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A Perestroikan Straw Man Answers Back: David Laitin and Phronetic Political Science

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This article addresses three main issues. First, it argues that David Laitin, in a misguided critique of Bent Flyvbjerg’s book Making Social Science Matter for being a surrogate manifesto for Perestroika, misrepresents the book in the extreme.
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  10.1177/0032329204267290POLITICS & SOCIETYBENT FLYVBJERG A Perestroikan Straw Man Answers Back:David Laitin and Phronetic Political Science BENT FLYVBJERG Thisarticle addressesthree mainissues.First,it arguesthat DavidLaitin,inamis-guided critique of Bent Flyvbjerg’sbook  Making Social Science Matter for being asurrogatemanifestoforPerestroika,misrepresentsthebookintheextreme.Second,thearticlearguesthatLaitin’sclaimthatpoliticalsciencemaybecomenormal,pre-dictive science in the natural science sense is unfounded; the claim is a dead end thatperestroikanstrytogetbeyond.Finally,thearticleproposesthatpoliticalscien-tistssubstitute phronesis  for  episteme andtherebyavoidthetrapofemulatingnatu-ral science. By doing so, political scientists may arrive at social science that isstrongwherenaturalscienceisweak:inthereflexiveanalysisanddiscussionofval-uesandinterestsaimedatpraxis,whichistheprerequisiteforanenlightenedpoliti-cal, economic, and cultural development in any society.  Keywords: phronesis ; Perestroika; David Laitin; philosophy of social science;context; judgment  IamgratefultoDavidLaitinandStephenWhiteforpointingoutthatmybook  Making Social Science Matter  (MSSM) captures many of the core themes in aperestroikan politicalscience. 1 I share thebasicintentand argument of perestroi-kansandwouldbedelightedifthebook mighthelpadvancePerestroikainpoliti-calscience.However,whereWhiteprovidesabalancedreviewofthebook,inthehands of Laitin I feel like the proverbial straw man.I will address three main issues in what follows. First, I will show that Laitinmisrepresents my work in the extreme. Second, I will assess Laitin’s proposed TheauthorwouldliketothankErikAlbæk,IreneChristiansen,JohnDryzek,IdoOren,TimRich-ardson, Sanford Schram, Georg Sørensen, Stephen White, Alan Wolfe, and the editors of  Politics &Society for valuable comments on an earlier draft of this article. POLITICS & SOCIETY, Vol. 32 No. 3, September 2004 389-416DOI: 10.1177/0032329204267290© 2004 Sage Publications 389  alternative to the methodology he claims I present in MSSM, his tripartitemethod, and “scientific frame.” Third, I will outline what I call phronetic socialandpoliticalscience,amethodologyfortheanalysisofvaluesandinterestsaimedat praxis. LAITIN’S MISREPRESENTATIONS DavidLaitin’smainmoveindevelopingbothhiscritiqueandhisalternativeisto distort my distinction in MSSM between phronetic and epistemic social sci-ence.Laitinequatesphroneticdisciplineswithqualitativeandnarrativemethods,whereas epistemic disciplines have formal modeling and statistics at their core,according to Laitin. He thus invokes the dualisms of qualitative versus quantita-tive methods, case study research versus large samples, and narrative versus for-malmodeling.ThismakesLaitin’sjobeasyinattackingsoftpoliticalscienceandpromotinghisownhardmethodology.ButthedualismsLaitincallsuponarerhe-torical devices that misrepresent what I say in MSSM.Below I will present a number of examples to document this. For reasons of space, not all examples are included. However, because Laitin’s misrepresenta-tions and misuses of MSSM are so far-reaching, I want to refute the most impor-tant examples in some detail.  Dominance or Balance for Qualitative Methods? Laitin states, as one of the main assertions in the abstract to his article, BentFlyvbjergmakesthebestcaseforareneweddominanceforqualitativeandcasestudywork throughout the social sciences. (Laitin, 163). 2 Infact,Idonotmakethecasefordominanceforqualitativeandcasestudywork.Imake the case for balance and integration in several highly visible places inMSSM. The following is verbatim what I say about the case study and largesamples: [Myassessmentofcasestudyresearch]shouldnotbeinterpretedasarejectionofresearchwhich focuses on large random samples or entire populations; for example, questionnairesurveys.Thistypeofresearchisessentialforthedevelopment ofsocialscience; forexam-ple,inunderstandingthedegreetowhichcertainphenomenaarepresentinagivengrouporhowtheyvaryacrosscases.Theadvantageoflargesamplesisbreadth,whiletheirproblemis one of depth. For the case study, the situation is the reverse. Both approaches are neces-saryforasounddevelopmentofsocialscience.(Flyvbjerg,87,fromthesummaryofchap.6 on case study research, “The Power of Example”; see also 75, 79, and 83 for otherexamples.) 390 POLITICS & SOCIETY  Laitincontinueshismisrepresentationsbycriticizingperestroikansforhavingan“abhorrenceofallthingsmathematical”(163).Followingthislineofargumentheasserts, again mistakenly, Social scientists, [Flyvbjerg] concludes, should not even try to imitate the scientificmethod with fancy statistics and impressive regressions. (165) InMSSMIarguethatsocialscienceprobablycannotbecomescientificinthenat-ural science sense, but I do not argue against statistics and regressions, as Laitinclaims I do. In line with this misrepresentation, Laitin incorrectly presents myresearch on city politics and planning in Aalborg—which I use as an example of phroneticsocialscienceinMSSM—asifitwereentirelyqualitative(Laitin,170-71). 3 Here is what I actually write in MSSM: In answering the question of who wins and who loses in the Aalborg Project, I carried outenvironmental and social impact audits using statistical and other quantitative analyses.This was necessary for relating process to outcome in the project. Here as elsewhere, thesharpseparationoftenseenintheliteraturebetweenqualitativeandquantitativemethodsisa spurious one. (Flyvbjerg, 196) At a more fundamental level, Laitin misrepresents my conception of  phronesis and narrative. Laitin (165, 169, 175) writes that I see phronesis as narrative. Thisis false as is the following conclusion: Flyvbjerg’sattempttoseparateout  phronesis (asakindofnarrative)fromitsstatisticalandformal complements is radically incomplete. (Laitin, 175) ComparethiswithwhatIactuallywriteabout  phronesis andquantitativemethodsin MSSM: In my interpretation, phronetic social science is opposed to an either/or and stands for aboth/and on the question of qualitative versus quantitative methods. Phronetic social sci-ence is problem-driven and not methodology-driven, in the sense that it employs thosemethods which for a given problematic best help answer the four value-rational questions[which stand at the core of phronetic social science; see below]. More often than not, acombination of qualitative and quantitative methods will do the task and do it best.(Flyvbjerg, 196) Thus I do not separate phronesis from statistics or other social science tools. Iargue for their integration. Nor do I see narrative and quantitative methods asopposites or as methods that stand outside each other. I integrate these as well, asdocumented by my empirical work, because it makes for better social and politi-calscience.Inshort,thereisnofactualbasisforDavidLaitin’sclaimthatImakea BENT FLYVBJERG 391  case for dominance for qualitative and case study work throughout the socialsciences.  A Brief Example of Narrative Combining Qualitative and Quantitative Methods Let me give a brief example of how I work with qualitative and quantitativemethodsandwithnarrative.Laitin(170)saysthatitwasmy“deepunderstandingof all backroom deals”—gained through in-depth qualitative research—thathelped make planning in Aalborg more democratic. This is incorrect. What trig-gered change was my relating the backroom deals, once I had uncovered them,with street-level, everyday outcomes—established through statistical and otherquantitative analyses. For instance, through statistical analyses of large samplesandtime-seriesdataontrafficaccidents,Iestablishedthatthebackroomdealshadtransformed a planned and politically approved reduction in traffic accidents of 30%to40%intoastatisticallysignificantincreaseinaccidentsofaboutthesamesize.I then integrated these qualitative and quantitative analyses into one narrativetogether with legal and ethical considerations on democracy. When published,this narrative created considerable commotion among politicians and the public,becauseitmadeituncomfortablyclearthatmorepeoplewerekilledandinjuredintraffic because city officials had allowed the local chamber of industry and com-merceanillegitimateinfluenceonplanningoutcomesduringthebackroomdeals.Afterthis,itbecameimpossibleforofficialstocontinuetopracticethebackroomsetupfor policyand planning. In thiscaseitwasthe combination inone narrativeof uncovering relations of power through qualitative analyses and  linking powerwithoutcomesthroughquantitativestudiesthathelpedmakeformoredemocracy.ThisexampleistypicalofmyworkandshowsIdonotconcludeagainststatis-tics and regressions, as Laitin claims. I see choice of method as dependent on theresearchproblemathand.Sometimes,quantitativemethodswillbesthelpanswerthe problem; sometimes, qualitative methods may do the job alone; and mostoften—if the problem is of practical-political import and the researchers want tomakeadifferencewiththeirresearch—acombinationofquantitativeandqualita-tive methods will be most effective. MSSM explicitly reflects this position, asdoes my book Rationality and Power: Democracy in Practice , which is my mainexample of  phronesis in MSSM. 4 My most recent book, Megaprojects and Risk: AnAnatomyofAmbition ,andmanyofmyarticlesalsomakeextensiveuseofbothquantitative and qualitative methods. 5 If Laitin wanted to criticizea purely quali-tativeresearcherandusethistoundermine Perestroika,asseemstohavebeenhisstrategy, however misguided, he picked the wrong person. 392 POLITICS & SOCIETY  Social versus Natural Science On the issue of socialversus natural science,Laitinmisrepresents MSSMlikethis: The social world, [Flyvbjerg] argues, is sufficiently different from the natural world thatany hopes for a Galilean conquest over the unknown in social science will forever remainunrealized. (Laitin, 164) Compare Laitin’s statement with what I actually write and emphasize in MSSM,again in several highly visible places: Itisworthreiterating that[the]pleafortheimportanceofcontext[tosocialphenomena]isnot an ultimate proof that social science can never  be explanatory and predictive. It onlymakes it probable that this is so. (Flyvbjerg, 46, emphasis in srcinal; from the first para-graph in the conclusions to chap. 4, “Context Counts”; see also 4, 62, and 76) Laitin (168) further claims I do not define context in MSSM. In fact I use twochapters (chaps. 3 and 4) to establish that context in social science is humanbeings’everyday background skills.And the examples of misrepresentation go on. I willlimitmyself to only threemore brief instances. First, Laitin (170-71) writes that I do not explain the influ-enceofpowerinAalborg.Infact,Ipresentahistoricalexplanationintermsofthe longue durée in Rationality and Power  similar to the type of explanation RobertPutnam and his associates use to explain power in Italian local government in  Making Democracy Work  , and I explicitly refer to Rationality and Power  inMSSM(144-45) forthefullstoryonthis. 6 Second,Laitin(168) saysIdonotpro-videanyphilosophyofsciencecitestosupportmyclaimsregardingpredictionasa criterion for science. In fact, the cites can be found on pages 38 and 175 inMSSM.Third, Laitin(167) claimsI“admit”thatHubert and StuartDreyfus usedastandardscientificproceduretomakeadiscoveryconcerninghumancognition.Laitineventriestolendcredencetothisclaimbyinsertingabogusendnoterefer-ring to where I am supposed to admit this (Laitin, 182, note 8). The problem forLaitin is that the two sources he quotes as evidence, both of which I authored orcoauthored, do not even touch upon this issue, let alone “admit” to it. Moreover,oneofthesourcesisinDanish,andIdoubtLaitinhasreadthis.Finally,itwasnotthe Dreyfus brothers who made the discovery Laitin says they did, nor did theyconducttheexperimentorauthorthestudythatreportedtheexperiment,asLaitin(166-67) wrongly claims.Laitinis as mistaken in the detailsof his articleas he ison the larger issues. BENT FLYVBJERG 393
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