Development politics lacks a shared language

The fact that I have written a grand total of 7 posts for my own blog in the entirety of 2017 is a testament to the madness that this year has been. Good madness, I must say. None of that Lovecraftian “things-man-was-never-meant-to-see” stuff. But madness anyway. And as I emerge from a cocoon fashioned out of draft chapters and reports, taking up blogging again seems like the perfect New Year’s Resolution for the month of December.

So I will start with my main takeaway from 2017: writing about the politics of development for different audiences is not an easy thing to do. I have always prided myself in being able to talk politics with almost anyone, anywhere. But writing semi-cogently is a different challenge altogether, as this year has shown me with the clarify of a punch to the face. Here are four translation tasks that I have had to deal with, and the realization that has come out of the experience. Continue reading Development politics lacks a shared language

The concept with no discipline

Next week begins the first full master-level module that I am teaching at Manchester’s GDI: Policy Analysis. It is a bit of an experiment, intended to supplement the governance and politics stream with a more applied kind of course. Putting it together has been an interesting challenge, as I wanted to mix key ideas from policy sciences, political economy, organizational sociology and development studies. Despite this mad objective, I think the final result is a coherent course on the politics of the public policy process. But in putting this together I have started wondering again where it all went wrong for the study of the state and public administration.

Who are the key names in the literature about the politics of government? Max Weber was a lawyer, economist and historian who advanced sociology. Sammy Finer was a political scientist, expert on public administration and political historian. Charles Tilly, Theda Skocpol, Peter Evans – all of them sociologists who dabbled extensively in politics and history. Douglass North, economic historian and theorist who established the foundations for modern political economy. Robert Bates is a political scientist who also studied anthropology and economics.  It’s as if you cannot belong to a single discipline if you want to advance the study of the state and public policy!

And yet, 21st-century academia almost guarantees that scholars be sequestered in their ever-shrinking silos. At Manchester, traditionally the study and teaching of development has been separate from politics, economics or sociology (they even belong to different schools!), and even within development politics and governance are confined to courses separate from economics and management.  Then there’s me, putting together a course handbook spanning 4 or 5 disciplines. I must have been born 50 years too late!

Still, I am hopeful about our ability to integrate the politics of the state and public policy in the mainstream of development studies, which is after all a hybrid discipline. Perhaps in time I will find accomplices in development economics and development management who also feel a bit constrained by academic boundaries. In the meantime, I am sticking to my guns with Policy Analysis and the political study of the state, the concept with no discipline.

Speaking of sticking to one’s guns, I wonder what the man with no name would think about the concept with no discipline