Making Political Science Matter: Debating Knowledge, Research, and Method

By Sanford F. Schram; Brian Caterino | Go to book overview

7
Power and Interpretation

Brian Caterino

In Making Social Science Matter, Bent Flyvbjerg employs two distinctive approaches to practical reason: a mutual understanding approach derived from neo-Aristotelian and interpretive views and a Nietzschean (powerinterpretive) approach. Unearthing the relationship between these approaches is central to understanding the tensions in his account of power. I argue that Flyvbjerg's account of the relation between these two elements of practical reason is inconsistent. At times Flyvbjerg treats the two accounts as complementary (Flyvbjerg 2001, 59, 110–12), but in the end, he subordinates the mutual understanding account to the Nietzschean one. This subordination hides a difficulty in Flyvbjerg's analysis of power. Flyvbjerg overestimates the capacity of strategic power to define and disclose reality. He fails therefore to present a compelling account of power and domination.

Unlike many critics who argue that interpretive approaches separate understanding and power, I argue that mutual-understanding approaches are not power-free. These approaches identify an independent source of power, communicative power, which binds participants to one another. Communicative power has a world-disclosing power and a reality-defining capacity that strategic power lacks. Forms of strategic power can hegemonically direct or restrict this power but cannot create it. The power-interpretive reading must draw on the binding power of mutual understanding to defend its own account. However weakly, mutual understanding retains its independent power to challenge domination.

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