This is from Tom Pepinsky (comparative grad students, read all his stuff):
The most common misconception that I encounter is that political science is divided along a cleavage of quantitative scholars and rational choice theorists versus qualitative or historical scholars. The errors here are two. First, this view lumps together “rational choice theory” with quantitative methodology, which both mistakenly equates theory and methodology and misses that some of the strongest critiques of rationalism in political science come from a quantitative behavioral origin (and vice versa). Second, it misses the extent to which quantitative methods are used in service of historical arguments, and the extent to which rationalist arguments are frequently grounded in qualitative insights. There is probably much more to write on this, but the idea of a discipline characterized by this singular cleavage on this particular axis always makes me cringe. It is probably not even anachronistic, just plain false.
…..quantitative social scientists are the biggest critics of other quantitative social scientists. This is a result of the identification revolution in the social sciences (in economics often termed the “credibility revolution“), which grounds statistical methodology in a theory of causality. The stakes for current quantitative research are extraordinarily high, because the body of data that can be analyzed using quantitative tools is much larger than the set of credible causal inferences that can be drawn from that data. For one recent articulation of how this new identification revolution, see Samii 2016 (pdf, ungated).
The post mainly addresses methodological concerns (about political science) often raised by scholars in the humanities.
Heather Lanthorn cites Gary King et al. on the need for ‘politically robust’ experimental designs for public policy evaluation:
scholars need to remember that responsive political behavior by political elites is an integral and essential feature of democratic political systems and should not be treated with disdain or as an inconvenience. instead, the reality of democratic politics needs to be built into evaluation designs from the start — or else researchers risk their plans being doomed to an unpleasant demise. thus, although not always fully recognized, all public policy evaluations are projects in both political science and political science.
The point here is that what pleases journal reviewers is seldom useful for policymakers.
Science is said to have two aims: theory and experiment. Theories try to say how the world is. Experiment and subsequent technology change the world. We represent and we intervene. We represent in order to intervene, and we intervene in light of our representations….
This book explores the points at which “representations” turned into “interventions,” as theory and research were applied in practice. Defined this way, interventions, including development projects, are part of an ongoing process of knowledge formation and reproduction.
That is Helen Tilley in an excellent book on imperial/colonial Africa as a Living Laboratory. The book focuses on scientific research (both in the natural and social sciences) in Africa between 1870-1950 and is a must read for practitioners and academics interested in International Development.
Slide from Easterly’s book tour talk
Chapter 2 is on Africa as “A Development Laboratory” (and the origins of the Africa Survey – see image), and will leave you feeling like there is, at least for the most part, nothing new under the sun in International Development. William Easterly makes this point as well in the Tyranny of Experts.
Oh, and Tilley’s book has some good data on the intensity of colonial administration and public goods provision in areas such as medicine, agriculture and infrastructure development.
I found this rather fun to read. Here is my favorite bit of it all:
Like medieval priests, or oratores, the formal theorists in international relations claim special access to divine knowledge, available not through observation of the corrupt and impure world but though revelation and contemplation of the perfection of the divinity. Highly respectful of learning and abstract debate, the high formal theorists do no work whatsoever, other than to study the sacred dogma and refine ever more minutely the laws and teachings of the Holy Theory. Their debates on such arcane questions as, “How many angels can dance on the head of a subgame perfect equilibrium?” can get quite heated, but remain largely incomprehensible and irrelevant to the laity. Their function is to reveal the will of God to the lesser mortals, and to guide them in walking the correct path towards rational choice.