Research Portfolio Post #8: Qualitative Data Sources for Interpretivist Research

For my interpretivist research project, I am proposing to research Canadian parliamentary conversations on the Kyoto Protocol because I want to find out how the Canadian government came to the decision to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol in order to help my reader understand why the Kyoto Protocol is not internationally implemented. I plan on conducting a discourse analysis of House of Commons debates and statements from Canadian representatives to the UNFCCC, looking especially at how climate change policy is framed, and the reasoning given for rejecting the Kyoto Protocol.

The first primary source I plan on analyzing is debates in Parliament on the Kyoto Protocol. For example, I plan to examine debates in the House of Commons from December 9, 2002, in which Stephen Harper gave a speech detailing his disapproval of him and his party to the Kyoto Protocol.[1] I chose this as Stephen Harper was the leader of the Opposition party, very publicly against the Kyoto Protocol and other international climate agreements, and would later be the Prime Minister of Canada during the time they formally withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol.[2] This source helps me understand that there is a discourse at stake as it shows arguments within Canadian government, both in support and against the Kyoto Protocol and Canada’s adoption of it, which ultimately could have played a role in Canada’s decision to withdraw. This highlights my object of inquiry, Canadian governmental viewpoints on the Kyoto Protocol, as it shows policymakers from varying political parties and their opinions on the subject. The actors constructing these representations are the Members of Parliament (MPs).[3]

Another primary source I plan to analyze is the former environment minister, Peter Kent’s statement following the UNFCCC 2011 meeting in Durban, where Canada withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol.[4] In this statement, Kent gives reasons for the decision, citing expenses and economic repercussions of enacting policy to cut greenhouse gas emissions.[5] I plan to analyze the rhetoric utilized by Kent and the way it contributes to the framing of climate change policy as harmful to the economy and taxpayers (the representation of my object of inquiry in the text).[6] The actor constructing this statement explicitly is Peter Kent, but implicitly, the actors are his party backing and the prime minister at the time, Stephen Harper.

[1] “Hansard #41,” House of Commons. (Ottawa, Canada: GPO, 09 December 2002).

[2] Anne O’Connell, “Party of One: Stephen Harper and Canada’s Radical Makeover,” Canadian Review of Social Policy/Revue Canadienne de Politique Sociale, no. 71 (2015): 116.

[3] Ibid.

[4] iPolitics, “FOR THE RECORD: Peter Kent … ‘Kyoto Is Not the Path Forward,’” IPolitics (blog), December 13, 2011,

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

3 thoughts on “Research Portfolio Post #8: Qualitative Data Sources for Interpretivist Research”

  1. Hi Carly,
    Your post and topic are super interesting. Seeing that you’re focusing on Canadian politics, I wonder if in the actual research we would do in the future you might analyze the discourse of the public and how that shaped the discourse of politicians. Canada is a democracy and therefore discourse of the public, I would assume, changes how politicians view issues and how they talk about them. Therefore, I would assume the speeches you analyze are based in some sort of discourse in the public. This might be an interesting discourse to look at; and you might discover a path to understanding how the discourse of Canadian politicians regarding the Kyoto protocol was made possible.

  2. Hi Carly,
    I think you’ve done a good job identifying the sources you’d need to start with. You also clearly identified the actors driving this discourse and explained why their roles are important, which is essential. You point out the tension between those who supported Canada’s adoption of the Kyoto Protocol and those who did not, which is also going to be seminal in your analysis of the existing discourses.
    I also like the selection of Peter Kent’s speech explaining why Canada would be withdrawing because it juxtaposes the first source—the Parliament in their decision-making process versus the announcement after the decision had been made. What happened in between that time? Were there any world events that might have defined that shift towards viewing climate change policy as harmful? Zeroing in on a particular defining event or two might help you to figure out why Canada ultimately decided against the Kyoto Protocol. As we know, discourse does not shift randomly on its own, but is driven by the sociopolitical climate of the era, so zooming outside of the Kyoto Protocol debates and identifying outside factors of influence will be essential. Do you know yet how you will analyze Kent’s rhetoric and his specific turns of phrase? I imagine this will come with much more thorough research, but I am curious to see what method you employ for this analysis.
    I look forward to reading more of your research as it progresses.
    All good wishes,

  3. Carly — you’ve identified some texts here that would seem to be relevant relevant to your research project as conceptualized in the world of interpretivist methodology. What is not entirely clear, though, is what the object of inquiry is (the “X”) for this project. The framing of your problem statement, and the portion that is in effect the question (the middle part of the 3-part formulation from Booth, in your case: “I want to find out how the Canadian government came to the decision to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol in order to help my reader understand why the Kyoto Protocol is not internationally implemented.”) is still very much a neopositivist framing. Remember that the aim explanation here is to understand how particular representations came to be shared and/or contested. That means that the object of inquiry is the issue/group/phenomenon that is given meaning by the discourses (just as Carabine’s object of inquiry was lone mothers and she studied the discourses that constructed lone mothers in certain way) and the question part of the problem statement should then point to the specific representations that you propose to explain. Who or what is it that is being represented in these texts that you are proposing to study? That object of inquiry then becomes the central part of your question (the “how possible…?” question as per Dunn & Neumann, such as “How was it possible that lone mothers came to be represented as immoral and greedy in 1830s Britain?” to use the Carabine example). Once you’ve defined that object of inquiry then you can read the texts you identify more closely to start to trace out how that “X” is represented in different ways in the texts. What are the particular representations in the texts that you’ve read that you propose to analyze? What object of inquiry is being constructed or brought into being by these discourses?

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