Here is an overview of my current writing project on facts and values.
“Positivism: Paradigm or culture?,” Policy Studies, 2015.
For a long time, I have felt that policy theory has suffered because “cutting-edge” approaches such as social constructionism and post-positivism are theoretically muddled. This muddle has obscured valid criticisms that these approaches level at more quantitative and “scientific” orientations to policy analysis.”Positivism: Paradigm or culture?” takes aim at post-positivism’s confused critique of positivist policy approaches, and attempts to recover the valuable elements in that critique.
The official version is available, behind a wall, here.* The “Accepted Manuscript” (my final submitted version), is available here.
* (Those with access to Carleton University Library journals may access it free of charge here.)
Abstract: Much post-positivist policy theory implies that positivism exists as a self-protecting paradigm. Inspired by a one-sided reading of Kuhn, this understanding suggests that policy positivism must be overcome as a whole. This approach is problematic. In particular, there are important contradictions between various elements commonly said to be part of the positivist paradigm, contradictions that make it difficult to believe that the paradigm can be embraced as a whole. An alternative approach views positivism as a culture. Since components of any culture can evolve independently of each other, a cultural approach would focus its critique on specific dimensions of positivism. This approach would provide more rigor to policy critique, and push post-positivists to overcome weaknesses in their own theories, in particular those concerning the question of truth.
“Meckler and Baillie on truth and objectivity,” Journal of Management Inquiry 14, no.2 (2005): 120-26.
Abstract: (From the intro) “… There is a danger in Meckler and Baillie’s approach. They correctly note that ‘some constructivist claims go too far.’ But in their laudable effort to address a number of confusions that have arisen concerning constructionism, Meckler and Baillie may also ‘go too far,’ leaving the reader with a set of definitions and conceptual distinctions that are altogether too neat and tidy. Their understanding of truth, and their sharp distinction between objective and subjective, need to be nuanced.”
“Can We ‘Regain’ Truth and Objectivity? A Reply to Baillie and Meckler,” Journal of Management Inquiry 23, no.2 (2014): 133-36.
(From the Intro) “Nine years after Mark Meckler and James Baillie published ‘The truth about social construction in administrative science’ (2003) and seven years after my commentary upon it (Ryan 2005), they have returned to the debate, with their ‘Truth and Objectivity Regained’ (2012). It can be useful to return to old debates, as the passage of time may allow for new perspectives to emerge. The same passage of time, however, also creates risks. Unless one is scrupulously careful, the arguments of various participants in the debate may blend together and become confused. One may also succumb to the tendency to adjust one’s memory of one’s own prior views to accord with one’s current position. Baillie and Meckler, unfortunately, have fallen prey to both errors. And so Ryan (2005) is said to have advanced positions that I have never held, and Baillie and Meckler appear not to have noticed the adjustments in their own arguments. This Reply will document these claims.”
“The policy sciences and the unmasking turn of mind,” Review of Policy Research 21, no. 5 (2004): 715-28. Abstract.
(From the intro) “Unmasking, Mannheim noted in 1925, ‘does not seek to refute, negate or call in doubt certain ideas, but rather to disintegrate them’ through the claim that these ideas are advanced in the service of an unacknowledged agenda. The goal is not ‘theoretical refutation but the destruction of the practical effectiveness of these ideas’ (1925/1952, p. 140)…
“Most of us engage in at least occasional acts of unmasking. I will often assume that this or that politician has come out in favor of a measure only because it is thought to be a vote-getter, without even listening to the politician’s arguments in favor of the measure. You the reader probably do the same upon occasion. But what happens when we go beyond occasional unmasking? What happens when unmasking becomes what Mannheim termed a ‘turn of mind,’ a standard tool applied to policy and political arguments in general? This article will argue that the unmasking turn of mind fails to understand the world in which policy is formed, and presents a threat to the deliberative practices essential for democratic policy-making.
“The first section will define unmasking more precisely, and consider Mannheim’s view that unmasking is characteristic of our age. I will then examine the practice of unmasking in the works of policy theorists William Riker and Deborah Stone. The third section will argue that the unmasking turn of mind holds a defective vision of the world of politics and policy. If strategic and manipulative communication is part of that world, then sincere communication must also be part of it. Otherwise no-one could ever be duped. The fourth section considers the threat that the unmasking turn of mind poses to policy deliberation. If we are to resolve issues by discussion, we must have some expectation that discussion can be fruitful. The unmasking turn of mind undermines that expectation. The final section will draw two guidelines for responsible unmasking from Hegel’s Phenomenology of spirit.”