Guest blog entry by Major Omar Ebarb (USAF), ILE Class 12-02 Scholars Seminar on the “Local Dynamics of War”
Today’s class explored different approaches to the study of politics. We discussed the merits of problem driven over method driven approaches from the framework. We also discussed how the study of politics should address the relationship between power and interests. From this discussion, I gained a greater appreciation of the need to apply critical thinking to the study of politics.
In The Flight from Reality in the Human Sciences, Ian Shapiro argues problem driven approaches to the study of social science are superior to method based approaches. Shapiro believes “method driven research leads to self-serving construction of problems, misuse of data in various ways, and related pathologies summed up in the old adage that if the only tool you have is a hammer everything around you starts to look like a nail” (Shapiro, 180). Shapiro argues the better approach is to start with a concrete real world problem, survey the field of existing knowledge, and apply analytical eclecticism to solve the problem.
From our discussion on Shapiro’s argument, I came to the conclusion that a problem driven approach lends itself better to interdisciplinary study, and therefore provides more complete answers, than a method driven approach. Whereas a method driven approach studies many social science problems from a single perspective, a problem driven approach focuses on studying a single social science problem from many different perspectives. Different perspectives provide greater insight, which lead to better understanding. Although others may argue methods based approaches create greater expertise in a particular field of knowledge, I believe problem based approaches offer better solutions, and from a practical perspective, are more useful.
In “Beyond the Three Faces of Power: A Realist Critique,” Isaac analyzes how the “three faces of power,” as described by Dahl, Bachrach and Baratz, and Lukes, relate to subjective, objective, and real interests. Dahl describes power as behavior that causes another to do something they would not otherwise do. Bachrach and Baratz elaborate that power also includes the ability to suppress conflict and control, or limit, agendas. They describe this as latent or unobserved power. Finally, Lukes adds that power includes the ability to shape preferences. Isaac makes a distinction between power over and power to, noting that power over is parasitic to power to. Issac describes three types of interests: subjective, objective, and real. Isaac states that while subjective interests stem from individual desires, objective interests stem from the desires of other. Additionally, real interests vary depending on the actor’s role in a particular structure.
From our discussion on Isaac’s argument, I learned that we should look beyond the surface to see how social science phenomena may be linked to other phenomena. I believe Isaac’s argument offers an example of abductive reasoning, where an observer draws upon established theory to create a causal explanation for a particular observation. Isaac draws upon the established theory of the three faces of power, and through abductive reasoning, infers a link between power and interests.
At the conclusion of today’s lesson, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between our discussion of approaches to the study of politics and yesterday’s discussion about the Cynefin Model as a leader’s framework for decision making. We discussed how simple thinking, or thinking that did not put us out of our comfort zone, could cause a leader to make bad decisions. We further discussed how complex thinking, or thinking that incorporated many different perspective, often led to better decisions. Like the complex thinking described in the Cynefin Model yesterday, I believe Shapiro’s argument for problem driven approaches and Issac’s argument for linking power and interests, demonstrate better thinking that leads to better results. As such, I gained a greater appreciation of the need to apply critical thinking to the study of politics.