Policy Sciences

, Volume 34, Issue 1, pp 63–77

Policy making through thick and thin: Thick description as a methodology for communications and democracy


  • W. B. Thompson
    • College of CommunicationsPennsylvania State University

DOI: 10.1023/A:1010353113519

Cite this article as:
Thompson, W.B. Policy Sciences (2001) 34: 63. doi:10.1023/A:1010353113519


This paper proposes the use of anthropologist Clifford Geertz's‘thick description’ as a methodology for communications policymaking. Ethnographies employing thick description give voice to the concernsof ordinary citizens. They also help make policy more accessible, enhancingprospects for meaningful public participation in policy making and, thus,democracy. This is of particular concern in policy making involvingcommunications technology because of the relationship between communicationsand democracy. A literature review found no instances of authors explicitlyemploying thick description in communications policy making research, althoughjournalists, authors and others have employed the methods of thick descriptionwhile investigating such areas as the environment, automobile safety, andbusiness. Concerns regarding thick description in policy making, as with mostqualitative research, relate to its time-consuming nature and questionsregarding its validity.

Download to read the full article text

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2001