Social Science and Public Policy

Richard Freeman

backpublications - critical and interpretive policy studies

Introduction: governing Europe’s spaces: European Union re-imagined
Carter, C, Freeman, R and Lawn, M

What do we imagine when we imagine Europe and the European Union? What unacknowledged assumptions do we hold? This Introduction argues that, for a long time, EU studies has been dominated by discussions in which ‘the EU’ is consistently treated as an object: supranational, intergovernmental, multi-level, monotopia. Yet, theoretical debates over which image is ‘correct’, although important, are nonetheless camouflaging a more fundamental divide about how we can and should imagine Europe. And this is an ontological divide. Indeed, we argue that it is only through identifying this ontological divide that scholarship is enabled – if it so desires – to move away from imagining Europe as an object and think of Europe differently. We explain why we focus on ontology and set out our own starting point. Critically, rather than beginning by assuming the EU to be supranational or intergovernmental or some hybrid organisation, we instead start out by making inclusive assumptions about its causal structures. These are process-orientated, collectivist and interpretivist assumptions enabling us to re-imagine Europe as a space of action. We elaborate our concept of space –physical, symbolic, peopled, bordered, multiple and routinised – and ask where are these spaces of Europe and what goes on in them?

Publication Type: chapter in book      Source: Manchester: Manchester UP
Date: 2015       Link:

For a (self-)critical comparison
Freeman, R and Mangez, E

This paper reflects on the design and organization of cross-national comparative research in social and public policy, based in our own experience of leading and taking part in projects of this kind. We acknowledge recent criticism of comparison conceived as the measurement of similarity and difference between discrete national units, and note the political as well as methodological difficulties such work entails. We describe our attempts to overcome them, calling for both (1) a critical theory of comparison and (2) a critical practice of comparison. We outline ways of working based on the collective interrogation of case studies, and conclude by formalising an approach to comparison conceived not as cross-national experiment but as international encounter.

Publication Type: journal paper      Source: Critical Policy Studies 7 (2) 198-206
Date: 2013       Link:

Reverb: policy making in wave form

When we think of policy as mobile, what is it we think is moving? Asking after the mobility of policy is important not least for the ontological questions it raises: what is policy such that it moves? Ordinarily, we might think of policy as existing in time and space while, given certain conditions, some policies move from one time and/or space to another. This paper, by contrast, begins by describing policy as resulting from movement, setting out a model or heuristic which takes its mobility as prior to its existence. For policy is made in communicative interaction, both oral (in meetings) and textual (in documents). We might think of it in wave form, which helps to explain both its mobility and its mutability. The paper illustrates this conception in a study of WHO activity in respect of mental health in Europe, exploring aspects of translation - understood as the generation of messages in interaction - and of iteration, as those messages are reformulated and repeated in different contexts. The policy concept reverberates, and it is in this way that collective sense is consolidated and reproduced.

Publication Type: journal paper      Source: Environment and Planning A 44 13-20
Date: 2012       Link:

Rhizomic regulation: mobilising knowledge for mental health in Europe
Freeman, R, Smith-Merry, J and Sturdy, S

Regulation depends fundamentally upon the production and dissemination of knowledge. At a minimum, one might imagine a mechanical model of regulation which involves regulator A exerting control over the actions of actor B. But even here, knowledge is crucial, for B must know what kinds of actions A requires or considers appropriate if regulation is to occur. And A must ensure that its preferences are communicated effectively, in a form that B can comprehend and act upon. In real world situations, the knowledge problems associated with regulation are of course much more complex than this. Regulators need to have knowledge of the domain they are regulating, including the aims, interests and capacities of the various actors who inhabit that domain. Actors need to know how the regulators’ communications are to be interpreted, and what penalties they might face if they act incorrectly. And regulators and actors alike need to constantly update their knowledge of the system as a whole, and of how effectively regulation might be working to ensure that their interests are fulfilled. Regulation, in short, depends on the constant generation, circulation, interpretation and evaluation of knowledge. This chapter duly reports and discusses the findings of a study of the work of the World Health Organization (WHO) in defining the content of mental health policy in Europe.

Publication Type:       Source: Barroso, J and Carvalho, L M (eds) Knowledge and Regulatory Processes in Health and Education Policies, Lisbon: EDUCA
Date: 2012

'Policy opportunities'

What is policy? How do we do or make policy? Where and who with? What is it for, anyway, and what difference does it make? Good questions, though you wouldn't be asking them if you didn't already know that answering them isn't easy. You've read and heard a lot of stuff which seems to be called 'policy', and some other stuff which seems to be about 'the policy process', and you still have these questions. Forgive me, then, for wondering whether questions and answers are going to take us very far. I'd really like to know why you're asking, because then I think we'd get into conversation. Because we've never met, I'm going to have to imagine what you'd say and what I'd say in return. So what follows here is an imagined and implied conversation, in which you tell me the story of your first foray into policy making and I try to make sense of it...

Publication Type: chapter in book      Source: Global Mental Heath: Trauma and Recovery, A companion guide for field and clinical care of traumatized people worldwide, Cambridge MA: Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma
Date: 2011       Link:

The practice of policy making
Freeman, R, Griggs, S and Boaz, A

Editorial introduction to the special issue of Evidence and Policy 7 (2) The Practice of Policy Making.

Publication Type: journal paper      Source: Evidence and Policy 7 (2) 125-133
Date: 2011       Link:

Documents, practices and policy
Freeman, R and Maybin, J

What are the practices of policy making? In this paper, we seek to identify and understand them by attending to one of the principal artifacts - the document - through which they are organized. We review the different ways researchers have understood documents and their function in public policy, endorsing a focus on content but noting that the processes by which documents are produced and used have been left largely unexamined. We specify our understanding of the document as an artifact, exploring aspects of its materiality in both paper and electronic forms. The key characteristic of the policy document, we suggest, is the way it is produced and used collectively, in groups.

Publication Type: journal paper      Source: Evidence and Policy 7 (2) 155-170
Date: 2011       Link:


Knowledge in policy: embodied, inscribed, enacted
Freeman, R and Sturdy, S

The literature on the role of knowledge in policy making encompasses a striking diversity of views on just what knowledge is, what different types of knowledge there may be and how they are to be observed empirically. In this paper, we propose a new phenomenology of knowledge based not on 'who knows what, how, why' but on the form that knowledge takes. Drawing a simple analogy with the three phases of matter - solid, liquid and gas - we argue that knowledge, too, exists in three phases, which we characterise as embodied, inscribed and enacted. And just as matter may pass from one phase to another, so too knowledge can be transformed, through various kinds of action, between phases. After reviewing the literature on knowledge and policy, we elaborate this three-phase model in the third section of our paper below. Our argument is illustrated and elaborated through a case study of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Europe. As a knowledge-based organization, it offers a useful opportunity to explore the nature of knowledge in policy making; in doing so, we ground our theoretical model in empirical observation. We conclude by discussing the implications of our perspective for future work both in research and policy.

Publication Type: draft paper      Source:
Date: 2011       Link: in policy: embodied, inscribed, enacted

articulation, assemblage, alignment: the project in/of EU governance

The project, and by extension the programme, is a key instrument of European governance. The function of the project is to draw heterogeneous sets of actors together, to generate connections between them, to articulate them. What are created as a result are assemblages: amorphous, unstable and multidimensional organizational forms. Assemblages endure to the degree of alignment they achieve among the actors of which they are composed: this paper identifies 'alignment practices' as a critical component of European governance.

Publication Type: draft paper      Source: Europa Institute seminar series 'Practising EU government'
Date: 2009       Link:, assemblage, alignment: the project in/of EU governance

What is translation?

What is ‘translation’, and how might it help us think differently about knowledge transfer and exchange? The purpose of this article is to set out, for policy makers and practitioners, the theoretical and conceptual resources that translation holds and seems to represent. It begins by recasting research, policy and practice themselves as instances of translation. It explores understandings of translation in literature and linguistics and in the sociology of science and technology, developing them in respect of a brief case study of the seminal women’s health text, Our bodies, ourselves. In concluding, it picks up key themes of uncertainty, practice and complexity.

Publication Type: journal paper      Source: Evidence and Policy 5 (4) 429-447
Date: 2009       Link:

Learning by meeting

It has become something of a truism that organisational and political environments are internationalised, and that policy making is informed at least in part by increased understanding of what takes place in parallel domains and jurisdictions. Leaders and policy makers learn about, from and with their counterparts elsewhere. By the same token, the international meeting, workshop or seminar has become a more prominent part of professional, organisational and political routines. This paper asks simply: what do we learn by meeting? While both learning and meeting can be readily dismissed as operations of a crude construction of power, the paper is interested in what might remain. It is notable, for example, that international encounters are often highly valued by participants, albeit in ways they find difficult to express. What do participants experience in meeting, and what do they know differently as a result? Drawing on seminal work by Margeret Mead and others, and using ethnographic and documentary methods, the paper describes processes of introduction, presentation, recognition, confusion, socialisation, communication and reporting. Conceived as a microstudy of purportedly macrolevel activity, it is meant both as an exercise in analytic interpretation and as a resource for participants and practitioners.

Publication Type: journal paper      Source: Critical Policy Analysis 2 (1) 1-24
Date: 2008       Link:

Epistemological bricolage: how practitioners make sense of learning

How do policy makers come to know what they know? How do they think of learning? And how does that inform what they do? In this qualitative, empirical study, public health officials variously display scientific, institutional, and more socially situated epistemological strategies or rationalities. In turn, the study reveals that a key element of what they do is "piecing together," assembling and literally making sense of different bits of information and experience, often creating something new from what they have acquired secondhand. It shows how much policy making is knowledge work, and how learning might be thought of as a process of epistemological bricolage.

Publication Type: journal paper      Source: Administration and Society 39 (4) 476-496
Date: 2007       Link:

The work the document does. Research, policy and equity in health

At the center of the politics of health equity, in many countries and circumstances, stands a signal report of research. This article is concerned with what might be described as the architecture of such documents, including how they are produced and organized and the relationships they demonstrate with others that parallel, precede, and succeed them. The article examines how scientific and political authority is established and comments on the evidence of cross-national learning that these documents reveal. It discusses differences in how the problem of health equity is constructed in different countries and how research findings are converted into policy recommendations. It begins to trace a process of implementation by noting how these documents are referred to and written about. The argument is that the politics of health equity are expressed or realized in the documents and reports, which are its principal vehicle. This is not to claim that there is no world beyond the text or that the world somehow is a text, but that to fully understand that world we must understand the text and the work it does.

Publication Type: journal paper      Source: Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law 31 (1) 51-70
Date: 2006       Link: http://www.

Recursive politics: prevention, modernity and social systems

The aim of this paper is to connect the recent interest in prevention to recent developments in social theory. It begins by recovering some of prevention's essential features from the realm of common sense, showing that what is taken to be the common sense of prevention is emblematic of modernity. For prevention is built on scientific understandings of cause and effect and the possibility of prediction; on a capacity for controlled intervention by government in social life; on a universal value base; on the authority of professional expertise; on rational, calculating, individual social subjects. As this order develops and changes, many of its constituent elements begin to be threatened by social processes which it has itself set in train. Prevention is affected by (and implicated in) these changes, too. But far from being eclipsed by them it becomes more prominent. Drawing on systems theory, the paper argues that prevention meets the essential purpose of boundary maintenance by which the functioning of social systems is sustained. For reasons both external and internal to welfare agencies, including an increased burden of social risk and increasing organisational complexity, this need to mark and maintain system boundaries is ever more pressing. At the same time, at least part of the problem of the fragility of boundaries is attributable to attempts to maintain them. It is for this reason that preventive policy making can be described as recursive, or self-propelling.

Publication Type: journal paper      Source: Children and Society 13 (4) 232-241
Date: 1999       Link: