This thesis uses a case study of the process of conducting a systematic review in the field of substance misuse in order to analyse critically how knowledge is cumulated for the purposes of informing social policy. The analysis is grounded in two areas of social research that are seldom drawn together; the methodological (in this instance, the work of the social research methodologist Donald Campbell) and the linguistic (in the form of a measured application of discourse analysis). By means of this dual approach it is proposed that a better understanding can be obtained not only of how systematic review methods may be usefully developed, but also of the substantive impact that the way in which those methods are discussed and debated (through discourse) can have upon the development. In this way, the process of conducting a systematic review for social policy is critically located within an understanding of both policy making and methodological development as discursive processes. This is important for the way that it allows evidence for policy and practice (both in the sense of the framing of the evidence and the methods used to synthesize it) to be discussed in terms that prioritize respectful debate rather than the promotion of particular methods as superior for the production and synthesis of knowledge. Furthermore, it enables a critical understanding of how dominant discourses can not only frame policy issues, but also the production of evidence-bases that are subsequently used in the policy making process.

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