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Perestroika, Phronesis, and
Post-Paradigmatic Political Science
Sanford F. Schram
Years ago, my good colleague Chuck Green enlisted me to teach a second section of an undergraduate research methods course in political science that we offered to majors. Chuck had organized his course around a simulation in which all the students in the class were to submit research grant proposals to a hypothetical foundation for funding. In his class, the hypothetical foundation was always called the Gnosis Foundation. As an alternative, I called mine the Phronesis Federation, which, given differences in the Greek names, was to be dedicated to financing research that informed practical reasoning about the real problems that confront society. I eventually dropped the simulation when teaching methods elsewhere, but the commitment to what Bent Flyvbjerg (2001) calls “phronetic social science” stuck. Years later, I got my hands on Making Social Science Matter, and, with the first reading, I was enchanted. Here was a book that was saying so much that I always wanted to say, and saying it so eloquently. By then, I was an active participant in a renegade movement to promote methodological pluralism in political science called Perestroika, and my research methods seminar was now called “Paradigms and Perestroika.” The book affirmed my efforts. The circle had been squared. Yet, when David Laitin (2003) published his critique of Making Social Science Matter as a way of criticizing Perestroika, I knew that not everyone agreed and that there was an important debate brewing about the future of political inquiry (see chapter 2).
None of this is an accident. Political science is receiving increased critical scrutiny as a discipline these days, and much of that scrutiny is coming