Dr Kennet Lynggaard and Professor Peter Triantafillou introduce the fourth article – ‘Discourse analysis and strategic policy advice: manoeuvring, navigating, and transforming policy’ – to be published in the Journal of European Public Policy Special Issue ‘The Politics of Policy Analysis’. They explore and conceptualizes how discourse analysis can be used as the foundation for policy advice. The article highlights how discourse analysis may provide strategic advice for policy actors (including politicians, policy strategists, public managers, and citizen groups) to shape policy. They compare strategies to underpin policy advice: to manoeuvre within a dominant ‘discursive framework’, navigate between different and conflicting discourses, or seek to transform existing discourse.
In the past, discourse analytical approaches have been somehow reluctant in offering strategies for policy advice. This reluctance relates partly to the critical ethos often associated with discourse analysis. It may follow the view that policymaking is often non-rational and not a linear process, which makes policy advice very demanding. Yet, this reluctance limits the utility of discourse analysis for providing new and partly alternative policy ideas and advice on how to steer policy processes and outputs. It also confines the practical use of one the key analytical merits of discourse analysis, namely to capture and analyse complex societal problems. Perhaps more than ever, western liberal democracies are faced by highly complex problems such as financial crises, long-term unemployment, pandemics, and global warming, demanding innovative policy solutions and solutions that may also better ensure minority interests or have democratic credence.
In this article, we explore the prospects of discourse analysis for offering policy advice and extend the scope of discourse analysis from explaining and critiquing discourses to also include changing or modifying the ways in which they are turned into policy. We elaborate and analyse discursive agency as a means of strategically operating within and using a given discursive context. Discursive agency, we argue, comes in three general types of agency – manoeuvring, navigation and transformation – and seven specific ones – normative power, manipulation, exclusion, multiple functionality, vagueness, rationalism, and securitisation.
The three general types of discursive agency and associated specific ones are illustrated by three examples. German labour market reforms from the early 2000s and the recent reform proposals introduced in 2021 serve as an illustration of how the German Social Democratic Party has successfully been manoeuvring within an existing German ‘version’ of neoliberal discourse with the purpose to consolidating status quo labour market policies.
To illustrate navigation as a type of discursive agency, we use the example of Danish Social Democratic minority government during the Covid-19 pandemic from spring 2020 to spring 2022. Like many other governments in Europe, the Danish government navigated between the epidemiological discourses encouraging the protection of life and wellbeing of the population and the liberal discourses ensuring individual freedoms.
Finally, deliberate attempts to transform a discourse is illustrated by the European Parliaments declaration of climate and environmental emergency in late 2019, which allow for the adoption of extraordinary policy measures with potential radical societal consequences.
We argue that discourse analysis should use its insightful and often critical analyses of political struggles and how they affect the solution of real-world problems to also engage in strategic policy advice. It is highly useful for all policy actors to be aware and reflective of the various forms of discursive agency, both in cases where they want to use them for what many would think are benevolent purposes and in cases where other policy actors may try to push less benevolent policies. In the latter situation, awareness of the opponent’s strategic choice of discursive agency may prove useful for hindering undesirable policies.
Lynggaard, K and Triantafillou, P. (2023) ‘Discourse analysis and strategic policy advice: manoeuvring, navigating, and transforming policy’, Journal of European Public Policy, https://doi.org/10.1080/13501763.2023.2217846