chapter  6
The Meanings of Progressive Politics: Interpretivism and its Limits
ByEMILY ROBINSON
Pages 16

I should start by declaring an interest. My career began in 2003, the year Interpreting British Governance was published. I was a researcher for a local government think tank, immersed in the language of governance and policy networks, of breaking down silos and bringing about joined-up governance (an idea so pervasive we took to calling it JUG). Seven years later, at the very end of the New Labour period, while finishing my PhD, I came across Mark Bevir and Rod Rhodes’s (2003) book and found it both fascinating and cathartic to see this project historicised and decentred by them. I was also interested to find that my academic work shared many aspects of their interpretivist approach. At the time I was examining the ways in which party political actors understand themselves to be part of particular traditions, how this both legitimates and constrains their politics, and how they narrate shifts within those traditions – whether as reform, transformation, or betrayal (Robinson, 2012). To use interpretivist language, I was trying to understand the webs of belief within which party political identities are formed, and to examine how individuals respond to the dilemmas that challenge those beliefs. My current research approaches similar questions from a less direct angle. In particular I am looking at how actors from across the political spectrum have defined themselves both as and as not ‘progressive’, and asking what they have meant by doing so. In interpretive terms, this work could be seen as an attempt to decentre or denaturalise the idea that British politics revolves around a progressive/conservative axis. In this chapter I will be reflecting on both of these projects in order to explore my (still evolving) relationship to interpretivism.