Reason and emotion in policy making: an ethnographic study
Anderson, Rosemary Alice Garrett
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Recent policy analysis has had a growing interest in examining the everyday practices of policy work. Despite this, conceptions of what policy can and should encompass tend to be focused on its tangible outputs and products, in particular the texts and documents of policy and governance. Policy’s legitimacy is commonly considered to rest on its participants’ ability to make rational decisions motivated not by private reasons but by the public good. This has had serious implications for scholars’ ability to discuss the non-purposive, nonverbal and non-rational content in policy work. This thesis presents an ethnographic study of emotion in the context of policy work. Starting from informants’ own understandings of what emotion means in policy and politics, it focuses on a fifteen month period in the policy practices of a Scottish NGO and its stakeholders and participants. From the perspective of a participant observer policy worker, it uses observation, documents, and interviews to explore the way traditionally “rational” models of governance based on apparently objective knowledge and other non-rational, “caring” ways of knowing are brought to bear upon policy work through detailed examination of practice. Analysis of these practices begins by examining the way that informants described the anxieties caused by competing understandings of “good” governance. Emotion and rationality were considered mutually exclusive but equally essential components of policy making. This thesis proposes that the way these anxieties were managed by the Partnership’s policy participants was to split these incommensurable expectations of governance between two self-identifying groups: activists such as community organisers and professionals such as civil servants. Splitting knowledge in this way helped the wider policy making community to maintain their own sense of legitimacy and moral integrity while making use of “dangerous” knowledge.