend WPR with other forms of social and discourse theory, such as Critical Discourse Analysis?
Reply: There is no short answer to this question. I have addressed this issue most directly in an article written with Malin Rönnblom, entitled “Feminist Discursive Institutionalism – A Poststructural Alternative”, NORA – Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research, 22(3): 170-186. This article first appeared as a conference paper, “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 [Ronnblom Bacchi Conference paper]. The basic argument is that paradigms matter to politics, that how we see the world affects what we think needs to change and how change is thought possible. On these grounds Rönnblom and I argue that: “Because of our conviction that ‘institutionalisms’ of whatever kind impose rigidities on the political landscape in ways that hamper progressive politics, we are uneasy about recommendations that feminists make alliances with the new institutionalisms”. Following this thinking, we suggest that before researchers adopt or attempt to blend perspectives, it is necessary to see if there are shared or opposed premises about how the world works. For example, Foucault-influence poststructuralism highlights the role of knowledges rather than language in shaping worlds, so blending these perspectives may not be feasible. In addition, since in Foucault-influenced poststructuralism “entities” such as “nation-states” are put in question, it becomes difficult to see how it is possible to blend this perspective with comparative studies that assume the facticity of nation-states. On the relevance of paradigms to political stances, see “Problematizations in Health Policy: Questioning how ‘Problems’ are Constituted in Policies”, 2016, Sage Open, April-June: 1-16. DOI: 10.11771/21582440/6653986. [Bacchi Problematizations Health Policy]
- Is it necessary to state the questions in the WPR approach explicitly?
Reply: It is certainly not necessary to state the questions explicitly. It may be useful to do this with certain topics in order to structure an analysis clearly, but it is also possible to allow the questions to sit in the background of an integrated analysis. If one uses the questions explicitly, one should expect some repetition since the questions are interconnected. In Analysing Policy (Pearson Education, 2009) I use the more structured format in Chapters 3 and 4, and examples of how to offer an integrated analysis in Chapters 5 through 10. In either form of application, the goal is to to provoke a way of thinking differently.
- Is it necessary to address all the questions?
Reply: As I say in Analysing Policy (2009, p. 101), it is not necessary to address explicitly each of the questions. The point of the analysis will determine which questions are foregrounded. At the same time it is useful to consider one’s research project through the lens of each question, as this practice might produce unanticipated insights. Step 7 ought to be addressed in any analysis (see Chart provided under “Introducing WPR”; see next question).
5. Why has Step 7 been added to the approach?
Reply: In earlier iterations of WPR, an undertaking to apply the questions in the approach to one’s own proposals was always included (see for example Bacchi, Analysing Policy, Pearson Education, p.2). However, researchers have tended to miss this important point because it was not designated a number. Hence, I have now specified that there is a Step 7 (see Bacchi and Goodwin, Poststructural Policy Analysis, Palgrave Macmillan, p. 20). The task initiated by Step 7 is self-problematization, which means putting one’s own proposals under scrutiny by applying the initial six questions in WPR to them. So, we need to ask – if this is my proposal, what is the “problem” represented to be? and so on. This task is important because there is a need to see to what extent researchers may be operating with assumed, unquestioned knowledges or within specific governmental rationalities that may, in the researchers’ judgments, have deleterious consequences.
6. Why do you refer to “governing” rather than to “government”?
Reply: The goal in referring to “governing” rather than to “government” is to ensure that the focus of analysis is established to be beyond conventional understandings of the realm of government – that is, beyond political institutions, political parties and so on. The target of analysis in WPR extends even beyond social movements or references to “civil society”. The target, rather, is the totality of factors – the knowledges and agencies – that establish order in a society. The term “governance” has become popular as a means of extending the understanding of who is involved in governing; however, the term is used in several ways, some of which may be deemed problematic. I’m thinking here of references to “good governance”, which is associated with judgments about a people’s ability to govern or to sustain economic development and economic growth. “Governing” is an apt alternative term because it is a gerund (a verb form rather than a noun) and, therefore, in tune with a poststructural focus on “doing” rather than on assumed fixed entitites (on the use of gerunds in poststructuralism, see Bacchi and Goodwin, Poststructural Policy Analysis, Palgrave, 2016, p. 31).
7. How does a researcher identify a policy “proposal”?
Reply: The notion of a “proposal” is tied to the idea that policies by their nature advance modifications in arrangements. Hence, they advance forms of change that suggest something requires changing/or modification. This “something” is what is represented to be the problem. Oftentimes policies make explicit reference to necessary alterations in arrangements – e.g. tax cuts, increased scrutiny of citizenship criteria, new traffic rules. However, it is important to recognize that policies do not need to be explicit in the required changes for a policy proposal to be identified. If, for example, a policy contains a preamble endorsing the importance of social cohesion, there is an implied suggestion that social cohesion may well need bolstering. In other words, the reference to social cohesion may be read as a policy proposal.
8. Is it possible to apply WPR to interview texts?
Reply: The answer to this question is tied to the preceding question (Question 7). WPR takes as its starting point the idea that policies advance proposals that contain implicit problem representations. Interviews do not tend to advance proposals in this way. Hence, they provide a specific form of text that requires a modified analytic strategy. In the Appendix to Poststructural Policy Analysis (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016, pp. 113-121), Jennifer Bonham and I have developed such a form of analysis. Described as Poststructural Interview Analysis (PIA), it examines interviews as texts with a focus on precisely what is said. In tune with a Foucauldian perspective it asks what was it possible to say in those specific circumstances. To answer this question PIA draws on Foucauldian archaeology, genealogy and problematizations, in ways similar to WPR.
For an example of application see Bonham, J. & Bacchi, C. (2017). Cycling “subjects” in ongoing-formation: The politics of interviews and interview analysis. The Journal of Sociology, 53(3): 687-703.
9. Please explain how “problem representations” can nest within each other.
Reply: This suggestion in WPR draws attention to the ways in which any specific policy proposal relies upon other propositions that may well need to be interrogated using the WPR questions. For example, when the WHO suggests that alcohol consumption is a problem, it defends this claim by drawing attention to what it calls “alcohol problems”. This term is a catch-all epidemiological category that brings together named medical and social conditions that are attributed to excessive alcohol consumption. As I show in “Problematizations in Alcohol Policy: WHO’s ‘alcohol problems’”, Contemporary Drug Problems, 2015, 42(2): 130-147, this category of “alcohol problems” itself requires a WPR analysis. The idea behind “nesting”, therefore, is simply to keep one’s eye open for places where a policy presumes the existence and cogency of other categories of analysis that require critical scrutiny.
10. Can there be more than one problem representation in a policy document?
Reply: There can certainly be more than one problem presentation in a policy document. However, it is still possible to identify a general or pervasive direction within the policy, allowing more general comments to be made about the way in which the “problem” is represented within any specific policy.