Stephen J. Ball (2021) Response: policy? Policy research? How absurd?, Critical Studies in Education,
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There is no way that I can address the wide range of issues raised in the exemplary collection of papers on policy sociology. These are cutting edge pieces by world-class scholars that lay out analytic possibilities for future work. Perhaps what I can do, very briefly, from the space and time of policy research in which I now stand, and as other contributors do, is to look back and look forward and think against or beyond where we have got to and where we might go next. This does not properly engage with individual papers but rather with some of the commitments and sensibilities they share and hold on to.
When I began to try to engage with something that Jenny Ozga called policy sociology (which she and others discuss in this issue), there was not much in the way of extant education policy research in the sociology of education, apart from Jenny’s own work and that of the estimable Roger Dale (see references in Jenny’s paper), and the studies done by Ted Tapper and Brian Salter (e.g. Salter & Tapper, 1981) and McPherson and Raab (1988) – that drew on a more mainstream political science approach. What I was working on when I read these books and papers was an interview study of actors involved in and around England’s 1988 Education Reform Act, published as Politics and Policymaking In Education (1990). That was a kind of hybrid between my ethnographic sensibilities (from before) and the beginnings of my engagement with Foucault, in an attempt to explore the capture of policy by neoliberal intellectuals and its re-articulation within neoliberal discourses. Further musing on the interplay of these two different orders of account (ethnographic and discursive) led later to a set of considerations of what doing policy sociology might look like: (Ball, 1993, 2015; Tamboukou & Ball, 2003). Apart from Foucault lurking in the background probably the most important influence on Politics and Policymaking In Education and my later work on the shift from government to governance (e.g. Ball & Junemann, 2012) was Bob Jessop (who gets little mention in the papers in this special issue) and his theorisation of new forms and modalities of the capitalist state.