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Beyond facts and values: Stone, Laclau and the discursive in policy analysis.

Georgios Papanagnou
United Nations University
Georgios Papanagnou
United Nations University
Open Panel

Abstract

Providing answers to pressing social problems is arguably the most important function of the social sciences. This quest for social scientific knowledge that can guide public policy has known many highs and lows. Recurring failure to ameliorate social conditions and comparison with the “hard sciences” has meant that the social sciences had, in many instances, to defend both their relevance for policy and their proper scientific status. Nonetheless, if social research is to increase its impact then measures to connect it better to policy answers need to be taken. According to standard rational understandings, the answer to this conundrum lies with the building of bridges and the consequent increase in both the supply and demand of relevant social scientific results (evidence based policy). This seemingly intuitive model, however, has encountered numerous problems. Policy processes are often sub-rational, results are tendentially ignored, while even the best of evidence frequently fails to even consider crucial dimensions of problems. Ultimately, we contend that the problem lies with rationalism’s adherence to the fact and value distinction – and by extension to that between cogitation and interaction. Thus, combining insights from the work of Deborah Stone and Ernesto Laclau the paper makes the case for a discursive ontological understanding of politics, which dissolves the fact value distinction. We argue that social research partakes in the discursive construction of social problems whilst promoting certain political choices as policy solutions. In addition, the discursive understanding of the relationship between science and policy necessitates a more social way of conducting policy analysis. Hence, the accent falls on participatory approaches, which strengthen the social robustness of science, and on more profound notions of democratic citizenship.