Posts Tagged ‘Social Science’
The notion that poverty is generated within a self-reproducing “cycle” of material deprivation and behavioral or cultural dysfunction was itself an expression of a way of thinking that had deep roots and many variations in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Anglo-American social thought and has been the source of a disproportionate amount of theorizing ever since. Despite considerable change over the course of centuries, this theorizing has consistently centered on the most thoroughly subordinated or socially “submerged” segments of industrial and postindustrial working-class populations—Marx’s lumpenproletariat, the Victorians’ “dangerous” or “vicious” classes, the ghettoized American “underclass,” Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queen”—and on the behavioral pathologies that, even when understood to be adaptive to circumstances, supposedly perpetuate these groups’ marginality. The War on Poverty helped to institutionalize such theorizing, but also to embed it within a consciously developmentalist, putatively sympathetic frame: Liberals embraced deeply flawed ideas about a “culture of poverty” as a rationale for remedial intervention, and not, as such ideas quickly became for their conservative critics, as an explanation for why intervention would only make things worse. The War on Poverty was an especially important venue for cultivating and trying out theories about how to help the “culturally deprived” children of poverty that were emerging within the specialized field of child development—in particular, ideas about the imperatives of early intervention that would quickly be embraced as gospel truth.
Alice O’Connor, Poverty and Paradox
I recently started readings The Unheavenly Chorus by Schlotzman, Verba and Nie. It’s an interesting book addressing inequalities in ‘political voice,’ which focuses not solely on the individual level but combined this with the organizational level. The title is a reference to E. E. Schattschneider’s famous line “The flaw in the pluralist heaven is that the heavenly chorus sings with a strong upper-class accent.”
While I plan to have more to say about what the book has to say about inequality, for now I wanted to highlight their discussion of explanation and description in social science. Read the rest of this entry »
(Nothing is more erroneous than the manner in which economists as well as socialists regard society in relation to economic conditions. Proudhon, for example, replies to Bastiat by saying (XVI, 29): ‘For society, the difference between capita] and product does not exist. This difference is entirely subjective, and related to individuals. Thus he calls subjective precisely what is social; and he calls society a subjective abstraction. The difference between product and capital is exactly this, that the product expresses, as capital, a particular relation belonging to a historic form of society. This so-called contemplation from the standpoint of society means nothing more than the overlooking of the differences which express the social relation (relation of bourgeois society). Society does not consist of individuals, but expresses the sum of interrelations, the relations within which these individuals stand. As if someone were to say: Seen from the perspective of society, there are no slaves and no citizens: both are human beings. Rather, they are that outside society. To be a slave, to be a citizen, are social characteristics, relations between human beings A and B. Human being A, as such, is not a slave. He is a slave in and through society. What Mr Proudhon here says about capital and product means, for him, that from the viewpoint of society there is no difference between capitalists and workers; a difference which exists precisely only from the standpoint of society.)
Karl Marx, The Grundrisse
Judicial decisions are not what they seem. Their claims are often vastly disproportionate to their effects. The very idea of the decision rests on a model of political power that is rarely realized: one in which authority flows from a hierarchical point, directing the behavior of political institutions as well as ordinary citizens. This model rests on a conception of the sovereign as the decision maker, the person who directs how the rest of the polity will lead their lives. Regardless of whether we put the king or the representative of the people into this role of the sovereign, the model of a single authoritative source of power remains the same. Legal scholars are, for the most part, arguing about how this sovereign should rule. But our legal universe does not work this way.
A legalistic heritage and a democratic ideology have predisposed American political science to search outside the Washington community for explanations of behavior in that community—legalism looking to the Constitution as a determinative influence, and democratic ideology looking to public opinion and constituency ‘pressures’ as determinative influences upon the conduct of men in office….Political science has yet to confront squarely the proposition that the governing group in Washington…has an inner life of its own—a special culture which carries with it prescriptions and cues for behavior that may be far more explicit than those originating outside the group and no less consequential for the conduct of government.
James S. Young, The Washington Community, 1800-1828, quoted in
Donald R. Matthews and James Stimson, “Decision-Making by U.S. Representatives: A Preliminary Model.”
The incomplete incorporation of nonparty groups into explanations of the dynamics of democratic politics has many and complicated causes. One of them, however, probably lies in the nineteenth-century heritage, largely English, that the study of politics shares with economics. In crude terms the classical theories in both fields implicitly or explicitly started from the isolated individual. Both economic man and political man, it was assumed, exercised rational choice and acted independently for the maximization of individual advantage. No one man, behaving in this fashion, could affect significantly the general result, whether it was a governmental policy or a price in the market; only the aggregate of individual behaviors was determining. Deviations from these behaviors were increasingly recognized by both economists and political scientists, but for a long time they were treated as pathology rather than as evidence that the underlying theory did not account for the observed facts. The values associated with these theories were heavily loaded with emotion, and modification was therefore both a slow and a painful process. The reconstruction of classic explanations to accommodate group behavior [i.e. mediating institutions] has been common in recent years, however, to both economics and politics, although in the latter field it has proceeded rather slowly.
David Truman, The Governmental Process: Political Interests and Public Opinion
I’ve been thinking a bit about areas studies and it’s role in the field of political science, in part as an analogy for judicial politics (forthcoming [Update: How Judicial Politics is Like Area Studies]) and it led me back to this piece by the late great anti-imperialist Chalmers Johnson, defending area studies and the verstehen on which they are built against the academic imperialism of rational choice. It’s unfortunate to me that many dissenters within the field are willing to concede the science mantle to standard approaches, and it’s always good to see someone challenge it on these terms. Even better to note the political underpinnings of these approaches whose proponents insist that they and alone are apolitical. Read the rest of this entry »