Discourse theories offer a penetrating approach to environmental policy analysis, as they focus on the interpretive worlds produced in policy actors' utterances and writings, and the argumentative struggles that lead to one view dominating over others in a policy domain. However they fail to theorise the relationships between policy discourse and the material realities that are the objects of policy. This is because their social constructivist epistemology deprives them of criteria for judging the comparative reliability of scientists' and others' knowledge of these material objects. This limits their explanatory power, since the material world is a certain way, and therefore influences what policymakers can successfully do. This paper offers a 'modest realist' approach to fill this gap. It defends a thoroughly social constructivist understanding of knowledge, yet argues there are good grounds for maintaining that the knowledge of material objects produced in the natural sciences is far more reliable than that produced elsewhere. But such an approach demands trans-disciplinary skills of the policy analyst, including detailed engagement with the relevant area of natural science and its global peer-review community. When done carefully, this approach can add a further explanatory variable to policy analysis, namely the behaviour of the materiality the policy is aimed at.
environmental policy analysis materiality modest realism policy discourse theory