The IDA research programme adopts a problem-driven approach that shares many assumptions belonging to poststructuralism, broadly conceived. Its discourse-theoretic approach takes an anti-essentialist conception of discourse as its central theoretical category, and draws on a wide variety of intellectual orientations, including post-Marxism, semiology, psychoanalysis, post-Heideggerian phenomenology and hermeneutics, and post-analytical philosophy. Discourse theory, as deployed by the IDA research programme has come to be identified with a series of proper names: Marx, Gramsci, Althusser, Saussure, Barthes, Laclau and Mouffe, Lacan, Zizek, Derrida, Wittgenstein, and Foucault.
The IDA research programme, which supports MA and PhD schemes of study in the Department of Government at the University of Essex, can be viewed along three inter-related dimensions: empirical-fact, normative-value, and critical-philosophical dimensions.
* Analysis along the empirical-fact dimension focuses on explaining and understanding a wide range of social and political phenomena. Here, strong emphasis is placed on the discursive construction and maintenance of politico-ideological frontiers. In doing so, it critically engages with, and provides alternative explanations and understandings to, for example, strands of naturalism, rational choice, behaviouralism, institutionalism, comparative politics, hermeneutics, structuralism;
* Analysis along the normative-value dimension means critically engaging with, and providing alternative justifications to, those offered by liberalism, libertarianism, neoliberalism, utilitarianism, communitarianism, socialism, Marxism, etc.; and
* Analysis along the critical-philosophical dimension entails systematically identifying and engaging with the ontological, epistemological, and methodological presuppositions of its own and other approaches. Here, the trend is to move the centre of social and political research from directly given objects of investigation to their conditions of possibility.
Interests in the IDA research programme include the broad fields of ethics, ideology, freedom, democratic theory, new social movements, forms of fundamentalism and socio-economic exclusion, and the critical study of the impact on political discourse of rapid technological, social, and economic changes at local and global levels. Along the critical-philosophical axis, the interests that currently shape IDA projects include philosophy of science and social science methodology where there is an attempt to establish the potential benefits and limits of forging links between IDA and both mainstream and marginal approaches, as a function of the kind of evidence and concrete problem at stake.