Interpretive Political Science

The following is a sample chapter from the book Interpretive Political Science by RAW Rhodes (first published 2017).
ISBN: 9780198786115
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Chapter 1: Further On Down The Road, Blurring Genres


For some 25 years, my research focused on policy networks and governance (see Volume I). In the 2000s, my theoretical interests became more diverse. I adopted an interpretive approach and favoured ethnography as my main research tool. I reached the conclusion that philosophers had delivered a lethal attack on ‘naturalism’; on using the methods of the natural sciences in the human and social sciences.1 My break with modernist-empiricism puzzled colleagues. This book seeks to convince readers there is much edification to be found from wearing interpretive spectacles. It tells the story of how I sought to work out the implications of this philosophical shift for the study of politics, especially British government and public administration.

I begin with this short autobiographical excursion before providing a brief summary of my preferred version of interpretive theory in Part I. In Part II, I discuss the methods I have found most useful in this interpretive venture: ethnographic fieldwork, biography, focus groups, and contemporary history. In Part III, I provide four cases of the approach ‘in action’; examining gender in the everyday life of British government departments; using ethnography in administrative reform; rethinking governance with an interpretive analysis of local knowledge; and comparing Westminster governments. In the conclusions, I summarise what is new about the interpretive turn; explain why it matters; respond to my several critics; and offer some plausible conjectures on the future for an interpretive political science. As in Volume I, I deployed several narrative devices to encapsulate my argument and grab the reader’s attention. This time I talk about the interpretive turn, blurring genres, plausible conjectures, greedy institutions, and court politics; all are this scriptor’s latest hostages to fortune (Barthes (1977: 145-6).

The interpretive turn

The shift to interpretive theory coincided with my move to the University of Newcastle. I love this vibrant city with its challenging mix of poverty (West End) and middle class affluence (Jesmond); of urban grime and the austere splendour of the Northumberland Coast. Between the Town Hall and the Newcastle Arena, I saw some great rock concerts. Bryan Ferry’s tour supporting his ‘As Time Goes By’ album was especially memorable. I was a regular traveller on GNER’s London train where I discovered ‘savouries’ for dessert, notably Scotch Woodcock (or scrambled eggs with anchovies, cayenne and capers). Just as enjoyable, yet contrary, I suspect, to many people’s expectations, my move to the ‘Neanderthal North’ led to a dramatic broadening of my intellectual horizons.

1 There are also political science critics of ‘naturalist’ political science (see: Johnson 1989; Oakeshott 1991). For example, Cowling (1963: 209) considers political science as hypothesis and experiments ‘an impossibility’; ‘political explanation exists … as philosophy and history, and nothing else’; and the social sciences ‘when looked at critically, dissolve into these two disciplines: and if they do not, they have not been looked at critically enough’.

Colleagues have asked me why my interests became more diverse and my horizons broader. The short answer is happenstance. I met Mark Bevir and he piqued my curiosity. You can read and write books about policy networks and governance only for so long before the grass not only looks greener elsewhere but it is greener. My reading now extended to political philosophy (Bevir 1999; Bernstein 1976 and 1991); historiography (Collingwood 1939 and 1993; White 1973 and 1987); cultural anthropology (Geertz 1973; Van Maanen 1988); governmentality (Foucault 1991a and 1991b); and the just plain unclassifiable (Berman 1982). I had discovered the human sciences.

The long answer to the question about my move to Newcastle revolves around the stage I had reached in my career, and the machinations of university management.

Charles Edward Lindblom was an American scholar whose work I admired. On looking back on his ‘conventional career’, he observed that it involved ‘some prudent adaption to its milieu, a confining set of disciplinary traditions, and a willingness to disregard them growing only slowly with age and security’ (Lindblom 1988: 19). I too was prudent. I sought to meet the expectations of my profession. I worked in the modernist-empiricist tradition on the topics that form Volume I of this collection. However, like Lindblom, with age and security, I too became dissatisfied with my inherited disciplinary tradition. Frankly, I was bored. Enter the managers of the corporatised university.

In 1994, I was professor and head of department at the University of York. It had been a good year. We had improved from the grade 2 that I had inherited to a grade 4 (out of 5) in the national assessment of our research quality. Also, I had just become Director of the Economic and Social Science Research Council’s (ESRC) Whitehall programme. My elation changed literally overnight. I thought I had a clear understanding with the Vice-Chancellor (VC), Ron Cooke, that, if I got the ESRC job, I could stand down as head of department. He struggled to find a successor so took the easy option of insisting that I stay on as head of department. I was furious.

Licking my wounds, I went to Florence with my wife for a week’s holiday. Lounging in our hotel room, I received a telephone call from the VC of the University of Newcastle, James Wright. I did not know him. I do not know how he knew he could poach me from York. I do not know how he found me in Florence, but he did. He asked what would tempt me to the University of Newcastle. I told him I would move for a Research Professorship. There was a pro forma, perfunctory but pleasant interview a few weeks later. There were ill-tempered skirmishes at York as the VC tried to bully me into staying by trying to keep the ESRC grant at York. In October 1994, I took up my new position (with the grant), inheriting a Victorian sitting room from my predecessor, Hugh Berrington. It was a gorgeous room with an enormous bay window. Its splendour was not obscured even when buried under Hugh’s voluminous detritus. James was my perfect VC because he let me get on with my work, requesting only the occasional update.

So, happenstance led me to Mark Bevir, who was the Sir James Knott Fellow in the department writing his The Logic of the History of Ideas (1999). We did not work in the same field of political science. He specialised in the philosophy of ideas. I specialised in public policy and administration. It looked as if we had nothing in common. For God’s sake, he was a lifelong Chelsea supporter – in Newcastle! I prefer rugby and supported Newcastle Falcons.2

2 See:

He gave me an offprint of his article on ‘Objectivity in History’ (Bevir 1994). I was impressed and the influence of that article on me is obvious from my discussion of a postmodern public administration (Rhodes 1997a: 191-2). Now, we had a shared reading list. We discussed Collingwood and others over liquid lunches in ‘The Hotspur’ pub in Percy Street. With Mark Bevir, I started to work on what became a ten-year project developing an interpretive approach to the study of British government. Old certainties faded. The story of the 2000s is the story of the interpretive turn in my work. For me, the excitement was palpable and the first products of our collaboration were published in 1998 (Bevir and Rhodes 1998a and 1998b); heady times.

Our interpretive approach starts with the insight that to understand actions, practices and institutions, we need to grasp the relevant meanings, beliefs and preferences of the people involved. Bevir and Rhodes (2003, 2006 and 2010) argue individuals are situated in webs of beliefs handed down as traditions and these beliefs and associated practices are changed by the dilemmas people confront. To explain individual actions, we must identify the set of reasons that led to the particular action. To understand an institution and its processes, we must understand the beliefs and practices of its members and the traditions that inform those beliefs and practices. We summarise this approach as ‘situated agency’. Interpreting British Governance (2003) developed the theory of ‘situated agency’ and used it to explore British governance. We emphasised the importance of interpreting governance by examining practices from the bottom-up, and noted the lack of such studies. In Governance Stories (2006), we sought to fill that gap with ethnographic fieldwork of the civil service, the police, and doctors in the National Health Service. We located these studies in a broader account of governmental traditions. In The State as Cultural Practice (2010), we developed a theory of the state as a diverse set of practices rooted in varied beliefs about the public sphere, authority and power. All are constructed differently in contending traditions. Our stories show how ministers, civil servants and citizens construct and reconstruct the state in their everyday lives (and for a fuller account of our interpretive approach, see: Chapter 2 below).

The management years

Ever peripatetic, academic life took me to Australia. I had been going there regularly since 1991 thanks largely to Pat Weller, who was Director, Centre of Australian Public Sector Management (CAPSM) and Professor of Politics and Public Policy at Griffith University. We met first at the University of Essex in the 1980s. It was a fleeting encounter. Pat came to see Professor Anthony King, an Essex grandee, and I was the barely adequate substitute. We next met at the Public Administration Committee annual conference held at York on 3-5 September 1990. Or to be more precise we met at 2:00 pm in the Deramore Arms in Heslington after the conference. I have the diary. The result was an invitation for me and my family to go to Australia, which we did in July and August 1991. I reciprocated by inviting John Wanna and Jenny Craik from Griffith to the University of York for a sabbatical term. With Pat, in April 1992, they attended a workshop I organised on the ‘Changing Role of the Executive in British Government’, a precursor of the Whitehall programme. I did not realise that I would revisit executive studies throughout the rest of my career. I did not expect so many of these adventures to be with Pat Weller (see Davis and Rhodes 2014; and Chapter 7 below). We have collaborated for nigh on 25 years and continue to do so.

I remember vividly my first visit to Griffith University. I discovered the beauty of the Jacaranda tree, which turns Brisbane purple in spring. It is well captured in Richard Godfrey Rivers’ painting ‘Under the Jacaranda’ (1903) on permanent exhibition at Queensland Art Gallery.3 Also, at six in the morning, Brisbane has perfect weather for running along the footpaths and boardwalks of the Brisbane River. Such delights are incidental. I was there to work. Like so many regional universities in Australia, Griffith’s reputation barely extended beyond its state of origin but it had a first-class public policy and public management group. I visited them for three months a year on and off throughout the 1990s but in 2003 there was a significant change. I migrated to Australia to take up the post of Professor and Head of the Department of Political Science in the Research School of Social Sciences (RSSS) at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra.

Canberra has an undeserved reputation for boredom. As Bill Bryson (2000: 127) wrote ‘Canberra – Why Wait for Death?’ In fact, my suburb of Hawker bordered on the Pinnacle Nature Reserve that overlooked the Brindabella mountain range; splendid running guaranteed. As I trotted around the nature reserve in the early hours, I heard a trundling noise behind me and I was overtaken by a mob of roos. Where else on the planet? Running was not without its irritations. Canberra was an old sheep station. There are still many sheep. With sheep comes the Australian sheep blowfly. The back of a white running vest will be covered with them literally at the end of a run, attracted by the sweat and salt. Not even the dangling corks on a string of the caricature Australian will deter them.

The RSSS was the best place to study social science in the Southern Hemisphere until VC whim merged it with a teaching faculty to no beneficial effect for either. My managerial duties were a distraction from my comparative work with Pat. We made some progress, taking the ideas of traditions, practices, beliefs and dilemmas and writing Comparing Westminster (Rhodes et al. 2009). It was a comparative analysis of why the Westminster governments of the old dominion countries changed since their inception. We explored five recurring dilemmas: the growth of prime ministerial power, the decline in individual and collective responsibility, the politicization of the public service, executive dominance of the legislature, and the effectiveness of Westminster governments. Reviewers told us it was not political science. We are convinced the book is a clear illustration of the Thomas Theorem that ‘if men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences’ (Thomas and Thomas 1928: 572). The beliefs of Westminster governments may seem an antiquated, inaccurate description of everyday practices but these beliefs, myths if you will, continue to shape political practice. If my early focus had been on the changing patterns of British governance, with Pat Weller and other colleagues, we could show that these ideas have purchase beyond that tiny country across the Channel from the Continent (see also Bevir, Rhodes and Weller 2003; and Chapter 11 below).

ANU was the most baronial of universities. Managing the RSSS was worse than herding cats as wilful professors went their own way, thinking only of their own departments and research centres. I was no exception. After yet another round of spats, the VC grew tired of our shenanigans and commissioned an external review. Its report was as unflattering as it was inaccurate. I became Director of the RSSS with the job of implementing that report. I did so after a fashion, adapting the report’s recommendations to my understanding of RSSS and its ways. I led from behind, convinced that without agreement no reforms would stick. It was working until my wife became a Research Professor at the University of Tasmania (UTas). After 18 months of living apart and a ‘commute’ of some 1,400 kilometres each way, we despaired. It was no way to live. I moved to UTas.

3 See:

RSSS at ANU had the best university faculty with whom I have worked. My colleagues were world-class. Their productivity was exceptional. Any university would be proud to employ the likes of John Braithwaite, John Dryzek, Bob Goodin, and Ian McAllister; my list could go on and on. It was also the worst run university I have worked in, and there is stiff competition for that accolade. I found the diplomatic skills needed for managing-up a trial. In Australian slang, I had to deal with too many fuckwits and people more concerned to appease the VC than do right. I was frustrated because I had too little time for my own work. So, moving to UTas was a blessing.

The ethnographic years

Hobart is an attractive port at the foot of Mount Wellington with many fine restaurants and excellent local Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. I quaffed wine from Apsley Gorge, Josef Chromy, Freycinet, Holme Hill, and Stefano Lubiana. I recommend them all. Aynsley Kellow and Keith Jacob apart, UTas was less to my taste. Its chief virtue was I was left alone, for which I remain deeply grateful. Unexpectedly, it was also the location for one of the best rock concerts I ever attended – Leonard Cohen. Few stars of his stature came to Tasmania. We were appreciative. He wove his spell and we were in awe.

I returned to my own work with some trepidation. I had a developed a short span of attention as a manager. I was used to spending short periods of time on many topics always moving on to the next item. My working life had become a committee agenda. Now I needed to concentrate on a single topic for long periods. It took me three months to get back into that groove. The realisation that I could still concentrate and write for a whole day was a huge relief. I was flying again.

The long-distance flight was my book on Everyday Life in British Government. At the end of the Whitehall Programme, Sir Richard Wilson, then Head of the Home Civil Service, gave me permission to approach ten permanent secretaries for interviews. Obviously some interviews were better than others. Rapport varied. But when there was rapport, I asked if I could observe the permanent secretary’s private office. Many permanent secretaries were remarkably open and helpful. I had extensive access to three of their private offices. Once I was known and to a degree trusted, they helped me gain access to the minister’s private office. I conducted the interviews in 2002. The observational fieldwork was carried out in 2003. There were several repeat interviews and occasional visits in 2004. I observed the office of two ministers and three permanent secretaries for two days each, totalling some 120 hours. I also shadowed two ministers and three permanent secretaries for five working days each, totalling some 300 hours. I had repeat interviews with: ten permanent secretaries, five secretaries of state, three ministers, and twenty other officials, totalling some 67 hours of interviews. Also, I gave an undertaking that I would not publish in the life of the 2001-5 parliament (and for more details on how I conducted the study, see Rhodes 2011a: chapter 1).

The gap between the fieldwork and writing up was not ideal, although it had three advantages. Every person I interviewed or observed had retired or changed jobs. I could distance myself from people and events. I had access to the many memoirs and diaries published by New Labour ministers about the 2001-5 Blair government. I spent the next 18 months immersed in fieldwork notes and interviews transcripts writing the book. It was all absorbing. Days would disappear; the writing equivalent of running in the zone.

The origins of the book and its approach were the Whitehall programme and my interpretive work with Mark. Almost imperceptibly, my interest was shifting to ethnographic fieldwork. I edited a book with Paul ‘t Hart and Mirko Noordegraaf (Rhodes et al. 2007) on observing government elites, and gave several invited public lectures (Rhodes 2003; 2008). After the publication of Everyday Life, I turned increasingly to using ethnography to study political and administrative elites, and blurring genres in political science (Rhodes 2015). Much political anthropology studies down, focusing on for example street level bureaucrats. My focus is studying-up, focusing on who governs.

As Geertz (1983: 21) points out ‘there has been an enormous amount of genre mixing in intellectual life’ as ‘social scientists have turned away from a laws and instances ideal of explanation towards a cases and interpretations one’ towards ‘analogies drawn from the humanities’. This ‘refiguration of social theory represents … a sea change in our notion not so much of what knowledge is but of what it is that we want to know’ (Geertz 1983: 34). I posed myself the question, ‘what are the implications of blurring genres for the study of policy and politics?’

Blurring genres involves analogies and metaphors from the humanities. Geertz argues ‘theory, scientific or otherwise, moves mainly by analogy’ and increasingly these analogies are drawn from theatre, painting, literature. We no longer see society as a machine but ‘as a serious game, a sidewalk drama, or a behavioural text’. With this shift to the analogies of game, drama and text, the social sciences are no longer burdened by naturalism. Social scientists are ‘free to shape their work in terms of its necessities rather than according to received ideas as to what they ought and ought not to be doing’ (Geertz 1983: 21).

This book explores that freedom and breaches the conventional rules of the game about what political scientists do, how we do it and for whom. In particular, genre blurring refers to presenting research as if it is a game, a drama or a text. Geertz (1983: 19-20) gives several examples including, baroque fantasies presented as deadpan empirical observations (Jorge Luis Borges), parables presented as ethnographies (Carlos Castenada) and epistemological studies presented as political tracts (Paul Feyerabend). As yet, I know of no biographies written in algebra (but see Chapter 4). That is not all. The phrase also refers to genres of thought such as hermeneutics, structuralism, neo-Marxism and in particular interpretive explanation (Geertz (1993: 21). Denzin and Lincoln (2005b) itemise feminist, ethnic, Marxist, post-structuralist, cultural studies, and the several personality theories. I do not deny that some political scientists draw on some of these genres of thought but genre blurring, whether one refers to genres of presentation or of thought, does not occupy the mainstream. They are much more a feature of the humanities.

The term ‘the humanities’ refers to:

That collection of disciplines which attempt to understand … the actions and creations of other human beings considered as bearers of meaning, where the emphasis falls on matters to do with individual or cultural distinctiveness (Collini 2012: 64, emphasis added).

The common aim is to:

Explore what it means to be human: the words, ideas, narratives and the art and artefacts that help us to make sense of our lives and the world we live in; how we have created it and are created by it (British Academy 2010: 2).

It encompasses the disciplines of architecture, literature, history, anthropology, classics, languages, music, philosophy, religion, and the visual and performing arts. As convenient shorthand, I use disciplinary labels but my concern is with the genres of presentation and thought used in those disciplines. Clearly, not all of these fields are equally relevant to political science. To be precise, I am interested in the interpretive turn in cultural anthropology (Chapter 3) historiography (Chapters 6 and 7), women’s studies (Chapter 8) and area studies (Chapter 11) 4 . For my purposes, I do not need to cover the several disciplines.5 I can answer the question of what can be learnt from the humanities by providing examples and encouraging others to explore the genres of presentation and of thought in other disciplines. If I cannot persuade the reader there are many ways of telling political tales and of explaining politics from these examples, then adding more examples will achieve now’t.

And there’s more. With Anne Tiernan (Griffith University), I wrote two books about the chiefs of staff to Australia prime ministers based on two focus groups and elite interviews (Tiernan and Rhodes 2014a and 2014b). Back in Europe, I have a Danish based network with Karen Boll (Copenhagen Business School), Nina Holm Vohnsen (Aarhus University) and their colleagues throughout Scandinavia. I bore them with my opinions on Scandinavian Noir. I love The Bridge and The Killing but find Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy long-winded to the point of tedium, and cumbersomely written (or translated). Just as much fun, our network on ‘Political and Administrative Ethnography’ ran three workshops by 2017.6 We published a symposium in the Journal of Organizational Ethnography (Boll and Rhodes 2014). I edit a series on ‘Political and Administrative Ethnography’ for Manchester University Press. With Susan Hodgett (University of Ulster), I run an Arts and Humanities Research Council seminar series on ‘Blurring Genres: Recovering the Humanities for Political Science and Area Studies’. This research network brings together an interdisciplinary and international group of experts to explore the ways in which the interpretive research methodologies usually associated with the Arts and Humanities are being recovered by political scientists, and area studies scholars. Finally, the University of Southampton set up a Centre for Political Ethnography (CPE) and I am its Director. I teach master classes on fieldwork in political science. The postgraduate students with whom I work in Copenhagen and Utrecht are a joy. Bright eyed and bushy-tailed, there can be no question marks about their commitment or work ethic. Compared to the bureaucratised nonsense that surrounds much teaching in the UK under the misleading label of quality assurance, teaching is a pleasure not a chore. Even in my seventies, academic life continues to be a great big adventure and, above all, fun.

Any adventure has its risks. Ethnographic fieldwork is no exception. During ‘shadowing’, elites can refuse to cooperate and withdraw support at any point. ‘Snowballing’ from interviewee to

4 With Susan Hodgett (Ulster University I had an AHRC seminar series grant on ‘Blurring Genres: Recovering the Humanities for Political Science and Area Studies. This research network brought together an interdisciplinary and international group of experts to explore the ways in which the research methodologies usually associated with the Arts and Humanities could be recovered by political scientists, area studies scholars and policy makers.

5 Philosophy would be another obvious inclusion but political philosophy is a well-established subfield in political science (see: Klosko 2011); and Bevir and Rhodes (2003, 2006 and 2010 ) illustrate its relevance in the study of British government (see also Chapter 2 below)

6 See:;

interviewee means there can be no definitive list of interviewees until the interviews are finished. ‘Going where you are led’ means that a detailed schedule of fieldwork is nearly impossible. ‘Deep immersion’ means the research is led by the research subjects rather than the researcher. I tell my students about the anxieties of fieldwork. Will your informants be welcoming, friendly or slightly suspicious? What concerns your informants? Will it be awkward? You worry about all this and more. Once you start the fieldwork you wonder where you should sit or stand in the room with your pen and notepad. How many notes should you take? You wonder if you can take photos or tape conversations. You worry that your presence disturbs your informants and they behave differently. In the evening, you think about the day’s events. You begin to feel inadequate. What was it that she said to me in the car? Why did they react in that way? Will it be possible to attend more of these meetings? Was that information confidential? What did I miss? You worry about specific individuals? Did she like me? Did I make a good impression? Will she let me shadow her again? Indeed, there is so much to worry about that you worry you are worrying too much. Ethnographers know all these feelings. Fieldwork churns around in the head. You get tired – fieldwork is a physical and emotional experience. Also, you get ‘curiouser and curiouser’. You want to know more. There is a rush of excitement as you await your next surprise.

Then, you leave the field. You leave your new acquaintances knowing they must become strangers in your head. You look at your copious fieldwork notes and think, ‘how will I ever make sense of this?’ You write drafts searching for a way of telling your stories from the field. Your colleagues may not like it. Your informants claim you have misunderstood. You try again. There is the day that just disappears as you get into the zone for writing. One day, you don’t know how, it is there siting on your desk – a manuscript. You stroke it. You made it. Ethnographic fieldwork may give rise to much anxiety, but there is also the elation of surprises in the field and getting your stories down on paper.

Ethnography is a fun and fundamental way to do political science yet is not widespread. For example, Auyero and Joseph (2007: 2) examined 1,000 articles published in the American Journal of Political Science and the American Political Science Review between 1996 and 2005. They found that ‘only one article relies on ethnography as a data-production technique’. The dominant research idiom of much present-day political science in Britain and America is rooted in rational choice theory and quantitative studies. Back in 1990, Richard Fenno observed ‘not enough political scientists are presently engaged in observation’, and it would seem that little has changed (Fenno 1990: 128).

The problem is greater than political scientists’ lack of interest in observation. Taylor (2014) argued ethnography was ‘endangered’ because it took a long time, was ethically sensitive and had difficulty in securing funds. In addition, he emphasised the harmful effects of the performance assessment regime to which universities in the UK were subjected:

it is difficult to believe that many academic researchers would choose to embark on a three-year qualitative study when they could gain all the REF credit they needed by placing three short articles in peer-reviewed journals (Taylor 2014)

The managerial pressures of the UK higher education system are not felt throughout Europe. In my experience, there are many young scholars looking for new and different ways to do political science. But these young plants need nourishment.


One referee asked what was novel about my arguments for ethnography. He commented that the French anthropologist Marc Abélès (1991, 1997 and 2004) has been doing this work for years. Correct, but where is the Anglo-Saxon equivalent in political science? Like it or not, there is a dominant social science, mainly modernist-empiricist, tradition of study in the Anglo-Saxon world (see for example, Dowding 2016: Goodin 2009). It has turned its back on the genre blurring that characterises the Continental human sciences. So, my argument for an interpretive approach is an argument for genre blurring. I encourage a willingness to learn from the human sciences and their genres of presentation and thought because the more sides of the story we can tell the greater our capacity to understand the human experience.

The same referee also asked what political anthropology added to the study of public administration. Turning to political anthropology has several advantages. As Agar (1996: 27) comments, ‘no understanding of a world is valid without representation of those members’ voices’. So, ‘thick descriptions’ get below and behind the surface of official accounts by providing texture, depth and nuance (Geertz 1973: chapter 1). They are creative treatments of actuality. Observations are a cross-check on interviews; we compare saying and seeing. Both allow people to explain the meaning of their actions, providing an authenticity that can only come from the main characters involved in the story. The approach also leads to many a surprise, because you go where you are led and take what you can get. It explores the negotiated, symbolic and ritual elements of political life (and for a more detailed discussion, see: chapter 4 below; and the summary in Chapter 12 below).

Above all, to continue with a theme from Volume I, an interpretive approach grounded in observational fieldwork is about ‘edification’ – a way of finding ‘new, better, more interesting, more fruitful ways of speaking about’ politics and government (Rorty 1980: 360). I believe an interpretive approach provides a new and better way of speaking about political science and public administration. I am also convinced that observation continues to be an underused but vital part of the political scientists’ toolkit.