FAO Quotables

"But being right, even morally right, isn't everything. It is also important to be competent, to be consistent, and to be knowledgeable. It's important for your soldiers and diplomats to speak the language of the people you want to influence. It's important to understand the ethnic and tribal divisions of the place you hope to assist."
-Anne Applebaum

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Grad School Notes on Social Theory and Comparative Politics (CP) by Mark Lichbach


Social Theory and Comparative Politics (CP)
Mark Lichbach

Introduction
- Author seeks to address the state of theory in comparative politics today because he doesn’t believe it’s taken seriously anymore
- Unfortunately today CP focuses on solving real-world questions and is driven by problems
            “One can’t begin inquiry with evidence derived from and used to test theory; one             must begin with theoretically embedded observations.”
- author seeks to advance theory in CP in the following 3 ways:
            1. Recognize 3 ideal-type research traditions: rationalists, culturalist, structuralist
            2.  Set dialogue among schools within historical context of social theory’s             development
            3. Set dialogue among schools within historical situation seen by comparativists             today
-“We cannot remain theoretically challenged . . . and actually solve substantive problems” (241)
- Ultimately the author seeks a balance between between those asking the questions and those appreciating the answers

Section 1: Three Exemplars
*Bates, Scott and Skocpol are 3 examples of specific research schools:

Bates: Rational/social choice study of  how interests produce the dialectic of reason and rationality in Kenya’s political economy
Scott: Culturalists/interpretivist of how communities and identities make up the dialectic in Malaysia’s class relations
Skocpol: Structuralist/institutionalist of how social forces drive dialectic in the French/Russian/Chinese revolutions
*These 3 school can not only coexist, but the debate between the three can lead to better research and “inquiry”

Section 2: The Three Research Schools
*Good Table comparing the 3 on p. 245
Ontology (what is assumed about the nature of existence with regards to entities and and their properties):
Rationalist- how actors employ reason to satisfy their interests
Culturalist- what are the rules that make up individual and group identities
Structuralist- what are the relations between actors in context of institutions
Methodology:
Rationalist- comparative static experiments that link structure to action
Culturalist- gaining interpretive understanding through case studies (mostly)
Structuralist- study historical dynamics of real social types
Comparison
Rationalist- Generalize
Culturalist: Particularize
Structuralist: Typologize through classification, morphology and dynamics
Lacunae (addressing missing gaps and understanding cultural differences)
Rationalist: sacrifice the subject and surrender the self, undoing the community and unmasking the collectivity (materialism)
Culturalist: do not try to separate the material from the ideal because they assume that material must always be interpreted in terms of the ideal (idealism)
Structuralist:  structure is fate, leading to historical fatalism and determinism
Subtraditions
Rationalists:
            Thin: pure intentionalists—reason is cause of action; human nature rationalists
            Thick:  more structured—conditions are both causes and effects;social situation             rationalists
Culturalists:
            Thin: Survey researchers; actors make culturally informed choices
            Thick: examine the decision rules behind choice and how actors are formed by             culture
Structuralists:
            Thin: Materialists; actors aren’t as important and don’t have much freedom to             choose; substructure drives superstructure
            Thick: examine materially driven dynamics of structures of collective action and             social norms
Section 3: The Social Embedded Unit Act
- How do you marry these three schools?  How’s it been attempted historically
- All three approaches can be linked back to Parson’s “unit act” and Weber’s “paradox of modernity”
- All acts are social embedded
- three layers follow:
*See figure 1 on page 262 for an illustration
Inner of Individual Layer
- desires and beliefs direct action
The Middle or Collective Layer
- cultural norms and environmental conditions affect social action
The Outside or Research Community Layer
- Experts in:
Action (rationalists): individual choice and social action
Norms (culturalists): individual desires and cultural norms
Conditions (Structuralists): individual beliefs and environmental conditions
The Connection Among the Layers
- The value in combining all three approaches is that they can address gaps in each other
- looking at these connections forces comparativists to confront the nature of the competing paradigms and the structure-action, social order-social change, and nominalism-realsim debates. 
- Socially embedded unit act helps clarify these enduring issues


Section 4: Max Weber, Modernity, and Comparative Politics Today
- Modernity involved the growth of reason that culminated in a series of macro changes involving the rationalization of social structure
-Weber (as a rationalist): warns of the political consequences of this modernity.  Examines status groups and social classes with material interests to explore unintended negative consequences of reason
- Weber (as a culturalist) explores paradox of modern rationality’s origins: irrational quest for meaning and salvation helped create rational individuals and institutions of modern world.  Examines religious ethics and normative orders to explore the irrationality that drove the rationality that turned irrational (wow, what an awful writer)
- Weber (as a structuralist): studies the way institutional dynamics of state and society cage individuals in the dialectic of reason and irrationality.  Examines patterns of stratification and systems of domination to explore institutional logics of the forces that operate behind the backs of reasoning and nonrational individuals.
* All three schools offer a critical look at the central problem of modernity
Section 5: Conclusion
Author’s 4-part thesis on improving State of Theory in Comparative Politics (273-4)
            1. Theory in this field is more than a “messy center”
            2. Embrace “creative confrontations” in the defined research communities; this             will yield deepened theoretical understanding
            3. Contemporary comparativists must appreciate the historical context of social             theory’s development
            4.  Critical thought on the challenges of modernity show significance of             rationalist, culturalist and structuralist thought.  

Why are democratic regimes as weak as they are?
- Presidents are self interested (individual)
- why are there so many of them in Africa compared to Europe; so what are the conditions that cause these
- What kinds of factors seem to matter, and how do they matter in relation to each other.

DISCUSSION NOTES:

Triangle:
- professors are often thick structuralist while Military is culturalist

Cultural approach- big in 50/60’s and is now coming back in vogue.  Not as cultural anymore; focus on social capital. 
Structuralist- structure of the state and its impact on the individual.  SO what’s the best strategy for individuals to maximize power
Example:  Culturalist would say we need to understand Afghan culture to understand the individual and their decisions
*So questions is what do they two have to do with each other?  A communal culture will resist government actions and influence into their personal life.    It will also place an emphasis on investment in community around themselves.  Ultimately, institutions will be affected to conform to culture.  
*Question comes down to where do you start—with the institutions or the culture?  The stronger corner will affect the other one more.
*Weakness of culturalist approach is that it’s not quantifiable or provable? 
- Whether or not you are culturalist or structuralist, you are eventually going to get pulled down to the rationalist corner of the individual’s desire for security. 
Critics:
- Rationalist camp is typically called “rational choice”  (Rat choice: people treated like rats in a maze)
- Structuralist say that people don’t matter (there’s no personal decision-making) 






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