Reclaiming discursive practices as an analytic focus: Political implications


  • Carol Bacchi University of Adelaide
  • Jennifer Bonham University of Adelaide



Foucault, practices, knowledge, politics, materiality, ontology


This paper has its genesis in concerns about the return to “the real” in social and political theory and analysis.  This trend is linked to a reaction against the “linguistic turn”, on the grounds that an exclusive focus on language undercuts political analysis by refusing to engage with “material reality”.  Foucault and “discourse” are common targets of this critique.  Against this interpretation, the authors direct attention to the analytic and political usefulness of Foucault’s concept of “discursive practices”, which, it argues, has been much misunderstood.  Discursive practices, as developed by Foucault, refers to the practices (or operations) of discourses, meaning knowledge formations, not to linguistic practices or language use.  The focus is on how knowledge is produced through plural and contingent practices across different sites.  Such an approach bridges a symbolic-material distinction and signals the always political nature of “the real”.

Author Biographies

Carol Bacchi, University of Adelaide

Carol Bacchi has developed an approach to policy analysis that builds upon Foucault’s interest in problematization. Her 1999 book, Women, Policy and Politics: The construction of policy problems (Sage), applies the approach to a wide range of policy areas conventionally linked to ‘women’s inequality’. Her 2009 book, Analysing Policy: What’s the Problem Represented to Be? (Pearson Education), offers a systematic introduction to the approach and displays its usefulness in fields such as criminal justice, health policy, immigration policy, drug and alcohol policy, equality policy and education policy. Bacchi explores Foucault’s position on problematization in “Why Study Problematizations? Making Politics Visible”, Open Journal of Political Science (2012) Vol. 2, No. 1, 1-8. Bacchi is Emerita Professor of Politics, University of Adelaide.

Jennifer Bonham, University of Adelaide

Jennifer Bonham has a background in human geography specializing in urbanization and cultural practices of travel. Her research uses Foucauldian scholarship to explore mobility norms and tactics of resistance. Jennifer’s current work focuses on cycling and recent publications include: (with Anne Wilson) “Women cycling through the life course: An Australian case study”, in John Parkin (ed.) Cycling and Sustainablity (Emerald Group, 2012); and (with Peter Cox) “The disruptive traveller? A Foucauldian analysis of cycleways”, Road and Transport Research (2010) Vol. 19, No. 2, 42-53. Jennifer is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Social Sciences, University of Adelaide.




How to Cite

Bacchi, C., & Bonham, J. (2014). Reclaiming discursive practices as an analytic focus: Political implications. Foucault Studies, (17), 179–192.