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[LINK] Two social science links on how ideas can exert their power

Two posts came up on the social scienes section of my blogroll that I wanted to share.

  • Writing at A (Budding) Sociologist’s Commonplace Book, Dan Hirschman posted about the power of ideas, drawing from Stephen Lukes’ 1970s formation. As Hirschman writes, it’s noteworthy that of the four approaches to ideas as powerful that he identifies, only the last two are easily challenged. The first two are much more subtle.
  • 1. Ideas as arguments. Type 1 power is all about winning observed, rational fights. I think some of the policy paradigms literature (following Hall) has this flavor. The ideas that matter here are the ideas held by powerful people – politicians, bureaucrats, etc.

    2. Ideas as frames. Type 2 power is all about agenda-setting. The framing literature fits neatly into this mode: the way a topic is discussed alters the politics of it. If you can convince everyone that something is a privacy issue, not a security issue, maybe you win without even having to fight, or at least you change the rules of the game to make it easier to win.

    3. Ideas as ideologies. Ideas are almost easiest to talk about in terms of type 3 power, as ideology and hegemony have ideas “built in.” For example, “development” arguably became a governing ideology in the mid-20th century, and nations and powerful international NGOs worked very hard to produce development, independent of whether or not development (as defined and understood within the ideology, i.e. increased GDP/capita) was in the interests of the individuals working for it.

    4. Ideas as actors. Ok, I’m cheating here, but I can’t think of a clever term to fit aside from the intentionally provocative and obscure language of ANT. Type 4 power is most associated with Foucault (e.g. governmentality, the formation of subjectivities), but I think ANT, and especially Callon’s recent stuff on “economicization” fits nicely here – by making a particular topic or thing economic when it had not been in the first place, it changes the set of actors who have relevant things to say about it and struggle over it, along with the stakes of that struggle. From a different direction, Elizabeth Popp Berman’s work on innovation economics and economic policy could fit in here. You could read her story in two ways: did various policies get enacted because of ideas-as-arguments (e.g. there was a pro camp and an anti camp and the arguments of the pro camp converted the antis) or because economic ideas reshaped our understanding of academic science to make it into an economic activity, one which drives economic growth, and that this entirely changed the rules of the game by moving the playing field onto one in which those arguments were then determinative (in other words reading her case as one of both type 4 and type 1 power).

  • Meanwhile, at Understanding Society Daniel Little draws from Odoric Wou’s 1994 Mobilizing the Masses: Building Revolution in Henan to examine just how the Chinese Communist Party managed to successfully mobilize the masses behind its revolutionary causes despite the costs associated with such moblization.

    Two strands of mobilization ideologies have been emphasized by historians of the revolution. The first is class mobilization — a deliberate attempt to emphasize the exploitativeness of rural land relations, and the conflicts that exist between landlords, rich peasants, and poor peasants. Here the idea is that poor peasants can be energized by a clear recognition of the ways in which their livelihoods are harmed by the social privilege of rich peasants and landlords, and they can be motivated to take on the risky business of revolution. The second is a nationalist appeal in the context of the Japanese occupation of China, and the claim that the Red Army was more effective than the Guomindang military in fighting the Japanese. Here the idea is that peasants of all strata can be motivated to defend their families, their villages, and their region against the imperialistic (and harsh) Japanese invaders. Wou documents both strategies in Henan.

    [. . .]

    Finally, Wou emphasizes throughout the necessity for political skill and compromise on the part of party leaders. It was necessary to form coalitions with other non-revolutionary organizations in order to carry forward the objectives of the party, and the CCP leadership in Henan was fully prepared to enter into such coalitions.

  • Written by Randy McDonald

    August 15, 2012 at 5:10 am

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