New Book, Narrative Policy Analysis: Cases in Decentred Policy

Editor R. A. W. Rhodes

The main aim of this book is to show how decentred analysis contributes to the study of public policy, both theoretically and practically. We seek to substantiate the claim that it offers novel theory and methods with a clear practical application. However, the book has two subsidiary purposes.

First, it displays research by the Centre for Political Ethnography at the University

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of Southampton. All the contributors are based at Southampton or they are colleagues at other universities who are working with us.

Second, the book is part of the ‘Understanding Governance’ series published by Springer-Macmillan. The first book came out in 1997 so this volume commemorates 20 years of publishing. We have published 25 books with 2 in the pipeline, and counting. There is no danger that any of the books will enter The Times bestseller list but we persist, and many an author is in print because we do. Here’s to our silver wedding anniversary.

Narratives or storytelling are a feature of the everyday life of all who

work in government. They tell each other stories about the origins, aims and effects of policies to make sense of their world. These stories form the collective memory of a government department; a retelling of yesterday to make sense of today. This book examine polices through the eyes of the practitioners, both top-down and bottom-up; it decentres policies and policymaking. To decentre is to unpack practices as the contingent beliefs and actions of individuals. Decentred analysis produces detailed studies of people’s beliefs and practices. It challenges the idea that inexorable or impersonal forces drive politics, focusing instead on the relevant meanings, the beliefs and preferences of the people involved.

This book presents ten case studies, covering penal policy, zero-carbon homes, parliamentary scrutiny, children’s rights, obesity, pension reform, public service reform, evidence-based policing, and local economic knowledge. It introduces a different angle of vision on the policy process; it looks at it through the eyes of individual actors, not institutions. In other words, it looks at policies from the other end of the telescope. It concludes there is much to learn from a decentred approach. It delivers edification because it offers a novel alliance of interpretive theory with an ethnographic toolkit to explore policy and policymaking from the bottom-up.

The book’s decentred approach provides an alternative to the dominant evidence–based policy nostrums of the day.

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