Volume 4.2 (Fall 2020)
Kijan Malte Espahangizi and Monika Wulz. The Political and the Epistemic in the Twentieth Century: Historical Perspectives
Historical studies on the relationship between knowledge and politics have mostly focused on the narrower interplay between scientific knowledge and political institutions: the role of experts and advisors in policy making or the impact of the modern state on scientific institutions, theories, practices, and projects. Borrowing from Foucauldian discourse analysis, others have departed from the constitutive interrelationship between knowledge and power in order to reconstruct the epistemic regimes of governmentality. Taking up recent accounts in political theory, such as those by Jacques Rancière, Ernesto Laclau, and Chantal Mouffe, we argue for an antifoundationalist understanding of both the political and the epistemic beyond institutionalized frameworks. The distinction between science, knowledge, and the realm of the political is thus not imbued with a clear-cut dividing line; instead, the relationship is characterized by ongoing and contested boundary work performed by various actors with different resources, strategies, intentions, and interests. The historically shifting scope of the political relies on contested fields and foundations of knowledge, and vice versa. For a more thorough understanding of the political aspects of knowledge production and circulation we therefore suggest considering the nonfoundational and agonistic conditions in which knowledge emerges in an ever-changing power play of forms and social contexts.
This article proposes an interpretation of the intellectual origins of neoliberalism. Influenced by scientific modernism, its founders held that knowledge, being indeterminate and uncertain, was fragile. They feared that the authority of science could be corrupted and made to serve political aims opposed to liberal values. As a result, early neoliberals endeavored to rebuild the principles of liberalism from a moral-epistemological position. They put forward a moral and legal framework that could stabilize the market economy and embed liberal values in the process of science. Later neoliberals, however, set forth a more instrumental vision of morality and knowledge that unraveled the early neoliberal project.
This article investigates the entangled history of the propaganda battles waged during World War II, focusing on Germany, the Soviet Union, and the United States. It asks how and to what extent these three political regimes conceptualized propaganda as a knowledge-based practice and what kind of expertise they mobilized. Although American propaganda strategists were the only ones to make use of modern social science methods as part of their activities, under the difficult circumstances of ongoing war operations, the practices of knowledge production by military intelligence did not fundamentally differ between the three countries. The war profoundly changed the way knowledge was systematically mobilized for political and military purposes, and transnational entanglements, perceptions, and observations (but also misperceptions and projections) played a crucial role in that development. This directly connects World War II developments to the emergence of a Cold War regime of producing and using scientific knowledge for strategic purposes.
Zoé Kergomard. Knowledge on a Democratic “Silence”: Conflicting Expertise on the Decline in Voter Turnout in Postwar Switzerland (1940s–80s)
Who gets to interpret why “ordinary” citizens abstain from voting? Usually perceived as a model democracy, Switzerland already experienced declining turnout rates from the 1960s onward, which worried elites and gave way to a political demand for expertise on nonvoting. Focusing on scientific studies and media pieces, this article charts the emergence of various (and possibly conflicting) forms of knowledge and interpretative frameworks on electoral turnout in postwar Switzerland, as well as their circulation in the public sphere and their potential influence on political action. Against all odds, the numerous academic and commercial studies dedicated to this topic did little to quell the relative helplessness of politicians and journalists. In fact, the decline in turnout fundamentally challenged dominant representations of civic behavior and political participation, which centered on voting and was modeled on the ideal of a (male) citizen-soldier.
Eric Hounshell and Verena Halsmayer. How Does Economic Knowledge Have a Politics? On the Frustrated Attempts of John K. Galbraith and Robert M. Solow to Fix the Political Meaning of Economic Models in The Public Interest
In the late 1960s, two big shots of postwar economics debated model-building techniques in the Public Interest. Robert M. Solow argued that the new methods enabled precise state intervention. To John K. Galbraith, they marginalized critical economic thinking and abetted the prevailing growthist ideology to the detriment of the public good. Both claimed influence over policy making but through different channels. Both argued vigorously to fix the political meaning of modeling before a general audience. This article focuses on the actors’ frustrated attempts to establish clear-cut relationships between research practices, modes of intervention, and political ideals. Despite their strenuous exertions, they did not succeed in equipping their competing methodological stances with equally distinct politics. Where these efforts failed, they resorted to constructions of scientific self and other. Personae glued together practices (including assumptions, tools, and standards of evidence) and politics where perhaps no inherent bond existed. Our reading (1) elucidates the confusion over mathematical models just as they became the objects of political debate, and (2) aims to confound the idea that there is a politics of knowledge that is clearly delineable and transparent to historical actors and retrospective observers alike.
In the “long 1970s,” measuring well-being or quality of life was high on the agenda of international organizations, governmental agencies, and social science research centers. The article examines how their endeavors to monitor and quantify people’s quality of life spawned a new world of ideas, concepts, numbers, graphs, and facts that transformed the meaning of welfare and the postwar foundations of social and economic policy. By focusing on the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s quality of life program of the 1970s, the article brings into view a variety of epistemic actors, including social scientists, governmental officials, and the bureaucrats of international organizations, and analyzes how their interactions shaped the production and circulation of new, policy-relevant knowledge in this nascent field. The article argues that the quality of life endeavors of the 1970s mark an epistemic and political shift away from the postwar concepts of material well-being and toward psychological notions of well-being; and, too, that this opened up new horizons for political intervention and paved the way to the “happiness boom” in the early twenty-first century.
Felix Roemer. Evolving Knowledge Regimes: Economic Inequality and the Politics of Statistics in the United Kingdom since the Postwar Era
This article explores the history of statistical knowledge about economic inequality in the United Kingdom in the latter half of the twentieth century. It presents a chronology of knowledge regimes that underwent several transformations from the postwar knowledge regime to the social-democratic knowledge regime in the mid-1970s to the neoliberal knowledge regime in the 1980s and 1990s. In particular, it highlights the dominating position of civil servants and government statisticians in shaping official statistics that informed public debates, imaginations of society, and political decision making on issues of poverty, income, and wealth distribution. Methodologically, the article contends that the concept of knowledge regimes provides a useful analytical tool to investigate changing historical configurations of knowledge production. Analyzing knowledge regimes focuses attention on historical social orders, practices, norms, hierarchies of authority, and power relations that have bearing on the production and dissemination of knowledge. The article argues that developing the analytical tool kit will also help to build a more distinctive profile for the history of knowledge as a historical subdiscipline.