Discourse, framing and narrative: three ways of doing critical, interpretive policy analysis

Merlijn van Hulst*, Tamara Metze, Art Dewulf, Jasper de Vries, Severine van Bommel, Mark van Ostaijen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Three decades after the argumentative turn in policy analysis and planning, interpretive approaches have become part of mainstream policy analysis. Increasingly, researchers work within these traditions. Researchers new to these approaches might struggle to make conceptual and methodological choices. We therefore compare three prominent interpretive approaches: discourse analysis, framing analysis and narrative analysis. Discourse analysis is the study of hegemonic, dominant and recessive discursive structures. It explores how power is embedded in language and (re)produces dominant social structures. Framing analysis involves studying processes of meaning construction. It explores what elements of reality are strategically or tacitly foregrounded or backgrounded in conversations and text, and how this includes and excludes voices, ideas and interests in policy and decision-making. Narrative analysis investigates the work of storytelling. It explores how people make sense of events through the selection and connection of story elements: events, settings and characters. These approaches share ontological and epistemological starting points, but offer different results. In this paper, we show what they each contribute to critical policy analysis and develop a heuristic for selecting or combining approaches. We give a renewed entry point for interpretive work and contribute to dialogs on commonalities and differences between approaches.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCritical Policy Studies
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 9 Apr 2024


  • discourse
  • Framing
  • interpretive
  • narrative
  • power
  • story


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