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Power and translation in social policy research

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Globalisation has increased the demand for policy transfer but also raises problems. There are international organisations that advocate common approaches to policy and better communication means that policy makers are more aware of what is going on in other countries. At the same time attempts to transfer policy highlight real differences in history and culture and what they mean for power relations. Within this context the development of large cross national data sets is growing fast. These mainly quantitative data are virtually all produced by governments or quasi governmental organisations. They embody top down power relations and belong to the scientific tradition of social research that assumes that terms can be translated exactly, even though the difficulties of doing so are recognised. The result is data sets that have enormous potential for social science but that are open to serious abuse unless it is realised that they minimise historical and cultural differences and reinforce dominant hierarchies.

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