Interpreting Hashtag Politics: Policy Ideas in an Era of Social Media, by S. Jeffares

2014 Information Polity  
Stephen Jeffares has produced a multi-faceted gem of a book, all the more genuine for the occasional tiny crack or air bubble. Depending on the light, Interpreting Hashtag Politics is a new look at policy ideas, a contribution to interpretive methodologies and to Q-methodology more specifically, a multicase study of recent British politics as revealed through social media analysis, or even an exemplar of integrating theory and scholarship with innovative analytic experiments. Looked at
more » ... lly, the book reveals a coherent, if subtle, argument linking the various strands together. In my own words, that argument is something like this: one who wishes to understand better the contemporary policy landscape -whether to better pursue his or her own policy objectives or to better understand the ways policy objectives are pursued -must be proficient in detecting and interpreting the core 'story lines' carried by policy ideas as they are shaped in their flow through social media. In offering and unpacking this claim, Jeffares asserts the importance of fully appreciating the local or everyday social texture of the policy fabric. Thus, this books contributes to our ability to answer questions about why we see policy initiatives cropping up as they do, in the here and now, and with what effects. It complements works on analysing the policy process, policy evaluation, studies of sectoral policies, and many others. Accordingly, I do not envy the librarian who needs to decide where to shelve this book; perhaps it needs a shelf of its own, and will be joined soon enough by other works following in its wake. By 'hashtag politics', Jeffares means the 'the purposive and careful naming of a policy idea or specific initiative' (p. x). He is drawn to the way the naming delimits a policy focus -labelling a particular initiative and signalling what it is about -while also creating an arena for evolution and contestation. Naming, of course, pre-dates the era of social media. So in creating his own label, Jeffares sets up for the reader the two main strands in this book: one a refreshed look at policy ideas and one a look at what can be learned about them 'in the era of social media'. Jeffares reminds us that policy ideas have a lifecycle, during which an idea space opens, usually with some fanfare when a new idea is born and named, and then closes, perhaps abruptly but usually unheralded. The once-claimed space is no more, and even its traces may fade rapidly. Chapters 2 and 3 are dedicated to the theory of policy ideas and their lifecycles. These are both well-crafted analyses that stand well on their own and are not limited to those aspects of hashtag politics that employ social media. Chapter 2 (theorising policy ideas) belongs in all policy students' reading packs. In Jeffares' eyes, a policy idea is an evocative miniature: a two-or three-word tag that captures a problem-solution pair in the penumbra of its meaning associations. That these associations are not the same for everyone, and that they change, motivates the need for appropriate analytical tools wielded skilfully according to appropriate methodology for finding and understanding associations and storylines. But good analysis also requires a good conceptual lens. Jeffares takes the reader through five different ways of conceptualising a policy idea: as ideation, instrument, vision, container and brand. Together, these concepts define the nature of the 'work' done by and with a verbal label. The first groundwork for analysing the work is theorising the lifecycle. Thus in Chapter 3, Jeffares presents a second innovative theoretical discussion, modelling idea lifecycles as activity, diffusion, expectation and
doi:10.3233/ip-140339 fatcat:odxsc6qserci3e32n4bva4nq2m