policy as problematisation

Carol Bacchi argues that policy works by creating a problematisation of a social/cultural/political phenomenon and then providing a solution. She notes that the problematisation may not always be IN the policy text -this may just outline the solution and how it is to be implemented. However, the problematisation is always implied, even if not spelled out.

She suggests therefore that we should ask of any policy we are examining:

  • What is the problem represented to be, for which this policy is the answer?

Bacchi’s work is located within Foucauldian discourse analysis (see previous post)  and she therefore suggests that we ask further refining questions about truth claims that are made, inclusions and exclusions, normalisations, and subjectivities and actions that are constructed and legitimated.

Following Bacchi, we might ask of a policy:

  • On what evidence is this problem representation based?
  • What is included, foregrounded, backgrounded, and excluded in this representation?
  • What truths are asserted?
  • What alternative ways of understanding the phenomena might be made?
  • What alternative solutions might be proposed?
  • Whose interests are served through this problem representation and solution and whose are not?
  • How did this problem representation come to be?


Bacchi, Carol (1999) Women, Policy and Politics: The Construction of Policy Problems. London: Sage.

Bacchi, Carol (2009) Analysing Policy: What’s the Problem Represented to Be? Sydney: Pearson Education.

About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
This entry was posted in discourse, policy, research methods. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to policy as problematisation

  1. maelorin says:

    i have been exploring policy as a link between the two halves of my argument, or perhaps as the lens through which to integrate the technological and the legal strands of my argument. the further i refine/explain my reasoning, the more problematisation looks like it has a lot to say – or, perhaps, problematisation can help me say what i’m trying to say.

    a couple of years back, i looked into Foucault’s discourse analysis as an approach/framework for analysis for my thesis. this got sidelined by changes to my research, but now appears to be a potentially useful tool once more. i will have a look at Bacchi’s work to see what it might offer (hoping that I don’t/won’t have to revisit more substantive work on Foucault).


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