Archive for the ‘political science’ Category
In public policy, we often make the argument that a service should be subsidized if it is important but somehow doesn’t generate enough money to be produced by the market. However, sports seems to fly in the face of that intuition. Sports is a heavily subsidized leisure activity even though it clearly has a viable market. For example, colleges subsidize sports teams, cable tv subsidizes sports channels, and cities subsidize stadiums. National governments will even subsidize large events, like the Olympics or FIFA events. And in many cases, the money is never recouped. Why?
A few possible answers:
- Sports legitimize organizations.
- The average voter is a sports nut.
- Public choice: administrators approve sports because it helps them, though not other people.
Other explanations? I am not anti-sports, but as a billion dollar industry, it seems as if sports doesn’t need any additional help. sports subsidies seem deeply misguided.
A definition: theory death is when some intellectual group tires of theory based on armchair speculation. Of course, that doesn’t mean that people stop producing theory. Rather, it means that “theory” no longer means endless books based on the author’s insights. Instead, people produce theory that responds to, or integrates, or otherwise incorporates a wealth of normal science research. In sociology, theory death seems to have happened sometime in the 1980s or 1990s. For example, recent theory books like Levi-Martin’s Social Structures or McAdam and Fligstein’s A Theory of Fields are extended discussions of empirical research that culminate in broader statements. The days of endlessly quoting and reinterpreting Weber are over. :(
Now, it seems, theory death is hitting some areas of political science. Consider a recent blog post by political scientists Stephen Saideman called “Leaving Grand Theorists Behind.” Saideman trashes a recent piece by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt (“Leaving Theory Behind: Why Hypothesis Testing Has Become Bad for IR“) that urges international relations scholars to downplay empirical work return to grand thinking. Saideman is pissed:
- My first reaction was: Next title: why too much research is bad for IR….
- As folks pointed out on twitter and on facebook discussions, it seems ironic at the least that someone who made a variety of testable predictions that did not come true (the rise of Germany after the end of the cold war, conventional deterrence, the irrelevance of international institutions, etc) would suggest that testing our hypotheses is over-rated or over-done.
And the critique goes on and on… My take: for reasons that I have yet to understand, political science has not completely washed out old style “theory” in the way that it happened in most other social science disciplines. Therefore you have pockets of people who hold that as their ideal, even in fields that are obviously empirical. When they are very senior and very respected, you get this sort of flare up.
In this installment of our Fall book forum, I’ll discuss how Glaeser applies the “sociology of understanding.” Based on interviews, he presents us with an account of how some East Germans (in Berlin) saw the world. His account of peace activists would be familiar to those who study movements. Peace activists saw their faith in German socialism challenged when authority figures were perceived to act in hypocritical ways. Thus, the personal attachment to communist institutions was challenged and eventually severed.
What is much, much more interesting is his account of the internal life of the Communist party and the lives of Stasi officers. Glaeser’s account relies on a description of the folk cosmology of Communist leaders. Essentially, there are two components to this “lifeworld.” One is a worldview derived from Leninist interpretations of Marxist theory. It was all about the Party and how the Party sets the course for the nation as a whole. Thus, the mental lives of Stasi officers is filled with thinking about how any action or policy reflects the Party’s agenda and mission as the guide of the people. Political Epistemics is filled with lots of thick description on how Stasi officers sat around and try to create an interpretation of the world that properly squared with how the understood Marxist-Leninist theory. I found the obsession with “left” and “right” deviations to be informative, if amusing as well.
Second (which I find more interesting) is a Manichean worldview that pits us (the Communist movement) against an evil outsider. Abstractly, the evil outsider was capitalism in general. More concretely, the enemy, the nightmare that haunted the socialist imagination was fascism, seen as the most perverse manifestation of counter revolutionary forces. The implication is that the people who had the most status were those who had somehow participated in anti-fascist actions in WWII, as partisans, prisoners, or soldiers. This biographical experience created a sort of authenticity from which the elite of the East German communist state could be built.
This is important from the perspective of political sociology because it indicates how socialist systems were often built on very real historical traumas and the authenticity that could be constructed from these experiences. While I find it hard to see how someone could abstractly accept a political philosophy that ceded all power to state committees, I do find it easy to believe how anti-fascist sentiment could be assimilated into a socialist party’s agenda. The Party became the “us” in a literal life and death battle with “them” (fascists).
This biographical approach to the East German state also explains, to some extent, the endurance of European socialist states, which survived starvation (USSR in the 20s), mass political murder (USSR in the 30s), warfare and mass death (USSR in the 40s), and open revolt (Prague ’56/Czech Republic ’68). The elites of the system had gotten to the point where there own internal sense of self was thoroughly integrated with the Party’s interests. Thus, social change entailed a thorough rejection of the self as it had been shaped by wars.
Ironically, this merging of Party ideology, history, and personal identity contained its own internal contradictions. Since Stasi officers were justifying their actions in terms of the inevtiable evolution toward communism, they hesitated to support the GDR when things started going bad in 1989. They simply couldn’t keep repressing dissent and still believe that the Party was really standing against fascism and moving in a progressive direction. This corrosive doubt, rooted in the tensions between individual experience and party ideology, and the confrontation with a now wealthy West Germany, enabled one important group, the Stasi, to hesitate when it came time to either fight anti-communist activists or simply give up on the East German socialist project.
Next week, we’ll wrap this up with a discussion of how this historical analysis fits into a broader social scientific discussion of revolutions.
Traditionally, national defense was an issue the benefited Republicans. Symbolically, it allowed Republicans to appeal to nationalists who wanted to see America on top. Also, it is a hand out. The bigger the defense budget, the more contracts and jobs you can give to constituents.
In view of the recent election, I’ve come to believe that we have reached a turning point. Increased defense spending is now slowly eroding the Republican party’s position in national politics. The reason is that “defense” is no longer is limited to what we normally think of as the armed forces – soldiers, tanks, ships, and so forth. Now, defense means a very expansive “homeland security” apparatus.
The new face of defense is a vastly expanded community of contractors, consultants, engineers, and computer programmers. These people do not need to be spread out across the country. Instead, this new bureaucracy is concentrated around Washington, DC and its suburbs in Virginia and Maryland. These people do not always vote Republican. In fact, highly educated scientific types like to vote Democrat.
Of course, the suburbs of Virginia are expanding for many reasons, but one important reason is that massive expansion of “homeland security” and other Washington bureaucracies in the 2000s. This shifts Virginia from being a primarily rural conservative state to a slightly liberal urban state. And without a solid lock on the Southern electoral votes, it is very hard, if not impossible, for Republicans to build their coalition with a monopoly on Southern whites and Midwestern conservatives.
My collaborator, Michael Heaney, has a nice article in the new American Behavioral Scientist where he measures polarization in party networks:
Previous research has documented that the institutional behaviors (e.g., lobbying, campaign contributions) of political organizations reflect the polarization of these organizations along party lines. However, little is known about how these groups are connected at the level of individual party activists. Using data from a survey of 738 delegates at the 2008 Democratic and Republican national conventions, we use network regression analysis to demonstrate that co-membership networks of national party convention delegates are highly polarized by party, even after controlling for homophily due to ideology, sex/gender, race/ethnicity, age, educational attainment, income, and religious participation. Among delegates belonging to the same organization, only 1.78% of these co-memberships between delegates crossed party lines, and only 2.74% of the ties between organizations sharing common delegates were bipartisan in nature. We argue that segregation of organizational ties on the basis of party adds to the difficulty of finding common political ground between the parties.
Good for those interested in the growing literature on networks in political science.
Readers know that I am a believer in free migration. If you are interested in this topic, I am guest blogging at Open Borders. The first post is about the general issue of how to achieve open borders. The next two posts, to be published later, discuss how to do it, based on my reading of social change research. Check out the rest of the web site for extensive discussions for and against free migration.
A graduate student asked me if the following sources for Congressional district voting data are reliable:
The only book for PhD students: Grad Skool Rulz
Last presidential politics post before Tuesday. A few comments:
- In July, orgtheory readers estimated that Obama will carry about 51%-52% of the vote.
- My hypothesis is that the popular vote is only close because of extreme anti-Obama sentiment in the south.
- The polls are showing a slight Obama tilt nationally, but consistent Obama leads in the important swing states.
- My theory of the election is that Obama will slightly outperform the “fundamentals.” Normally, it’s really, really hard for the incumbent party to win the White House with nearly 8% unemployment. But I think non-Southern voters like Obama and don’t blame him that much for the slow recovery. There’s also Romney’s less than effective campaign (other than debate #1). That’s why he’s doing well outside the South. And in the South, there’s an unusually large drop in Obama support that’s hard to explain.
- As of the evening of November 4, Intrade is at .65 for Obama and the Iowa Market is at 50.7% vote share/72% winner takes all for Obama.
Post your last minute comments, predictions, and questions in the comments.
There’s a statistical (!) twitter fight this evening – Jennifer Rubin tweets “when do we break it to them that averaging polls is junk?” Hilarity ensues. There are actually some important subtle points about averaging poll data:
- Averaging bad data doesn’t make it better. On this broad point, Rubin is correct.
- Averaging good data does help. The purpose is to not be swayed by outliers that are produced by sampling. If you want to know the average family income in the US, you should average things so you won’t be swayed by the time Bill Gates appeared in the sample. If you believe that the typical polling firm is doing a decent job, it’s actually intuitive to average multiple polls.
- There’s actually research showing that poll averages close to the election aren’t terribly far off from the actual final numbers. See Nate Silver’s review on the subject.
Garrett Jones has a post defending the electoral college on typical grounds. If you can’t win by jacking up the vote in California or Texas, you have to win votes in other regions. Given that so much political conflict revolves around regionalism, the electoral college is a good thing.
US history provides evidence against this claim. Exhibit #1: We had a devastating regional war – the Civil War. I haven’t seen much evidence that the electoral college made a difference. At best, you might argue that the war was delayed a little when pro-Southern politicians were elected in the 1850s. That’s little consolation for the hundreds of thousands murdered in that war, not to mention the extension of slavery for years.
Also, the minority vote/Electoral college (MV/EC) winner presidents haven’t been exactly poster-children for the system. John Quincy Adams was elected when Andrew Jackson failed to get 50% of the Electoral College and the House voted for Adams. His biggest accomplishment was paying off much of the government’s debt, which isn’t so bad. After that, MV/EC winners have a bad track record. Rutherford Hayes pulled Federal troops out of the South and allowed the creation of Jim Crow. Benjamin Harrison isn’t known much these days, except for raising tarriffs. George W. Bush started two wars and ballooned the national debt.
If that’s the legacy of the Electoral College, then I can live without it.
The polls are ambiguous these days. First, after trailing by about 2-3% during the entire election cycle, Mitt Romney has now gained a consistent 1/2% to 1% lead in the polls. Second, the Obama campaign is still on track to win the election because he has retained leads in a lot of swing states, including Ohio. The only big swing state to switch to Romney is Florida.
How do we reconcile this split? Here’s my theory of the 2012 election: the South hates Obama a lot, but the rest of the nation is relatively satisfied with a modest economic recovery. Consider the following cross-tab from a recent mid-October 2012 Gallup poll:
This chart explains why Obama is trailing in the polls right now. The South really, really hates Obama and the lopsided polls cancel out modest Obama leads in the rest of the country. Also, it explains why Obama is doing well (for now) in the Electoral College. Florida is the only swing state in the South. In other words, if it weren’t for the South, Obama would be cruising to a modest, but easy, victory due to a slowly recovering economy.
This Fall’s book forum is about Andreas Glaeser’s Political Epistemics, a historical ethnography of East German socialism. This week’s installment will focus on the theoretical purpose of the book, which is to articulate and defend “the sociology of understanding.”
What is this “sociology of understanding?” Well, it draws on a number of ideas that should be familiar to cultural sociologists. First, it’s fairly Schutz/Berger and Luckmann in nature. There is a “lifeworld” built upon a common stock of knowledge. “We all know that this is true.” Second, it’s also interactional. In Glaeser’s model, people develop their understanding of the world through affirmation/negation from other people or institutions.
So far, I think the picture is well rooted in cultural sociology. What Glaeser adds is an argument about the institutionalization of the self. Rather than assume that people have fairly independent interests and beliefs about the world, he argues that selves are built from of affirmation and negation from the social environment. Now, Glaeser isn’t making a Foucault style argument about how we lose ourselves in a network of signifiers. Quite the contrary, he’s arguing about the rootedness of one’s understanding of the world. Historical events affirm one’s understanding of the world, while others disrupt that notion of self.
How does this sociology of understanding (SoU) help us to do political sociology, such as analyzing the dissolution of communism? Well, if you believe SoU, the locus of attention should be on understanding how people construct their world in both abstract terms and in daily life. Abstract theories, like Marxism-Leninism, provide a basic vocabulary for people to assess their world and produce collective action. At the same time SoU theory suggests that these understandings can only sustain a type of self when reinforced by exogenous events and institutional life. A lot of daily political life is a response to the juxtaposition of these worldviews and observation, with actors often scrambling to make sense of events that would be unsurprising to others.
The SoU theory has interesting implications. For example, SoU theory implies that Western arguments about freedom would me moot points. The ideals of individual liberty only resonates in nations with specific institutional arrangements. Instead, people in socialist nations would criticize the system from within. And there is much truth to this observation. Dissidents and reforms rarely waved their copy of Road to Serfdom in the air. Rather, they often relied on arguments articulated by dissident socialist intellectuals. Thus, the collapse of communism, in this view, is less about external pressures and more about the management or mismanagement of contradictions.
The result of SoU theory is that one should understand how historical events, ideologies, organizational behavior, and personal biography intertwine to create the political system. Social changes happens when these factors shift, not so much when outsiders, like Reagan or Kennedy, stand by a wall and proclaim freedom. Next week, we’ll see the sociology of understanding in action, when I discuss the world of the Stasi and Berlin peace activists.
About two weeks ago, there was an interesting post at Econlog about the relative importance of civil rights for libertarians. The issue is that libertarians often hype other issues, like taxes, more than civil rights. Not too much discussion about discrimination, Jim Crow, and so forth. A blogger from the pro-immigration website Open Borders asked how often libertarians argued against, for example, segregation.
I think the commenters (myself included) got it right when we said “some, but not much.” In other words, from time to time, libertarian intellectuals did talk about the evils of segregation. Usually, the issue is couched in terms of the use of state power to prohibit blacks from holding property and practicing certain occupations, like the law. Sometimes it was a commentary on what was good and bad in the Black freedom movement. There is the occasional talk of opposing colonialism. But overall, it was not an overwhelming response.
The relatively weak answer to Black oppression is puzzling. Opposing Jim Crow was a no brainer from the libertarian point of view. Blacks had been slaves, which is the antithesis of personal freedom. Then, after Reconstruction, they had been subjected to humiliating and painful legal regulations in addition to extensive personal violence. While libertarians may disagree with liberals about the remedy for state violence and segregation, you would think that they would have been marching arm and arm with liberals in the 1960s.
But that didn’t happen. Black repression takes a back burner on the libertarian shopping list. But why? I think it has to do with the sociology of elite libertarians. Read the rest of this entry »
Neil Gross and Ethan Fosse have a new article in Theory and Society on the topic of professorial politics. They use the GSS to answer the question of why professors are very liberal compared to the rest of the US population. They test a number of plausible hypotheses found in the literature on political attittudes of academics – maybe professors are liberal because they are more secular or they are more likely to be Protestant or Jewish. There are some differences, but not a lot variance is explained.
Gross and Fosse offer an alternative theory – occupational typing. In other words, jobs, for whatever reasons, acquire reputations. In America, nursing is thought to be for women, not men. Then people selectively sort into jobs, independent of the job requirements. Maybe there is nothing intrinsically liberal about being a professor, but once you get a critical mass of liberals, conservatives just stay away. The conclusion of the article is nice because is raises the issue that when it comes to occupations and politics, we probably need a better understanding of reputation and the role it has in attracting people to the job.
This Fall’s book forum will address Political Epistemics, a new book by Chicago sociologist Andreas Glaeser. The book investigates life in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. It’s an ambitious book that has three main aims. First, it’s a political sociology argument. Glaeser argues that social change occurs when there is a break, or shift, in how people develop their identities and have them affirmed by various people and institutions. He calls this the “sociology of understandings.” Second, Glaeser offers a historical account of two groups of people with very different understandings of East German socialism – Stasi officers and Berlin peace activists. Third, Glaeser claims that his sociology of understandings provides a better explanation of the dissolution of East German communism than other theories.
As you might guess from this thumbnail sketch, the book is epic. It synthesizes a deep knowledge of Western cultural sociology with Glaeser’s own reading of East European history and Communist ideology. There is also a lot of thick description, where Glaeser tracks down former Stasi officers, dissident intellectuals, and works through East German archives. Yet, the book hangs together remarkably well. Though Glaeser is erudite, the text is easy to follow and rich with interesting insights. It’s a wonderful example of how a book can be very sophisticated, yet accessible to most readers.
This book succeeds on a number of levels, though I do have some reservations, especially when Glaeser goes beyond his interview evidence and extrapolates to the broader issue of why Communism ended. We’ll discuss these strong and weak points in the coming weeks, but for now, I’ll end this introductory post with a discussion of why I chose this specific book.
First, Political Epistemics has many sociological virtues. The topic – the fall of European Communism – is important and deserves serious attention. The transition away from Communism is a topic I wish that more graduate students would address. As late as the 1980s, much of the world’s population lived under state socialism. Even today, we have a number of nations that have traditional Leninist/Maoist states (e.g., Cuba, North Korea), have leaders who are trying to push in that direction (e.g., Venezuela), hybrid state forms, such as modern China, or nationalist-socialist systems such as the Baath regimes of Hussein era Iraq, Kaddafi’s Libya, and contemporary Syria. Another virtue is that the book is grounded in daily experience. Rather than rely on “grand history,” Glaeser takes the time to uncover the meaning of these political systems by interviewing the people who made these systems a reality.
Second, I chose this book for personal reasons – Glaeser was an instructor of mine in graduate school. The first time I met Glaeser was when he gave a job talk at the University of Chicago, where I was a young and very annoying graduate student. I was struck by his talk (a precis for Divided in Unity) because it combined fancy schmancy hermeneutics and ethnography. Later, I took a course in cultural sociology with him. It didn’t resemble any of the “American sociology” courses. He yelled at us once – “What? You don’t know who de Certeau is? What do they teach you around here?”* He also admitted that he doesn’t watch cable TV. But still, he was always very generous when helping students get through the rather imposing corpus of European social theory. He even indulged me in a weird argument about whether the label “critical theory” could be applied to rational choice theories.** So I was quite happy to see that his second book was out. When I read Political Epistemics, I recognize our culture theory syllabus embedded in it. It’s always a pleasure to see how the ideas of the past form the books of the present.
Next week: How to Understand the Sociology of Understanding
* Answer: Circa 1999, a lot of Park and Burgess, with a healthy dose of Simmel. And a lot of event history models.
** My view was that critical theory was not really an important theoretical distinction. Rather it’s a normative term in disguise, or simply a term for second generation Marxist theory. I asked, “For example, couldn’t, say, bounded rationality be critical theory in some sense if it lead to some level of reflexivity (as implied by Calhoun’s definition of critical theory)?” Hilarity ensued.
The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article about how political scientists are using political conventions as an opportunity to gather unique data. They were kind enough to interview my co-author, Michael Heaney, about our research:
Other scholars focused their attention outside of each formal convention, on the protesters who marched through nearby streets or set up camp nearby.
Even if the scripted rallies in the convention hall don’t offer political scientists much value, the metaphorical “party in the street” does, said Michael T. Heaney, a professor of organizational studies and political science at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.
Mr. Heaney, who has studied the relationship between mainstream political parties and outside movements, said conventions provide an important opportunity to track how the two interact. He and his research partner, Fabio Rojas, a sociologist at Indiana University at Bloomington, will soon publish a book, based in part on the research they conducted at previous political conventions, about how the Democratic Party has dealt with the antiwar movement since September 11, 2001.
Over the past eight years, Mr. Heaney said, the Democrats and the antiwar movement have split from each other. Recent conventions have provided an opportunity to see how the antiwar groups have changed. For example, there were far fewer of them at the 2012 convention than there were in 2008, and one of them, Code Pink, has evolved significantly, he says.
“By observing them, we can really learn a lot about what’s changed in the antiwar movement,” Mr. Heaney said as he observed and photographed about dozen Code Pink activists who were protesting in front of an event held by American Israel Public Affairs Committee near the Democratic convention.
“A lot of antiwar groups went out of business in 2008, when President Obama was elected, because many people on the left side of the political spectrum felt satisfied with Obama’s election,” he said.
Code Pink, though, has survived, he said, because it has diversified and broadened its message to include women’s issues, among others. The group also tends to use attention-grabbing tactics, he said, such as acting out a scene in which a Palestinian is denied passage through an Israeli checkpoint.
Check it out.
The most recent Nature features an article by a team of political scientists and network scholars who did an experiment using Facebook to show that strong ties influenced voting behavior in the last election. You may say, so what? We’ve known for a long time that social influence operates through strong ties in interpersonal networks. That’s not a new insight. But I think the study is innovative for a couple of reasons. The first is that the impact of of using direct messaging through Facebook was substantively significant – that is, just messaging people reminders to go out and vote increased the likelihood that the person would vote – but that the larger effect was transmitted indirectly via social contagion. Consider the setup of the experiment.
Former orgtheory guest blogger David Lazer has posted a bunch visualizations related to political contributions, check out vispolitics.com.
What is the probability that a weapon, such as a rifle, tank, or plane, will be used to kill or injure a civilian? What is the probability that the same weapon will be used to kill or injure an enemy soldier?
The answer probably depends on the time period. From the 1800s to the mid-20th century, states fought each other via mass formations of soldiers. Maybe the average gun shot other soldiers. Since the mid-2oth century, we’ve seen lots of wars of decolonization, civil wars, internal repression, and genocides. States just don’t fight each other the way they used to.
Even recent American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan show the shift. The US Army may have killed more Iraqi and Afghanistan civilians through collateral damage than actual al-Qaeda and Taliban. And we’re the good guys! The US has rules about minimizing civilian casualties. The average government in the world may not even care about such niceties. Was the average gun in Syria or Libya used to fight invaders or repress protesters?
You guys know I’m a big Andrew Sullivan fan, but he recently made a typical journalist mistake. Consider this brief post on Romney’s favorability rating :
Ipsos says the Bain attacks are working. Maybe that recent dip in favorability reflects that. But his unfavorables have dipped as well. The Ipsos sample of independents is also too small to be very confident about. I’m struck by the modest nature of Romney’s favorability decline, given the punch of the attacks. The economic doldrums are insulating him from normal political gravity.
I’ve italicized the key sentence. Like many journalists, Sullivan believes that attack ads and other campaigning make a big difference. The economy is a secondary factor. In contrast, most political scientists have the reverse opinion. In presidential contests, the economy and foreign wars are what matters. See the Hibbs peace-bread model. Attack ads, conventions, and debate performances have at most a short term effect. This is worth criticizing because Sullivan has a PhD in government. He ought to know better.
Question for higher education researchers and Kieran: Why is political science the only social science field to have an institutionalized sub-field of ethics inside of it?
If you look around the American academy, you’ll quickly see that the analogous sub-fields do not exist. Economics banished history of economic thought/philosophy/ethics some time ago as the field formalized. There are definitely normative discussions in economics, but there isn’t a large sub-field of “economic ethics” that commands dissertations, FTEs, or endowed chairs. In sociology, we sort of had that stuff up until the early 1990s but it’s disappeared in the major journals (e.g., articles of the form “a new reading of Weber” are very, very rare). My sense is that anthropology and psychology don’t have a a political theory analog.
What mechanisms allow political science to keep this structure? Why hasn’t political theory completely migrated to philosophy departments or history programs that emphasize intellectual history?
One of the central findings on presidential elections is that incumbent parties do well when the economy is good and when there few casualties in foreign wars. Such models tend to predict a slim Obama win. 8% unemployment isn’t great, but it isn’t bad enough to sink the incumbent, especially when most folks seem to have a positive impression of the president.
So how is the model doing so far? Well, we still have about four months left, but we have a lot of polling data. The Huffington Post has a chart of rolling averages for polls. Real Clear Politics, which includes GOP leaning pollsters like Rasmussen, reports similar results. With the exception of a brief stint in Fall 2011, Obama has held a modest lead in the rolling average vs. Romney. So ignore the media. The race is stable with a small Obama lead. So unless the economy tanks in the next few months, expect an Obama win.
Thanks to those who suggested additional examples of self-managing organizations on my previous post about self-managing organizations! In the comments, Usman has also kindly provided a link to a documentary, The Take. Such examples show how people use self-managing organizations to reverse economic decline or stagnation, as well as defend their community, dignity, and livelihoods. For more examples of how grassroots organizations and democratic organizations can underpin economic revitalization, Orgheads might be interested in Jeremy Brecher‘s Banded Together: Economic Democratization in the Brass Valley (2011, University of IL Press). Drawing on archival research, participant-observations of meetings, and interviews conducted about efforts to revitalize Western Connecticut’s Naugatuck Valley in residents and workers’ interests using Alinskyite methods, Brecher delves into several case studies of reorganizing the workplace, from factory to home-care. (See my review of Brecher’s book in Contemporary Sociology for a more detailed synopsis.)
Participatory practices are also spreading to local governance in the US. Last fall, with the help of local organization Community Voices Heard, the Participatory Budgeting Project, and scholars and other groups, and trained volunteers such as myself, four districts in NYC experimented with participatory budgeting. Those who live, work, or attend school in these districts could propose and then prioritize projects on how to allocate several million dollars of city funds to improve community life. Volunteer budget delegates then developed proposals selected at the neighborhood assemblies, which they presented to the public. Residents aged 18 years and older voted for their top choices. Elected officials then allocated funding to these choices; some allocated additional funds for proposals that hadn’t won the popular vote. For more info on this experiment, see a PBS segment, which includes an interview with Celina Su, one of the advisers to this experiment. (Su published Streetwise for Street Smarts: Grassroots Organizing and Education Reform in the Bronx, which compares Frierian and Alinskyite organizing tactics.) See also my op-ed about this experiment and its implications for otherwise underrepresented voices in a local paper.
Think these practices might work in your hometown or organizations? Add your comments and recommendations below.
Last week, Northwestern poli sci prof Jacqueline Stevens wrote a NY Times op-ed where the main argument is that political science is lousy at predicting things. You can read responses from within the field, like the one at the Monkey Cage.
Stevens makes some good points. For example, social scientists will often dress up common sense in fancy models and jargon. But I do have one major bone of contention with Stevens’ analysis, the social sciences are actually not bad at predicting some things. For example, I can predict, in the future, that college graduates will make a lot more money, on average, than people who didn’t go to college. We’ve known this for decades. This trend will continue. In political science, there are some models that actually predict things pretty well. My favorite is the presidential votes share model, where incumbent two-party vote share is very strongly predicted by the economy.
So what gives? Does a Northwestern professor of political science not know her own field? I can’t speak for Professor Stevens, but I’ll offer a few reasons for Stevens’ skepticism. This may have to do with the lingering conflict in political science over quantitative method. There’s a bigger issue than arguing over method. Stevens picks on areas of political science where prediction is insanely hard. If you have a system with a few moving parts, prediction may be possible (e.g., predicting the correlation between education and income).
Stevens uses examples like the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of al-Qaeda. Global politics is a massively complex system. There’s a lot we don’t know and a lot that is hard to measure. It also has billions of moving parts and shows sudden shifts. Physics is the same way. Two billiard balls? Yeah, we got that. Predicting the next earthquake? Umm… still working on that.
Poo-poohing political scientists for not foreseeing al-Qaeda is like saying that medical science is stupid because doctors didn’t predict AIDS. Superficially true, but so very, very misguided.