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Critical Policy Analysis in Education  

Kate O'Connor and Sophie Rudolph

Critical policy analysis has emerged as a prominent tradition of research in the field of education. Beginning in the 1980s in response to the failings of more traditional forms of policy analysis, this work typically examines the kinds of discourses and power relations that may be at play through the construction and function of policy. It is critical in orientation and interested in the social, cultural, and political context of policy as well as how analyzing policy may reveal opportunities for social change and reform. In contrast to traditional approaches which take policy problems as given, research in this tradition interrogates how discourse, language, and text set the context for how policy problems and solutions are conceptualized and how and why particular issues come to be framed as objects of concern. Critical policy analysis encompasses a range of different methodological approaches rather than a single method, with the approach taken dependent on the nature of the policy under analysis, the site of its production, the purpose of the research, and the positionality of the researcher. Four particularly prominent and generative approaches to critical policy analysis in educational research include (a) analysis of how policy is formed and operates across local and global contexts; (b) the What’s the Problem Represented to Be? approach; (c) research on networks and mobilities; and (d) research drawing on Indigenous Critical Discourse Analysis. Each of these approaches offers insights for understanding problems of inequality and power in education and their origins and reproduction within and in relation to policy.


Critical Policy Discourse Analysis in Higher Education  

Jane Mulderrig

Critical Policy Discourse Analysis (CPDA) is a method for critically investigating the linguistic mechanisms by which education policy is constituted and contested in specific contexts. It involves a systematic methodology for textual and contextual analysis, designed to explore historically specific policy problems and their ideological significance. The analytical procedures involved in this approach are illustrated by means of a case study examining the introduction of quality-assurance governance practices and market-oriented reforms to U.K. higher education (HE). Specifically, the “Teaching Excellence Framework,” introduced in 2017, has two core purposes: to audit and rank universities by teaching quality and to open up the university market to private (for-profit) providers. The two main government documents which introduced this policy are examined in order to explore the prominent themes within this policy, as well as the linguistic strategies that contribute to its ideological framing. A critical investigation of the language through which this policy was introduced and legitimated reveals the neoliberal principles which underpin it and demonstrates how it operates as a dehumanizing technique of calculation and surveillance, while subordinating universities’ societal role to the needs of the economy. Corpus-aided methods are combined with a framework for close textual analysis of policy data, focussing on presuppositions, evaluation, modality and pronouns. The analysis shows the systematic linguistic processes by which student-consumer subjectivities are constructed and the rhetoric of “choice” and “value for money” is (mis)represented as the key to greater access and social mobility for students. This policy takes a significant step toward recasting educational relations in extrinsic, exchange-value terms, which are deeply damaging to universities’ original purpose of building communities of critical reflection, intellectual freedoms, and trust.