SAGE Research Methods Cases
In parliamentary democracies, a key question for citizens and social scientists alike is, “who speaks on behalf of different social groups and on different policy topics?” This informs not only an understanding of how democracy works but also the workings of the formative phase of public policy-making. This allows us to understand a range of key issues such as how arguments for and against groups and issues are articulated and how political parties’ records compare on attention to given issues—as well as the age and gender dynamics of parliamentary representation. Two examples are outlined in this discussion: disabled people’s representation at Westminster and women’s representation in the Scottish Parliament. In short, the following explains how to use official records of parliamentary proceedings in critical discourse analysis by employing the concepts of issue-salience and policy framing. This will allow the researcher to explore the political use of language and the way that policy ideas are articulated in relation to dominant themes, ideologies, or tropes—as well as assess parties’ and parliamentarians’ records in relation to legal and policy imperatives requiring attention to specific issues and/or the representation of certain social groups. In summary, a flexible methodology is outlined. It is one that is suited to single case studies of legislative life—or international comparative analysis of different parliaments and polities. It is also apposite to both contemporary and historical (longitudinal) analyses of politics and policy-making on key issues.