Over the last couple of years I have covered many different topics, ranging from public space to global environmental problems. Many of the questions I get, however, deal with my research methods. To learn more about my research methods, please find a selection of answers to some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ). I hope they are useful! Also, there are several articles (see library) dealing with some of the issues you may face.

How do I define performance?

I define performance as the way in which the contextualized interaction itself produces social realities like understandings of the problem at hand, knowledge and new power-relations.
There is a short piece forthcoming in European Political Science that explains more. See under Scientific Publications.

What is dramaturgical analysis?

Recently, I have come to work more on the dramaturgical aspects of the policy process. This I see as a way to extend discourse analysis. By analyzing political processes as a sequence of staged performances, we might be able to infer under what conditions a variety of people and voices emerge in the political discussions, how the variety of contributions can be related to one another in a meaningful way and under what conditions such statements can be made with influence on the actual decision making. Dramaturgical analysis draws out the way in which scenes are scripted and staged, as well as how the multifold players then subsequently act within and upon those scripts and stagings.
A first article on this was published as ‘Setting the Stage’, see elsewhere on the website.

What do I mean by setting? What do I mean by staging?

The setting is the physical situation in which an interaction takes place, including the artifacts that are brought to the situation. Staging refers to the way in which actors deliberately organize an interaction, both drawing on existing symbols and inventing new ones. This includes the distinction between active players and (presumably passive) audiences.

What do I mean by scripting?

Scripting refers to the efforts of actors to create a certain setting by determining the characters in the play (‘Dramatis personae’) and by providing cues for appropriate behaviour.

How do I define discourse?

Discourse is defined as an ensemble of ideas, concepts, and categories through which meaning is given to social and physical phenomena, and which is produced and reproduced through an identifiable set of practices. So for instance in case of acid rain, discourse can refer to a particular tradition in dealing with environmental problems, withits particular ideas about the role of a pollution inspectorate, particular notions on what industries should do in response to pollution (some examples will follow below). It is important to point out that discourse, thus understood, is not synonymous to discussion: a discourse refers to a set of concepts that structures the contributions of participants to a discussion.

What do I mean by social interactive discourse theory?

By the term social interactive discourse theory I emphasize the importance of discursive interaction for the creation of meanings. Human interaction is not related to roles and ritualized social practices, but is better regarded as an exchange of arguments, of contradictory suggestions of how one is to make sense of reality. Social and psychological realities are actively (re)produced in specific discursive practices (compare Davies &Harre 1990).

Can actors that disagree, share a discourse?

Yes! This is a frequent misunderstanding but I think this is a crucial idea: antagonists in many regards co-produce a discourse. This then can be a crucial factor in the explanation of the strength of a particular way of seeing.

How do I define practices?

Practices I define as embedded routines and mutually understood rules and norms that provide coherence to social life. Hence we can think of going to church as a practice, or writing articles for academic journals as a practice characteristic for the life world of university professors. A key point coming out of Wittgensteinian philosophy of language is that linguistic utterances cannot usefully be understood outside the practices in which they are uttered. Similarly, discourse should always be conceived of in interrelation with the practices in which it is produced, reproduced and transformed. If discourse analysis is the analysis of language-in-use then practices are the sites where language is used.

What is a storyline?

I employ the concept of story line to refer to a condensed form of narrativein whichmetaphors are employed, used by people as ‘short hand’ in discussions. Identifying story lines in e.g. the acid rain controversy then brings out that people actual do something with acid rain when talking about it, not merely refer to a problem with a fixed identity.

What is an emblematic issue?

An emblematic issue comes to stand for a bigger problematique, or more precisely, for the understanding of a bigger problematique. The issue is used as a vehicle for discussing a crisis that is hard to discuss in the round. In my 1995 book I showed how acid rain became an emblem in the 1980’s in terms of which a general understanding of what environmental problems were about was constructed.

What is the importance of emblematic issues for understanding discourse?

The concept of emblematic issue suggests that some issues fulfil a key role in the definition of solutions to a certain policy problem or more generally in shifts in policy discourse, and in the bringing about of institutional change. For instance, in environmental politics the issues come and go; urban air pollution, acid rain, global warming, BSE. What remains is the emblematic level; these topics constitute a ‘premier league’ of issues in the environmental domain in that they are crucial for our understanding of what ‘the’ environmental problem really is and what solutions should be searched for.

What is a discourse-coalition?

A discourse-coalition refers to a group of actors that, in the context of an identifiable set of practices, shares the usage of a particular set of story lines over a particular period of time.

Can studying discourse-coalitions be understood to be a network approach?

(Ann Kathrin Hermes from Vienna)
To a certain extent it is, of course. Discourse coalitions shape up amongst actors that cling together around a particular way of seeing a policy problematic. They utter the same story lines or are oriented towards the same way of arguiing (even if they may have arguments within that discourse). Hence it is not their institutional position that one uses as the starting point but the empirically observable shared discourse. The difference with a network approach is then that a discourse coalition approach explains why a particular network shapes up and what holds it together. In network approaches one may often see that they refer to interest of the various actors. A discourse coalition approach would refer to the shared discourse which is then also seen as explaining the perception of interest among the various actors.

How to identify the influence of discourses?

There is a simple two-step procedure for measuring the influence of a discourse: if many people use it to conceptualize the world (discourse structuration) and if it solidifies into institutions and organizational practices (discourse institu­tionalization). If both criteria are fulfilled we argue that a particular discourse is dominant.

How do I define discourse analysis?

Discourse analysis starts from the presumption that language is not a vehicle that merely communicates social and physical realities that lie outside language. Language does something, it actually creates realities. Discourse analysis is a method to analyse what language does, the politics of meaning that takes place, the way in which it affects perceptions and cognitions, the way in which it distributes power to some and less to others. Discourse analysis suggests furthermore that there are certain regularities. This is what makes it different from narrative analysis. Discourse analysis suggests that there are certain structures in language that influence politics.  These regularities I call discourse: an ensemble of ideas, concepts, and categories through which meaning is given to social and physical phenomena, and which is produced and reproduced through an identifiable set of practices.
Argumentative discourse analysis (ADA) sets out to trace a particular linguistic regularity that can be found in discussions or debates.This is not simply about analysing arguments, but much more about analysing politics as a play of positioning at particular sites of discursive production. ADA might illuminate a particular discursive structure in the discussion on immigration policy in the EU, constructed around particular ‘emblematic’ themes (i.e. problems that are seen as representatives of a larger and more complex reality).

What are the advantages of the discourse-coalition approach?

1. It an­alyses strategic action in the context of specific socio-historical dis­courses and institutional practices and provides the conceptual tools to analyse controversies over individual issues in their wider political context;
2. it takes the explanation beyond mere refer­ence to interests, analyzing how interests are played out in the context of specific discourses and organizational practices; and
3. it illuminates how different actors and organizational practices help to reproduce or fight a given bias without necessarily orchestrating or coordinating their actions or without necessarily sharing deep values.

What are the different elements of discourse analysis?

1. The study of the terms of policy discourse, i.e. the (new) vocabularies, storylines andgenerative metaphors, theimplicated division of labour and the various ‘positionings’ for the actors and stakeholders involved;
2. the analysis of the formation of particular discourse coalitions around these story lines; and
3. the analysis of particular institutional practices in which discourses are produced.

What are basic steps for a discourse analysis?

1. Desk research: general survey of the documents and positions in a given field; newspaper analysis, analysis of news sections in relevant journals. This all to make a first chronology and come up with a first reading of events;
2. ‘Helicopter interviews’: interviews with three or four actors (‘helicopters’) that are chosen because they have the overview of the field be it from different positions. They might comprise a well-informed journalist, a key advisor to the government, an expert-policy maker;
3. Document analysis: Analysing documents for structuring concepts, ideas and categorisations; employment of story lines, metaphors, etc. This should result in a first attempt at defining structuring discourses in the discussion. At this stage one would get a basic notion of the process of events as well as the sites of discursive production;
4. Interviews with key players: on the basis of the proceeding steps interviews can be conducted with central actors in the political process. The interviews can be used to generate more information on causal chains (‘which led to what’) that will always be the assumed core of the meeting on part of the interviewees, but the interviews might also be used to get a better understanding of the meaning of particular events for the interviewees. It then becomes a ‘focused interview’ (Flick, 1998). How did they interpret a particular event? Byso doing oneaims to reconstruct the discourse from which an actor approached the situation. We can also analyse how a particular cognitive shift came about. What led to the actual ‘reframing’? Was it reading a report (which is not very likely)? Was it a meeting? A confrontation with a question to which the actor did not have an answer? It might also be possible to use an interview to find out what made a person recognize another perspective as valuable. What was the shift about? Was it about learning to know the people that uttered a particular point of view? Did it have to do with the practice in which people engaged (Forester, 1999)?
5. Sites of argumentation: Searching for data not simply to reconstruct the arguments used but to account for the argumentative exchange. Examples might be parliamentary debates, minutes of inquiries (a very rich source), presentation and interpretation of evidence presented to a particular research commission, panel discussions at conferences,
6. Analyse for positioning effects: actors can get ‘caught up’ in an interplay. They might force others to take up a particular role, but once others are aware of what is going on, they might also try to refuse it (indicators: ‘No, that is not what I meant’, ‘That is not what it is about at all’). This positioning not only occurs on the level of persons but can of course also be found among institutions or even nation-states;
7. Identification of key incidents: this would lead to the identification of key incidents that are essential to understand the discursive dynamics in the chosen case. As much as possible, these key incidents are then transcribed in more detail allowing for more insights in which determined their political effects;
8. Analysis of practices in particular cases of argumentation: rather then assuming coherence on part of particular actors, at this stage one goes back to the data to see if the meaning of what is being said can be related to the practices in which it was said.
9.Interpretation: on this basis one may find a discursive order that governed a particular domain in a particular time. Ideally, one should come up with an account of the discursive structures within a given discussion, as well as an interpretation of the practices, the sites of production that were of importance in explaining a particular course of events.
10. Second visit to key actors: discourses are inferred from reality by the analyst. Yet when respondents are confronted with the findings, they should at least recognize some of the hidden structures in language. Hence to revisit some key actors is a way of controlling if the analysis of the discursive space made sense.

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