Always Historicize

by Scott McLemee on February 15, 2007

Looks like everyone around here is just too shy to mention it, but all this week Crooked Timber has been among the blogs discussed and/or vivisected by “Movable Snipe,” a regular feature at the website The various CT-related entries are all conveniently available here.
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Points of tangency

by Henry Farrell on February 15, 2007

I read “this post”: by Jodi Dean a week or two ago, and found one of her claims a little annoying; in the middle of criticizing efforts to ‘define’ the subject matter and approach of various intellectual approaches, she opines:

Can it mean anything, then, to reject or criticize political theory as a whole? If one is a formal modeller, yes. One is saying that only with formal methods can anything significant be said about politics. But, this is not a critique. It is simply a rejection. I don’t critique formal modelling in my work. I simply reject it. I find it uninteresting and irrelevant.

Now this may quite likely just be unfortunate wording on her part, but it reads to me as though she is ‘defining’ formal modellers as people who argue that only formal methods allow you to say anything significant about politics. Which, if this were indeed what she meant to say, is not only a sweeping generalization, but quite untrue.

But this post isn’t meant to be a gotcha; I accept that it’s quite likely that she meant to say something different. What I want to write about is something else altogether. When someone from a particular intellectual community rejects another intellectual community _tout court_, as Jodi Dean is doing here, what might you recommend them to read in order to show that the intellectual product of this community has meaning on _their_ terms, as best as you understand them?

In this particular case, I think I’d recommend Jodi read Donald/Deirdre McCloskey’s _The Rhetoric of Economics_, possibly together with Ariel Rubinstein’s “Comments on the Interpretation of Game Theory” (Econometrica 59 (1991):909-24) to show how questions of rhetoric and interpretation are absolutely central to unresolved difficulties at the heart of formal theory. If I were trying to persuade a Habermasian, I’d suggest instead that they take a look at Jim Johnson’s “Is Talk Really Cheap? Prompting Conversation Between Critical Theory and Rational Choice.” (American Political Science Review 87 (1993):74-86) instead. If I were trying to persuade a skeptical formal modeler to go in the other direction, I might suggest Bourdieu’s _Distinction_. Which makes for a broader point, I think. There are very few intellectual communities that are so completely antithetical to each other that there aren’t some points of tangency between them, books; articles, essays that potentially speak to both. These points of tangency are probably not going to be part of the core conversation in either community, but they’re usually the more interesting for that. Any others out there worth mentioning?

A Paradise for Children?

by Ingrid Robeyns on February 15, 2007

UNICEF has released “a study”: on the well-being of children in 21 OECD countries. The countries are ranked according to their average child well-being. The top four are the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland, and the bottom two are the United States and the United Kingdom. Ranking countries always attracts the attention of the media, with the Dutch media proudly announcing that “children are nowhere as happy as in the Netherlands”:, and the “BBC”: reporting on reactions in the UK.

Here are some thoughts about this report from a Dutch perspective — I’ll leave it to others to comment on the problems the UK, USA or other countries are facing. What follows are just some thoughts for discussion and not a full explanation of why the Dutch are so high in this ranking (for other discussions of the report, see “here”:, “here”:,,2013309,00.html and “here”: [click to continue…]