it may have been interesting to have thematic panels consisting of individual presenters from different disciplines rather than dividing the panels by discipline
My response: Agreed! It would also have been fascinating to hear more about Sam’s own research.
Political scientists and economists are generally students of positivism, whereas fellow academics in anthropology and cultural studies are more rooted in perspectives similar to critical theory or constructivism (Peter Winch and Michel Foucault come to mind). Thus, in positivism, academics may be more open to utilizing a plurality of methods to get at an explanation of a particular phenomenon. In contrast, constructivists or critical theorists are more interested in descriptions of power dynamics and understanding the world as it is.
My response: I think that’s right. What I find puzzling, though, is why there is less direct confrontation from the critical theorists’ perspective of the positivists. I would imagine that both sides would be interested in discussing why they do things the way they do, but I only see engagement from one side. Curious.
Now for some non-blog comments. S says
as political science and economics expand their gaze to new areas and feel more confident about their work, they generate push-back, most of which is emotional rather than really intellectual. Intellectual (and constructive) resistance to social sciency imperialism tends to come more from within social science rather than outside, with exceptions of course.
My response: this may be true, but what strikes me so is the lack of any pushback, even emotional pushback, from the non-political science crowd. I would have liked to see emotional pushback; what I saw was eyes cast down at the papers.
I’m struck by the contrast between South and Southeast Asian area studies. In S[outh] Asia, the usual complaint is that poli sci and postmodern anthro folks are not interested in empirical details due to their theoretical pre-commitments.
My response: Very interesting observation. The distinction here is less between positivist and postmodern than it is between “soak and poke first” and “ensure that the natives confirm your preconceptions or your theory.” I wonder if there are good interdisciplinary debates in South Asian studies. I bet there are.
I think the basic issue is that the two schools have different and mutually incompatible ontological and epistemological assumptions…Almost everyone in the social science group adheres to some kind of realism: the world exists and our debates concern how best to show how it works. To someone with a pure “idealist” ontology all such debates are about as useful as debating the true temperature of hell.
My response: Very well put and I think that this is consonant with what I’m thinking here. But still I think we need to ask why the positivist SE Asianists want engagement with the non-positivists, while the non-positivists seem either uninterested or unwilling to go the other way.
you’re conflating the humanities writ large with a particular way of doing anthropology…it’s simply a question of being interested in answering very different questions. In other words, the disagreement is not over how you answer a particular question, but why you are asking it in the first place. I also think that much of this is about the perceived value of making comparisons, which is fundamental to much of the social sciences but marginal at best (if not deeply distrusted) in many humanities disciplines.
My response: I agree with almost all of this. I run the risk of painting all of the humanistic social sciences as being postmodern, and I know that’s not right: lots of historians, both in the glory days of SEA studies and today, act more in the manner that the harder social scientists do today. George Kahin is a great example. Maybe C is too. I also recognize the suspicion of comparison, although I do not think that it holds much weight as an organizing principle for Southeast Asian politics. What remains unexplained, though, is why—given disagreement about what makes a good question—we don’t see more engagement from all camps about the value of the question. There’s more going on here, I think, if we want to explain the asymmetries I’ve described.