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Getting Beyond the ‘Official Line’: Reflections on Dilemmas of Access, Knowledge and Power in Researching Policy Networks

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 February 2002

KAREN DUKE
Affiliation:
Senior Lecturer in Criminology, School of Social Science, Middlesex University, Email: k.duke@mdx.ac.uk

Abstract

Although the policy network approach has moved to the forefront of the debates around the formulation and development of policy, there is a paucity of methodological and reflexive literature which explores how policy networks and the actors within these arenas are actually studied. Researching powerful individuals within such networks generates a unique set of dilemmas and complexities for the researcher. Drawing on my experiences of researching the policy networks involved in the development of prison drugs policy, this paper provides a methodological and reflexive account of the key processes and issues involved in my research. In particular, it explores the political dimensions of the research problem and the importance of switching the research gaze from the ‘objects’ of policy to those who are in the powerful positions of ‘making’ policy. In order to understand the interactions within the policy process, it is argued that the qualitative approach offers distinct advantages in studying policy networks. The paper examines my attempts to uncover and understand the role and influence of policy networks in the development of prison drugs policy and the ways in which I grappled with the dilemmas of access, knowledge and power which emerged during the course of the fieldwork. Although the importance of transparent methodologies and reflexivity are highlighted, the paper concludes by suggesting that the resistance on the part of researchers to providing such accounts is related to the pressures and constraints of the current academic climate.

Type
Article
Copyright
© 2002 Cambridge University Press

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Footnotes

Acknowledgements: I am grateful to my colleagues in Criminology and Social Policy at Middlesex University who provided valuable suggestions for this paper during staff seminars. In particular, special thanks are reserved for Sarah Neal and Susanne MacGregor who commented on earlier versions.
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