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In recent years, a variety of efforts have been made in political science to enable, encourage, or require scholars to be more open and explicit about the bases of their empirical claims and, in turn, make those claims more readily evaluable by others. While qualitative scholars have long taken an interest in making their research open, reflexive, and systematic, the recent push for overarching transparency norms and requirements has provoked serious concern within qualitative research communities and raised fundamental questions about the meaning, value, costs, and intellectual relevance of transparency for qualitative inquiry. In this Perspectives Reflection, we crystallize the central findings of a three-year deliberative process—the Qualitative Transparency Deliberations (QTD)—involving hundreds of political scientists in a broad discussion of these issues. Following an overview of the process and the key insights that emerged, we present summaries of the QTD Working Groups’ final reports. Drawing on a series of public, online conversations that unfolded at www.qualtd.net, the reports unpack transparency’s promise, practicalities, risks, and limitations in relation to different qualitative methodologies, forms of evidence, and research contexts. Taken as a whole, these reports—the full versions of which can be found in the Supplementary Materials—offer practical guidance to scholars designing and implementing qualitative research, and to editors, reviewers, and funders seeking to develop criteria of evaluation that are appropriate—as understood by relevant research communities—to the forms of inquiry being assessed. We dedicate this Reflection to the memory of our coauthor and QTD working group leader Kendra Koivu.1
William E. Connolly's review of Peripheral Visions is what any author should want, a thoughtful, appreciative account of the book's merits and an invitation to push aspects of the argument further than the book currently does. One point of clarification: I did not mean to suggest that Foucault's work should be read only in terms of its emphasis on coherence and control, or that my own is intended as a blanket critique of his. My understanding of political power and resistance is beholden to Foucault's insofar as he shows how power depends on multiple points of resistance. He thus describes how existing mechanisms of social control get reproduced and yet are also vulnerable to creativity, innovation, and surprise. My point was to challenge Foucault-inspired scholars of colonialism, in particular, who tend to exaggerate the capacities of colonial administrations and to neglect not only outright challenges to colonial rule, but also the ways in which colonial rule could, at times, be irrelevant to inhabitants' political experience. The goal was to distinguish between the stated claims of colonial rulers and colonialism's actual effects. At stake is not simply a reading of Foucault, of course, but a sense of what matters politically—whether scholars emphasize the reproductive power of institutions and ideas or whether they focus on how reproduction places those very ideas and institutions at risk. I want to chart a middle course here, neither exaggerating coherence nor romanticizing resistance.
In this passionate, insightful book, William E. Connolly tracks the work of the “evangelical-capitalist resonance machine,” both source and exemplification of a destructive ethos characteristic of contemporary American political life. Born out of the elective affinity between a segment of evangelical Christianity, based on vengeful visions of the Second Coming, and the “cowboy sector of American capitalism,” defined by its “exclusionary drives and claims to special entitlement” (p. 7), this evangelical-capitalist ethos works to shore up and deepen existing inequalities. Through church sermons and Fox News Reports, in practices of consumption and investment, the evangelical-capitalist resonance machine reverberates, working to stymie political debate and deflect political responsibility for the problems this same destructive ethos creates.
This chapter imagines a conversation among three different communities of scholarship on democracy. One approach, what we might call scientific studies of political economy, tends to explore the relationship between economic development and democracy (or sometimes more broadly, regime type); it uses formal theoretical models combined with statistical ones for empirical testing in an effort to come up with law-like rules or patterns governing political behavior. Another approach, framed by an interpretive, philosophical commitment to understanding the relationship between words and politics, examines the conceptual conundrums and meanings associated with words such as democracy. Still another approach, also termed “interpretive,” investigates the substantive activities undertaken by individuals and/or groups comprising the political order – the everyday practices and systems of signification associated with democracy in particular places. Each is dedicated to solving problems of abiding relevance to empirical politics, and each employs one or more methods to do so. Yet the kinds of questions, the terms of debate, the definition of democracy, the importance of science, the role methods play, and the underlying epistemological commitments animating each differ in critical and recognizable ways. This chapter considers the questions that are enabled or foreclosed in opting for one approach over the other. It asks: what are the scholarly and political stakes involved in thinking about democracy in ways that emphasize scientific methods or that tackle long-standing theoretical confusions?
The following anecdote was related to me during my field work
in Syria a few days after the event allegedly took place:
One day a high-ranking officer visiting the regiment ordered the
soldiers to recount their dreams of the night before. A soldier
stepped forward and announced: “I saw the image of the leader
in the sky, and we mounted ladders of fire to kiss it.” A second
soldier followed suit: “I saw the leader holding the sun in his
hands, and he squeezed it, crushing it until it crumbled. Darkness
blanketed the face of the earth. And then his face illuminated the
sky, spreading light and warmth in all directions.” Soldier
followed soldier, each extolling the leader's greatness. When
M's turn came, he stepped forward, saluted the visiting officer,
and said: “I saw that my mother is a prostitute in your
bedroom.” The beating and discharge followed. Commenting
retrospectively on his act, M explained that he had “meant that
his country is a whore.”M's
story was told to me by a close friend of M's, one of my most
reliable sources for information about Syrian politics, during the
course of what would become two and one-half years of field
research in Syria. In 1985, while studying Arabic, I lived with a
Lebanese family in Abu Rummaneh, an affluent neighborhood of
Damascus. In 1988–89, under the auspices of an IIE-Fulbright
grant, I lived in the women's dormitories at the University of
Damascus, in the Palestinian refugee camps, and in a rented apartment
in Salahiyya, a middle-class neighborhood near the center of town.
In 1992, I rented an apartment on the border of the middle-class,
conservative neighborhood of Muhajirin during a year-long stay
supported by a Fulbright-Hays doctoral dissertation fellowship. And
in 1996, funded by a grant from Wesleyan University, I returned
for the summer and lived in the Institut Français
d'Études Arabes de Damas. During the course of
my research, I conducted open-ended interviews with over
100 people from diverse generational, religious, sectarian,
and class backgrounds. Interview subjects included prominent
government officials, leaders and rank-and-file members of the
“popular” organizations, peasants, sports coaches,
school teachers, principals, entrepreneurs, artists, poets, film
directors, economists, historians, and political
This essay uses a discussion of three recent events in Yemen to dramatize the relationship between state power and the experience of citizenship in the aftermath of national unification in 1990.My analysis depends on readers understanding the differences I am registering among the terms “state,” “nation,” and “regime.” By “state” I mean a common set of institutions capable of distributing goods and services and controlling violence within a demarcated, internationally recognized territory. By “nation” I refer to a shared sense of belonging simultaneously with anonymous others to an imagined community. By “regime” I mean the political order of a particular leader or administration. For example, we tend to say “the regime of עAli עAbd Allah Salih,” but not “the state of עAli עAbd Allah Salih.” The first event is a “direct,” purportedly competitive presidential election on 23 September 1999, the first since unification and unprecedented in the histories of the former countries of North and South Yemen. The second is the celebration of the tenth anniversary of national unification on 22 May 2000, including the extraordinary preparations leading up to the event. The third is the public sensation following the arrest and prosecution of a man touted as Yemen's first bona fide “serial killer,” which occurred during the lead-up to the decennial celebration.
This essay makes a case for an anthropological conceptualization of culture as “semiotic practices” and demonstrates how it adds value to political analyses. “Semiotic practices” refers to the processes of meaning-making in which agents' practices (e.g., their work habits, self-policing strategies, and leisure patterns) interact with their language and other symbolic systems. This version of culture can be employed on two levels. First, it refers to what symbols do—how symbols are inscribed in practices that operate to produce observable political effects. Second, “culture” is an abstract theoretical category, a lens that focuses on meaning, rather than on, say, prices or votes. By thinking of meaning construction in terms that emphasize intelligibility, as opposed to deep-seated psychological orientations, a practice-oriented approach avoids unacknowledged ambiguities that have bedeviled scholarly thinking and generated incommensurable understandings of what culture is. Through a brief exploration of two concerns central to political science—compliance and ethnic identity-formation—this paper ends by showing how culture as semiotic practices can be applied as a causal variable.
James L. Gelvin's Divided Loyalties: Nationalism and Mass Politics in Syria at the
Close of Empire isolates a two-year period, between the end of Ottoman rule and the
beginning of the French Mandate, to examine a critical moment in the development of nationalism in Syria. He draws on previously unanalyzed primary source material, including leaflets, newspaper reports and editorials, memoirs, speeches, rumors, and even graffiti, to reveal the processes through which modern nationalisms in the Arab East were created. In doing so, he undermines two basic assumptions in the literature on Arab nationalism (p. 5). First, in contrast to the vision of Arab identity as a long-repressed primordial national consciousness—what political scientist Ronald Grigor Suny terms the “Sleeping Beauty” view—Gelvin shows instead how nationalism was subject to varying interpretations and conflicting visions. For Gelvin, Arab nationalism has “achieved a retrospective homogeneity and coherence” in the scholarly literature, which it did not have historically (p. 7). Second, Gelvin challenges the prevailing view that the phenomenon of Arab nationalism can be adequately captured by way of elite-centric intellectual histories.
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