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  1. 2018.01.03 방법론 - Mark Bevir

Mark Bevir, “Political Studies as Narrative and Science, 1880-2000,” Political Studies Vol 54 (2006), 583-606.


We have become skeptical because of the spread among us of a radical historicism that challenges scientism while also decentering the grand narratives of old. … Although we might be skeptical of grand narratives with their big aggregate concepts, we should recognize that narratives must deploy aggregate concepts if they are to be more than chronicles of one damn thing after another. What matter is that our aggregate concepts are suitably contingent, historicist and pragmatic.


Developmental Historicism, cc. 1880-1920


Owed much to an organic or romantic outlook that emphasized the ability of living beings to make and remake social life through their activity, where activity expressed purpose, thought and imagination. … Progress was built into the order of things. … Developmental historicists made sense of their world by means of narratives of continuity and progress. William Dunning.


Modernist Empiricism, cc. 1920-1960


The senselessness of the conflict eroded widespread assumptions of continuity, progress and reason. In Britain and the US, moreover, the Teutonic principle was discredited as a result of its association with the enemy; it became tarred as Germanic absolutism. … Modernist empiricism was atomistic and analytic. … Modernist empiricists brought atomistic and analytic modes of inquiry to bear on the study of government. … Introduced analytic and atomistic modes of inquiry, and new focuses on behavior and process. … Social scientists used history more as a source of data than as grounds for explaining that data.


Varieties of Social Science, cc. 1960-2000


Most modernist empiricists still equated science with the rigorous and impartial collection and shifting of facts. They just detached such rigor from narrative. … The behavioral revolution was the most notable expression of the turn toward positivism. … The neo-statists were seduced by lopsided views of their intellectual history and their preferred methods. … Rational choice theory replicated many of the features of behavioralism that had challenged modernist empiricism. … Neo-statists and other modernist empiricists responded to the challenge of rational choice theory by rearticulating their approach as the ‘new institutionalism.’ … They almost never decenter institutions in terms of a micro theory of contingent and competing beliefs and actions, for, if they did so, they would undermine the possibility of treating institutions as stable objects that can be known through correlations and classifications. … Today social scientists have two dominant ways of studying politics. First, rational choice theorists, like the behavioralists, explain the character and policies of nation states by reference to universal theories and hypotheses deduced from them. … Second, new institutionalists, like earlier modernist empiricists, explain the character and policies of nation states in terms of correlations and typologies that provide macro-historical, comparative contexts for diverse cases.


A Return to Narrative?


The radical historicists implied that beliefs, actions and events are profoundly contingent in that the moment of choice is open and indeterminate. … Croce. … R.G. Collingwood. … Charles Taylor. … Quentin Skinner and Clifford Geertz. … They renounced the possibility of either a universal theory or ahistorical correlations and typologies. … They emphasized contextualization in contrast to both deduction and atomization and analysis. … E.P. Thompson and Raymond Williams. … Stuart Hall. … Because the members of the New Left allowed autonomy to culture, they focused on the beliefs and meanings that infuse actions and practices. … The structuralists studied language, mind and society as objects that were determined by the internal relations among the units within them. … Deconstruction in particular takes from structuralism a view of culture as constructed in accord with categories of frameworks; it just unpacks these categories in terms of a logic of otherness rather than one of presence. … Deconstruction exhibits the limitations of a mode of knowing by referring to a quasi-structure that is meant to govern all thought, rather than by appealing to the historical specificity of that particular mode of knowing. … Whereas radical historicists typically portray people as active agents in the making of their own history, the post-structuralists often portray them as bearers of the discourses or quasi-structuralists that speak and persist through them. … Radical historicists and post-structuralists offer new narratives of nation states using the same themes of dispersal, difference and discontinuity with which they challenge principles of reason, character and progress. Dispersal implies a concern to explore scattered regions and domains within a nation state. … Difference implies a concern to explore how dominant identities elide, or even define themselves against, competing ones of, say, religion, gender and race. ... Discontinuity implies a concern with the ways in which all these varied identities are created and transformed over time.




Its leading motifs are dispersal, difference and discontinuity, all of which appear in the prominence given to transnationalism, pluralism and contingency. … Our challenge is to clear up an ambiguity about the dispersals, differences and discontinuities they invoke. … Post-structuralists are inclined to identify the content of particular instances of dispersal, difference and discontinuity as themselves consequences of the internal relations of a discourse or language or even as built into the nature of representation itself: the east is defined structurally against the west, or male against female. In sharp contrast, radical historicists typically ascribe such content to the activity of agents who use and deploy language to express ideas and beliefs, albeit that they reach these beliefs only under the influence of an inherited tradition or discourse. … Another challenge is effectively to engage social scientists, most of whom still favor typologies, correlations and models, rather than skeptical narratives. …


Mark Bevir, “What is Genealogy?” Journal of the Philosophy of History 2 (3) (2008), 263-275.




The crux of the theory is recognition of genealogy as an expression of a radical historicism, rejecting both appeals to transcendental truths and principles of unity or progress in history, and embracing nominalism, contingency, and contestability. In this view, genealogies are committed to the truth of radical historicism and, perhaps more provisionally, the truth of their own empirical content. Similarly, genealogies operate as denaturalizing critiques of ideas and practices that hide the contingency of human life behind formal ahistorical or developmental perspectives.


Genealogy: A historical narrative that explains an aspect of human life by showing how it came into being. Always historical whether be grounded in facts or speculative. No clear origin, but associated primarily with Friedrich Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals and Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish. For them, genealogy serves a critical purpose, exposing the contingent and “shameful” origins of cherished ideas and entrenched practices.


Radical Historicism


Genealogy arose in the context of nineteenth century historicism. Historicist modes of reasoning were commonplace throughout the nineteenth century; almost always developmental. Principles such as liberty, reason, nation and statehood give a progressive direction to history. Nietzsche searches for the contingent, accidental sources of a belief in any such principles. Radical historicism does away with appeals to principles that lend necessity and unity to history. Resulting powerful emphasis on: nominalism, contingency, and contestability.


I. Nominalism


As Foucault argued, “anthropological universals” appear as historical constructs with no fixed content. Radical historicists eschew analyses of a structural concept—such as state, society, economy, nation, and class—that points to an essence or set of principles as defining its boundaries or development. Yet they can deploy aggregate concepts—including developmental historicism, Christian morality, or disciplinary power—provided that these concepts are conceived pragmatically in relation to what is being explained.


II. Contingency


Cannot explain the change in actions, practices, and traditions by appealing to fixed principles or essences. Reject the teleological narratives of developmental historicism. Portray history as discontinuous and contingent. History is a series of contingent even accidental appropriations, modifications, and transformations from the old to the new. Change occurs contingently as, for example, people reinterpret, modify, or transform an inherited tradition in response to novel circumstances or other dilemmas.


III. Contestability


An emphasis on contingency implies that history is radically open in that what happens is always contestable. Be suspicious of attempts to portray a thing as unified and its transformation as peaceful. Highlight the diverse meanings. Often adopt a decentered approach, where to decenter is to show how apparently uniform concepts, traditions, or practices are in fact social constructs that cover and even arise from individuals acting on divers and changing meanings. Power concept to simply signal the presence of multiplicity and struggle.




Clearly opposed to truth claims that do not recognize their own historicity, including all those that masquerade as utter certainties based on a pure reason or pure experience. Beliefs and truth-claims are always saturated by the particular tradition against the background of which they are made. Even simple experiences depend in part on the prior webs of beliefs one brings to bear. Can make truth claims provided that they conceive of “truth” as something more like “objectively valid for us” or “the best account of the world currently on offer”. A good account of the world should be able to provide an account of how and why it arose as well as an account of how and why its rival rose. Typically incorporate a self-reflexivity in their beliefs such that they situate them by reference to a particular tradition or narrative.




As an expression of radical historicism genealogy operates primarily as a type of denaturalizing critique. It denaturalizes beliefs, actions, and practices by suggesting that they arose out of contingent historical contests. Genealogy reveals the contingency and contestability of ideas and practices that hide these aspects of their origins. Radical historicists reject utter certainties: they denaturalize purportedly transcendent or universal perspective that elide their own dependence on a particular tradition. Trying to develop compelling narratives supported by evidence derived from empirical research, and in that respect, their research is, as Foucault noted, “gray, meticulous, and patiently documentary.” Genealogists may deploy a concept of power in order to suggest that the present arose not as a necessary unity but rather out of struggles among diverse possibilities. Genealogy opens novel spaces for personal and social transformation precisely because it loosens the hold on us of entrenched ideas and institutions; it frees us to imagine other possibilities.


Nietzsche and Foucault


Foucault’s use of genealogy is complicated by his clear debt to a modernist structuralism. Apparently self-regulating epistemes acted as quasi-structures explaining their own content and, in the absence of historicism, there was no way to explain the change from one quasi-structure to another. The distinguishing feature of his genealogies is their introduction of temporal complexity and contingency. Where his archaeologies presented a series of discrete synchronic moments, his genealogies introduced history as a diachronic process, enabling him to write histories that were useful as critiques of the present. The result was Discipline and Punish and History of Sexuality. Governmentality studies often lapse back into an approach that owes more to modernist sociology with its ideal types than to genealogy. Even critical theorists often find it easier to conceive of discourses and practices as quasi-structures marked by differences and exclusions than to engage in the meticulous, patient research necessary to trace the contingent, accidental shifts and contests from which such discourses and practices emerged historically.




A genealogy is a critique of ideas and practices that hide the contingency of human life behind formal ahistorical or developmental perspectives. As critical narratives, genealogies are committed to the truth of radical historicism and, perhaps more provisionally, the truth of their own empirical content. No reason why the genealogist should not believe both that radical historicism arose contingently, perhaps even accidentally, and that it is true. Genealogists and other critical historians should not remain content simply to replicate genealogy as a technique of inquiry and narration.


Mark Bevir, “Rethinking Governmentality: Towards Genealogies of Governance,” European Journal of Social Theory 13 (2010), 423-441.




Foucault introduced the concept ‘governmentality’ to refer to the conduct of conduct, and especially the technologies that govern individuals. Genealogical theory of governmentality emphasized nominalism, contingency, situated agency, and historicist explanations referring to traditions and dilemmas. It decenters governance by highlighting diverse elite narratives, technologies of power, and traditions of popular resistance.


Governmentality captures the way governments and other actors draw on knowledge to make policies that regulate and create subjectivities. This article is about governmentality conceived as a genealogical approach to the study of the state, public policy, and its effects.


Structural problems


Post-structuralists retain structuralist themes such as a differential theory of meaning. Hostility to ideas of human agency, and preference for synchronic explanations. The consecutive epistemes structure intentionality and agency, defining what people can say and how they can do so. These structuralist themes come from the linguistic formalism of Ferdinand de Saussure (1966). According to him, signs combine signifiers (or sounds) with signifieds (or concepts), where signifiers and signifieds alike have the content they do only by virtue of their difference from other units in a system of signs. Poststructualists use Saussurean linguistics to argue that meanings arise negatively from relations of difference in a system of sign. They argue that meanings are purely differential; meanings arise from relations of difference in a language. But it is a mistake to treat his method as a philosophy of language. Many philosophers accept contextual theories of meaning: they argue that meanings arise only in the context of, for example, webs of belief or language games. An example of ‘malaria’: did their meaning derive from their difference from other concepts? We can bind a concept to its referent in the context of background theories. Foucault typically concentrates on how power constructs individuals, saying little about the ways individuals act creatively for reasons of their own to create new forms of power. A diachronic or historicist approach presumably would include an account of power in terms of the contingent ruptures and displacements that arise from struggles among agents. Synchronic focus often leads to somewhat reified and homogenous accounts of modern power, with little sensitivity to diversity, heterogeneity, and resistance within and over time.


Genealogical solutions


Genealogy is a mode of inquiry based on a form of historicism that highlights nominalism, contingency, and contestability.




Nominalism. Radical historicists lean toward a nominalist conception of actions and practices and the traditions informing them.






No belief is certain on its own; no belief is verified or refuted by given experiences or given reasons. Historicism thus explains how genealogies can challenge truth claims without collapsing into the kind of totalizing critique that challenges all truth claims in a way that entails a performative contradiction.




Historicism: forms of critical unmasking or vindicatory genealogies. Genealogy operates as a form of critique because it applies the denaturalizing tendency of historicism to unsettle those who ascribe a spurious naturalness to their particular beliefs and actions. Historicists are not necessarily anti-realists: they try to trace the actual history and effects of various beliefs and practices, including purportedly transcendental or universal ones.


Governmentality as genealogy


What difference would it make if we thought of governmentality as a genealogical mode of inquiry? To begin, I want to suggest that a historicist approach to governmentality may stop its theoretical drift toward reification and determinism.


A new theory


Linguistic formalism can appear to treat language as a reified object. Work on governmentality can lose sight of the fact that people create meanings and practices. This poststructuralist argument simply elides the question: are these instabilities necessary qualities of a disembodied quasi-structure that thus defines its own development or are they products of people’s contingent activity? The First World War undermined faith in the principles of reason and progress that had governed so much developmental historicism. A historicist, genealogical approach decenters concepts such as institution, norm, power, and language. To decenter is here to focus on the social construction of a practice through the ability of individuals to create and act on meanings. Decentered theory implies that the political life is constructed differently by many actors inspired by historically specific ideas and values.


Aggregate concepts


A genealogical approach to governmentality decenters institutions, networks, and discourses by appealing to historical accounts of beliefs and actions. Ontological nature of political life: situated agency, practice, and power.


Situated agency. All experiences and reasoning occur in webs of beliefs. Even if people are necessarily influenced by their particular historical context, they may still be agents who can adopt beliefs and perform actions for reasons of their own and in ways that transform the historical context that influences them. So agency is possible, but it is always situated in a particular context. Reasoning is always local in that it occurs in the context of agents’ existing webs of belief. ‘Local’ refers to the fact that reasoning always takes place against the background of a particular subjective or intersubjective web of beliefs. Local reasoning recognizes agents can use only the information they possess, and they do so even when the relevant information is false. Local reasoning, being not a territorial area, differs from the cognate idea of local knowledge (Geertz, 1983).


Practice. Once genealogists leave the micro-level for the mid-level and macro-level, they conceive of social objects as practices rather than institutions, structures, or systems. A practice is a set of actions, perhaps a set of actions that exhibit a pattern, even a pattern that remains relatively stable across time. Actions and practices are the main grounds on which we ascribe beliefs to people: we ascribe beliefs to them in order to make sense of their actions. Nonetheless, practices cannot explain actions since people act for reasons of their own. By definition, practice constitutes the consequences of the act. It is these actions in their diversity and contingency that constitute the consequences of the action. And we explain these actions by reference to the beliefs and desires of the relevant actors, not the practice itself. It is unclear how practices can constrain the actions that people might attempt to perform.


Power. Genealogists reject as reifications those concepts of power that refer to social relations based on the allegedly given interests of classes or other social groups. People necessarily construct their understanding of their interests through particular and contingent discourses. Power can refer to the way in which contingent historical backgrounds impact on individuals, influencing their subjectivity and their actions. Genealogy is all about power so conceived, since it explains actions and practices by reference to contestable beliefs that emerge out of contingent historical contexts. Genealogies may show how various actors restrict what other actors can do in ways that thwart intentions of policy actors (restrictive power).


Historicist explanations. Historicist explanations work by describing contingent patterns of meaningful actions in their specific contexts.


Narrative. Genealogists usually believe their narratives explain beliefs and actions by pointing to their historical causes. Narratives work by relating actions to the beliefs and desires that produce them and by situating these beliefs and desires in particular historical contexts. They embody contingency. Genealogists strive, to the best of their ability, to capture the way events happened in the past or are today.


Tradition. A tradition is the ideational background against which individuals come to adopt an initial web of beliefs. It influences (without determining or—in a strict philosophical sense—limiting) the beliefs they later go on to adopt. Positivist political scientists typically reify meanings, treating them either as norms that govern behavior or as one among the several variables that explain outcomes.


Dilemma. A dilemma is any experience or idea that conflicts with someone’s beliefs and so forces them to alter the beliefs they inherit as a tradition. Although dilemmas sometimes arise from experiences of the world, we cannot equate them with the world as it is since experiences are always theory-laden.


Rethinking the state


From government to governance


A genealogical approach to the state refuses to treat it as defined by principles such as the nation, liberty, or even sovereignty. Genealogists deny that the state or particular states are natural entities with core features waiting to be discovered. In their view, the state consists of a plethora of contingent, possibly conflicting, and often transnational, practices. Thus they trace historical lines back from the practices that interest them to the often surprising and hidden ancestors of that feature of governance. This approach to the state echoes the pluralists of early in the twentieth century. Today the idea of disaggregating the state appears primarily in the literature on governance. Governance evokes a world in which state power is dispersed among a vast array of spatially and functionally distinct networks compose of all kinds of public, voluntary, and private organization.


Decentering governance


A genealogical approach also decenters governance, paying particular attention to the diverse meanings within it and the contingent historical roots of these meanings, focusing on disaggregated patterns of meaning in action. A decentered view implies that different people draw on different traditions to reach different beliefs about any pattern of governance. Governance thus consists of a complex and continuous process of interpretation, conflict, and activity that produces ever-changing patterns of rule.


Empirical topics


Elite narratives. Political scientists should examine how different sections of the elite draw on different traditions to construct different narratives about the world, their place in it, and their interests and values. The dominant narratives and a managerial narrative.


Technologies of power. The technologies of power that inform policies across different territories and different sectors. Governmentality refers here to the scientific beliefs and associated technologies that govern conduct. It concerns the ways governments and other social actors draw on knowledge to construct policies and practices, especially those that create and regulate subjectivities.


Popular resistance. Other actors can resist, transform, and thwart elite agendas. Policy cultures are sites of struggles not just between strategic elites, but between all kinds of actors with different views and ideals reached against the background of different traditions. Subaltern actors can resist the intentions and policies of elites by consuming them in ways that draw on local traditions and their local reasoning.




Important concepts from Foucault’s later work, including genealogy, power/knowledge, and technologies of power, inspire the study of the mentalities of rule in which power is rationalized, the policies and technologies through which these mentalities get translated into organized practices, and so the production of the subjectivities associated with these technologies. Genealogies embody a historicism that can defend its own validity even while it denaturalized those beliefs and practices that fail to recognize their historical contingency. Governmentality as the genealogy of political practice explores the historical roots of the contingent and conflicting meanings that inform political action. These meanings include not only technologies based on scientific knowledge but also the more general narratives that inspire elite and subaltern actors in the struggle to formulate, implement, and enact policy.


Mark Bevir, “The Logic of the History of Ideas—Then and Now,” Intellectual History Review 21 (1) (2011), 105-119.


Intellectual history is the basis of all the human science. All the human sciences do necessarily involve the study of people’s beliefs (intentionality) in their historical contexts.


Logic and Disciplinarity


The Logic rests on the grammar of everyday concepts, and because historians share these concepts, they should recognize the force of the Logic as a guide to appropriate reasoning in their discipline. The force of the Logic for historians derives from the pressure to ensure that their scholarly and everyday beliefs are consistent. The pressure for consistency is not just a totalitarian desire to impose order. It is a lived experience. People cannot act unless their beliefs have at least some coherence. The only norm that necessarily governs webs of belief is ‘be consistent.’ Logic contains a philosophical perspective from which historians can better think about the types of historical narratives they want to tell. One of the philosophical arguments of the Logic is that no method is necessary or sufficient for historical objectivity. Historical methods are matters of the heuristic craft of the discipline, not of philosophy. Historians learn their craft as they pick up hints on how to locate sources, on how to deal with different types of source, and on what types of source are most likely to provide evidence relevant to certain questions.


Meaning and Subjectivity


In epistemology, the author adopted anti-foundationalism, rejecting Truth as absolute certainty, and rejecting the idea of objectivity as the confirmation or refutation of propositions by appeals to independent facts. Anthropological epistemology—Objective knowledge arises from comparing rival accounts in terms of criteria such as accuracy, comprehensiveness, consistency and fruitfulness. In ontology, the author argued that intellectual history took as its object of study hermeneutic meanings, where un utterance’s semantic meaning is its truth-conditions, its linguistic meaning is its conventional or dictionary definition, and its hermeneutic meanings is what is meant in a given historical context. A principle of procedural individualism—according to which hermeneutic meanings are always meanings for specific individuals. A kind of category mistake is to talk about the meaning of a text; texts do not have intrinsic meanings. Historians should talk instead about the meaning of a text for a person or a group of people. When historians try to make sense of any action, including speech-acts, they have to ascribe both desires and beliefs to the actor. The meanings of utterances and other actions consist entirely of beliefs (‘it is raining’). The meaning of the utterance does not depend on whether that desire was to inform people of his desires. Desires do not enter into meanings. In contrast to Skinner, the author argues that intended illocutionary force dissolves into desires and beliefs and makes the key task of the intellectual historian the recovery of the relevant beliefs. The author’s ontological commitment is only that people possess capacities for sincerity, rationality, and consciousness. Appeal more to traditions, practices, beliefs, and less to languages, discourses, and forces. Concepts such as language and discourse evoke quasi-structural entities defined less by the ways in which people use words than by the formal relations between semantic units. Similarly, concepts such as force evoke quasi-physicalist entities defined less by local reasoning and intentionality than by categories from the natural sciences such as mass and velocity.



The Human Science


The author argued that the forms of explanation appropriate to intellectual history differ from those appropriate to the natural science and that it clearly applied to all human action. He has to challenge reifications (reified systems and institutions) and formal explanations (correlations and appeals to systems and institutions). The social world consists of contingent and meaningful actions. Propositions about norms and languages are reducible to ones about intersubjective beliefs. Institutions and structures are better conceived as the practices that emerge out of subjective actions and beliefs and desires that inform those actions. People act on their beliefs, so the social world they create is a product of the beliefs informing their actions. Beliefs are themselves socially constructed as part of wider webs of belief. Social concepts and the social world to which they give rise are products of particular traditions or discourses. The author believes that the social world is constructed in a ways that precludes our reifying chunks of it and ascribing essential properties to the chunks. Human scientists should replace apparently reified terms—such as language and institution—with more obviously constructed and pragmatic ones—such as tradition and practice. Conventions, far from constituting social facts, are observer-defined practices. Practices are constituted by the meaningful activity of the participants, not by conventions. Regularities nor codes can fix the beliefs and actions of all the participants. Practices (instead of institutions) and beliefs (discourses); actions to beliefs and desires; beliefs to webs of belief; webs of belief to traditions and dilemmas. Human scientists cannot treat beliefs as epiphenomena explicable in terms of objective facts about the world, social formations or a purportedly universal rationality. Echoing R.G. Collingwood, the author asserts that the human sciences are almost entirely about ideas—meaning, intentionality, beliefs—and that ideas have to be explained historically. History is necessarily about intentionality. Human scientists should allow that ‘an event’ is a phrase that refers to a chunk of intentional activity. Its nature and consequences were contestable and contingent.


Modernism and Historicism


Historicists believe that explanations of social life are inherently historical. Fully to explain intentionality, activity and practices is to locate them in a particular historical context. Nineteenth century developmental narratives drew on both the Whig conjectural histories derived from the Scottish Enlightenment, and a broader organicist emphasis on the ability of living beings to make social institutions by acting in accord with purpose, thought and imagination. The new human science relied on modernist empiricism rejected historicist explanations, relying instead on ahistorical models, structures and correlations to make sense of these atomized units. Throughout the twentieth century, the human sciences turned from historicism towards neoclassical economics and structural sociology. Anti-foundationalism. Deconstruction implied that structures could not fix the content of the units within them. Post-analytic philosophy implied that facts could never be secured.




Radical historicism. It holds, first, that objective knowledge is never fixed by pure reason or pure facts. Objectivity is always a historical assessment of what counts as the best view of the world currently available to us. Second, that meanings are not intrinsic properties of external objects. Meanings can exist only as the historical intentionality of particular individuals. Third, that the subject is not autonomous, existing outside of historical settings. Individuals are always situated agents influenced by the social life into which they are born, and radical historicism hold, finally that we cannot explain why people believe what they do and act as they do by appealing to ahistorical models or correlations. Explanations of beliefs and actions depend on our situating them in webs of belief and then situating these webs of belief against the background of contingent traditions and dilemmas. Radical historicism does not tell historians how to practice their craft. The author hopes to encourage intellectual historians to reconstruct the complex arguments and web of beliefs of a thinker, to craft new concepts, defining traditions and dilemmas pragmatically so as to explain that which interests them.

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