This article introduces cultural political economy as a distinctive approach in the social sciences, including policy studies. The version presented here combines critical semiotic analysis and critical political economy. It grounds its approach to both in the practical necessities of complexity reduction and the role of meaning-making and structuration in turning unstructured into structured complexity as a basis for ‘going on’ in the world. It explores both semiosis and structuration in terms of the evolutionary mechanisms of variation, selection, and retention and, in this context, also highlights the role of specific forms of agency and specific technologies. These general propositions are illustrated from ‘economic imaginaries’ (other types of imaginary could have been examined) and their relevance to economic policy. Brief comments on crisis-interpretation and crisis-management give this example some substance. The conclusion notes some implications for research in critical policy studies.