Monday, November 15, 2010

'Are IPE Journals Becoming Boring?'

Dr. Benjamin J. Cohen, my former professor at UCSB, argues that the formalization of international political economy, and the field's envy with the discipline of economics, and made for increasingly rigorous and sophisticated scholarship, but boring:
Many reasons have been suggested for American IPE’s love affair with scientific method – editorial control of journals, the standards applied in tenure or promotion cases, the way we teach our graduate students. But these are more symptom than cause. Underlying them all is a deeper issue, involving us and our peers in the economics profession. To be blunt: political scientists in the United States appear to have an inferiority complex when it comes to economics – what I have elsewhere described as a case of peer-us envy (Cohen 2009). The parsimonious reductionism of mainstream economics has come to set the standard for what passes for professionalism in our field. If today the most highly rated work in the American school tends to mimic the economist’s demanding hard-science model, it seems in large part to demonstrate that the field, for all the ambiguities of the political process, is no less capable of theoretical elegance and formal rigor. IPE scholars want respect, too. A kind of “creeping economism” has come to define what constitutes the legitimate study of our subject.

Not everyone agrees that this is a problem. For many, the trend represents progress – all part of the “maturing” of the field, as David Lake (2006) puts it. The more IPE scholars agree on a common epistemology, the more their work approaches the respectability of “normal” science. In Lake’s words (2009: 49), “cacophony” yields to “Kuhnian normalcy.” But at what cost? To my mind, such a happy assessment is altogether too kind, since it ignores all that is lost as a result. The price of this kind of “progress” is measured by how much now gets left out of what we have available to read.

In effect, the creep of economism has tended to shrink the horizons of scholarship. To a significant extent, this is because of the practical requirements of empiricism. By definition, a hard science model depends on the availability of reliable data. Research, accordingly, tends to become data-driven, diverted away from issues that lack the requisite numbers. In effect, the approach plays a key role in defining what can be studied, automatically marginalizing broader questions that cannot be reduced to a manageable set of regressions or structured case-study analysis.
RTWT at the link.