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Analysing Political Language

Dvora Yanow

Wageningen University and Research Center

Dvora Yanow is a political/policy/organisational ethnographer and interpretive methodologist. Her research and teaching are shaped by an overall interest in the generation and communication of knowing and meaning in organisational and policy settings.

Current research engages state-created categories for immigrant groups, citizen-making, and race-ethnic identity; research regulation (ethics board) policies; practice studies; science/technology museums and the idea of science; and built space/place analysis. 

Her most recent book, Interpretive Research Design: Concepts and Processes (Routledge 2012), written with Peregrine Schwartz-Shea, is the first volume in their co-edited Routledge Series on Interpretive Methods. A second edition of their co-edited Interpretation and Method was published by ME Sharpe/Routledge in 2014.

As part of a new podcast series, New Books in Interpretive Social Science, hosted by Nick Cheesman (Australian National University), Dvora and Peri talk about their book and discuss what interpretive methods are and why they matter. Listen to the podcast here

Course Dates and Times

Monday 17 – Friday 21 February 2020, 09:00–12:30
15 hours over five days

Prerequisite Knowledge

1. This course presumes some knowledge of interpretive methodological presuppositions, including the so-called ‘linguistic turn,’ an aspect one dimension of the interpretive turn, described in the long course outline. We are not likely to have sufficient time to go into this background in depth. If you have missed out on these ideas, you can find them in the following key readings:

Geertz, Clifford. 1973
The Interpretation of Cultures, esp. ch. 1
NY: Basic Books

Hawkesworth, M.E. 1988
Theoretical Issues in Policy Analysis, chs. 1–4
Albany: SUNY Press

Hiley, David R., Bohman, James F., and Shusterman, Richard, eds. 1991
The Interpretive Turn
Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press

Lakoff, George and Johnson, Mark. 1980
Metaphors We Live By [although focused on metaphor, this book includes arguments in re. the character of language underlying this course]
Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Polkinghorne, Donald E. 1983
Methodology for the Human Sciences, esp. the opening chapter
Albany: SUNY Press

Rabinow, Paul and Sullivan, William M., eds. 1979, 1985
Interpretive Social Science: A Reader, 1st and 2nd eds
Berkeley: University of California Press

Ricoeur, Paul. 1971
The Model of the Text
Social Research 38: 529–62

Taylor, Charles. 1971/1979
Interpretation and the Sciences of Man
In Paul Rabinow and William M. Sullivan, eds., 1979, Interpretive Social Science: A Reader, 25–71 [also in the 2nd ed.]
Berkeley: University of California Press

Schwartz-Shea, Peregrine and Yanow, Dvora. 2012
Interpretive Research Design: Concepts and Processes
NY: Routledge

Yanow, Dvora and Schwartz-Shea, Peregrine. 2014/2006
Interpretation and Method: Empirical Research Methods and the Interpretive Turn, 2nd ed, especially book introduction, part introductions, chs. 1–7, 24–25
Armonk, NY: M E Sharpe

Additionally, the (relatively) new field of linguistic ethnography, developed in the UK, articulates a perspective that encompasses the approach used in this course. See, e.g.:

Copland, Fiona and Creese, Angela. 2015
Linguistic Ethnography
In Fiona Copland and Angela Creese, with Frances Rock and Sarah Shaw, eds., Linguistic Ethnography, 13–27
London: Sage

Rampton, Ben, Maybin, Janet, and Roberts, Celia. 2015
Theory and Method in Linguistic Ethnography
In Julia Snell, Sarah E. Shaw, and Fiona Copland, eds., Linguistic Ethnography: Interdisciplinary Explorations, 14–50
Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

Shaw, Sarah E., Copland, Fiona, and Snell, Julia. 2015
An Introduction to Linguistic Ethnography
In Julia Snell, Sarah E. Shaw, and Fiona Copland, eds., Linguistic Ethnography: Interdisciplinary Explorations, 1–13
Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

Articles in Special Issue on linguistic ethnography
Journal of Sociolinguistics 11/5 (2007)

2. Those students who have already conducted field research and have their own ‘word data’ to analyse are likely to benefit the most, in a practical sense, from this course, although it is not a prerequisite for the course. Those who have not yet generated their own research data will also gain knowledge of this range of ways of looking at linguistic materials

Short Outline

This course will provide an overview of several methods or approaches that have been developed to analyse political language. Each day will be devoted to one method:

  • metaphor analysis
  • category analysis
  • narrative and storytelling analysis
  • framing analysis
  • visual analysis (also known as ‘visual politics’ or ‘visual methods’).

Small-group meetings (‘laboratories’) outside of class sessions will enable you to workshop these various analytic approaches with respect to your own field data, whether these derive from documentary, conversational/interviewing or (participatory-) observational sources, or to delve further into specific readings.

The course is not intended as a seminar for discussing individual readings in depth, however, rather to introduce a variety of methods in a way that renders them immediately usable for analysing data.

Tasks for ECTS Credits

2 credits Carry out the necessary reading from the extensive list provided, and attend at least 90% of course hours.

3 credits (to be graded) As above, plus be an active participant in discussions of the readings and other daily assignments.

4 credits (to be graded) As above, plus take an active part in the ‘laboratory’ assignments.

Because of the character of the course material, there are no exams, take-home papers or class projects, nor can you earn extra credit for work done after the course conclusion.

Long Course Outline

'We create realities… by dubbing with titles, by naming, and by the manner
in which words invite us to create “realities” in the world to correspond with them.
Constitutiveness gives an externality and an apparent ontological status to the concepts
words embody; for example, the law, gross national product, antimatter, the Renaissance. …
The constitutiveness of language… creates and transmits culture and locates our place in it…'
Jerome Bruner (1986: 64, 65)

The ‘interpretive turn’ in mid- to late 20th century social sciences brought with it renewed attention to the role of language in social and political life. The ‘linguistic turn’ built on the established idea that in (re)presenting lived experience, language is not, and should not be seen as, an exact ‘mirror of [human] nature’ (to invoke Richard Rorty’s title) or a transparent referent of those experiences, but needs to be understood as an interpretation of them. As researchers, we ‘translate’ others’ and our own experiences into language – what Charles Taylor (1971) called ‘text analogues’ (see also Ricoeur 1971) – for purposes of analysis. Consider, for example, field notes that render persons, events, interactions, and the material world of research settings and the artifacts in it as written texts. Additionally, these days, the notion of language needs to be taken not only in a literal sense – referencing research-relevant documents, whether contemporary or archival, or field conversations, including interviews – but also with respect to repertoires of visual and nonverbal ‘languages.’

But 'turning' to language and taking it seriously meant, and means, more than just attending to linguistic elements, such as textual and spoken discourses, in everyday and other worlds. Conceptualised in the 1930s as an extension of phenomenology’s critique of 'subject/object dualism and the assumption of a psychological foundation of experience' (Deetz 2003: 422), the linguistic turn was intended to go beyond looking at texts and talk to seeing how texts and talk produce those worlds. That idea rests on certain philosophical-methodological points of view, which propose that language goes a far way to constituting everyday and other social realities, that it has the capacity 'to stipulate and create realities of its own,' as Jerome Bruner put it (in the epigraph).

This course will explore several methods or approaches that have been developed to analyse political language: metaphor analysis, category analysis, narrative and storytelling analysis, framing analysis, and visual analysis. Each day’s session is intended to introduce one of these ways of looking at the topic, theoretically, and includes a set of empirical articles or papers that use that method.  We will touch briefly on language and the politics of science (e.g., 1976 articles by Richard Harvey Brown and by Joseph Gusfield), but the course will not cover rhetoric, discourse analysis or some other topics that might well fit under this broad umbrella. (For discourse analysis proper, see the self-standing course offered in the ECPR Summer Methods School. But please note that some of the confusion over what ‘discourse analysis’ means includes the analysis of discourses, and some of the topics we will take up fall within that understanding.) 

Bruner, Jerome S. 1986
Actual Minds, Possible Worlds
Cambridge: Harvard University Press

Day Topic Details
Day 1 Metaphor analysis
Day 2 Category analysis
Day 3 Narrative & storytelling analysis
Day 4 Framing analysis
Day 5 Visual analysis

09:00–12:30 daily with a 30-minute break, halfway through

Afternoon or evening (to be agreed upon with group members), meeting together

Day Readings
Day 2

Ian Hacking, George Lakoff, Ralph Hummel, Patrick Simon, Dvora Yanow, and others

Day 3

Shaul Shenhav, Joseph Gusfield, Deborah Stone, Merlijn van Hulst, and others

Day 4

Donald Schön, Martin Rein, Carol Bacchi, and other scholars writing in the public policy tradition (as distinct from social movement frame analysis)

Day 5

Mary Bellhouse (on paintings), Ilan Danjoux (on cartoons), Dvora Yanow (on built spaces), and others

Day 1

Donald Schön, Donald F. Miller, chapters in two edited collections (Terrell Carver and Jernej Pikalo, Political language and metaphor; Alan Cienki and Dvora Yanow, ‘Politics and language’, Journal of International Relations and Development special issue), and others

A detailed syllabus with specific reading assignments will be provided.

The following suggests the kinds of readings the sessions will draw on; actual readings will be taken from these and others.

Software Requirements



Hardware Requirements



Suggested additional readings that speak to one or more aspects of this course; more will be provided to registered participants:

Bowker, Geoffrey C. and Star, Susan Leigh. 1999
Sorting Things Out
Cambridge: MIT Press

Gamson, William A. 1992
Talking Politics(esp. chapter on cartoons)
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Gusfield, Joseph R. 1981
The Culture of Public Problems: Drinking-Driving and the Symbolic Order, esp. ch. 1
Chicago: University of Chicago Press

McCloskey, Donald N. 1994
How to Do a Rhetorical Analysis of Economics, and Why
In Roger Backhouse, ed., Economic Methodology, 319–42
London: Routledge

Polkinghorne, Donald E. 1988
Narrative Knowing and the Human Sciences
Albany: SUNY Press

Schmidt, Ronald, Sr. 2000
Language Policy and Identity Politics in the United States
Philadelphia: Temple University Press

Schwartz-Shea, Peregrine and Yanow, Dvora. 2002
'Reading' 'Methods' 'Texts': How Research Methods Texts Construct Political Science
Political Research Quarterly 55: 45786

Shenhav, Shaul. 2015
Analyzing Political Narratives
NY: Routledge

Recommended Courses to Cover Before this One

<p><strong>Summer School </strong></p> <p>Introduction to Interpretive Research Designs<br /> The Philosophy and Methodology of the Social Sciences<br /> Expert Interviews for Qualitative Data Generation<br /> Field Research I and II [both of which take up political, policy, and organisational ethnography]<br /> Analysing Discourse I and II &ndash; Analysing Politics: Theories, Methods and Applications</p> <p><strong>Winter School </strong></p> <p>Introduction to Qualitative-Interpretive Methods<br /> The Philosophy and Methodology of the Social Sciences<br /> Interpretive Interviewing<br /> &nbsp;</p>

Recommended Courses to Cover After this One

<p><strong>Summer School</strong></p> <p>Analysing Discourse I and II &ndash; Analysing Politics: Theories, Methods and Applications<br /> Visual Politics / Visual Organisation</p> <p><strong>Winter School</strong></p> <p>Writing Ethnographic and Other Qualitative-Interpretive Research: Learning Inductively</p>

Additional Information


This course description may be subject to subsequent adaptations (e.g. taking into account new developments in the field, participant demands, group size, etc). Registered participants will be informed in due time.

Note from the Academic Conveners

By registering for this course, you confirm that you possess the knowledge required to follow it. The instructor will not teach these prerequisite items. If in doubt, contact the instructor before registering.