Panels details > Panel 45

P45- Really imaginary: policy, research and fiction

PANEL Organizer:
Sonja van der Arend (, Independent policy researcher and writer (the Netherlands)


Citizens and (other) lay people are often identified as the publics of policies. Remarkably, such publics hardly ever read the typical modes of policy communication, such as reports, studies and memoranda. Likewise, most of the profuse writing about participation never reaches those supposed to participate. In the mass media civil servants and their daily work seem largely absent. Public representations of the public sector focus almost exclusively on politics and politicians. The public's understanding of policies and how they are made must be fed by other sources of information. This panel aims to explore the role of an uncommon genre in connecting policies and their publics: fiction. Papers and presentations may reflect on the topics below or on related themes. Contributions of a more imaginative kind are most welcome.

Policy in fiction

Although rare, there are novels, plays, songs, movies and poems on policies and policy makers. How is the day-to-day life at the public workplace depicted? How are civil servants, lobbyists, citizens and others portrayed? Who are the audiences of such works of fiction, and what do they take from them?

Fiction in science

Policy research has witnessed something like a narrative turn. Nevertheless, while documentary film making has developed accepted fictional cross-overs such as docudrama, docufiction, and mockumentary, using fiction in scientific writing seems unthinkable. Still, fiction may come closer to the reality of policy than scientific texts - ruled by norms of abstraction, objectivity, generalizability, causality, etc. Policy researchers may find bigger audiences if they publish their work in semi-fictional forms. Under what conditions can fiction be used in science?

Fiction as research

Like researchers, literary authors use interviews, secondary literature and archives to inform their writing. Can their skills inspire new research methods to probe the experiences and imaginations of policy workers and publics?

Policy research, fiction, methods, publics, imagination

Faculty E2.14

SESSION 1 : 9/07/15 : 09:00-10:30

Prototyping for (and with) publics: a role for (social) science fiction as policy sandbox
Paul Graham Raven,
The University of Sheffield and Institute for Atemporal Studies (UK)

Discourse Theory, Utopias and Environmental Policy
Aysem Mert,
Centre for Global Cooperation Research, University of Duisburg-Essen (Germany)

Fictionalizing Futures: Character Based Scenarios that Examine Change
Marisa Zapata,
Portland State University (USA)

Literary fiction as action research: Reflections on writing a ‘water quality novel’
Sonja van der Arend,
Independent policy researcher and writer (the Netherlands)


Online user: 1