Stuff Political Scientists Like #3, the European edition: Post-Something-or-other

25 April 2011, 0118 EDT

I have the suspicion that my fan base might be the choir, and I want to be sure I play it down the middle. I am sure that Duck readers are the kind of folks who can laugh at themselves.

European political scientists like post-positivism, also known as post-structuralism or post-modernism. Or at least non-European political scientists think those things are all the same. No one really knows. No North American political scientist has ever met a post-positivist political scientist. They might be hiding in the anthropology department, where it is safer, coming out to forage for food at night. That’s the urban legend at least.

Post-positivism emerged out of a critique that science does not evolve on the basis of a greater ability to establish the truth, but rather to consolidate power over others. Knowledge always serves someone’s interests. The fact that your car started this morning is a function of the fact that it hates the native people of Naturaloildepositstan who are being ruthlessly exploited by transnational oil conglomerates. The theory of internal combustion is an act of colonial repression.

Post-positivists like to stress how the material world only acquires meaning based on the roles and meaning that humans assign to it. There is no ‘car’ unless there is a ‘driver.’ If that role were to be redefined into say, a ‘jockey’, your car would become a horse. Just like that.

Power relations are established and reproduced through language, according to Foucault, a favorite of European political scientists. Or is it Derrida? Or Habermas? Or Bordieu? No one really knows. In fact the sentence you are reading right now is keeping the indigenous peoples of the Third World from rising up against their oppressors. Wait, that’s not the right word. Indigenous makes them sound primitive and legitimates our rule over them. Perhaps, ‘first peoples.’ No, that’s primitive too. See how goddamn hard this is! European political scientists would like you to stop talking right now. You are hurting the world.

Post-positivism is also sometimes known as critical theory because European political scientists are critical of their readers. Post-positivists are mad at you. You are part of the problem. All of them. Dolphins in tuna nets. Global warming. The rain forest. The exploitation of coffee farmers in Latin America. And the whales. There are no more whales! But there is nothing you can do about it. You participate in the dominant discourse unwittingly.

Almost all political scientists like the left side of the political spectrum, but European political scientists are much more likely to chain themselves to the side of a Japanese dolphin-hunting vessel. American political scientists will put an Obama poster up in their yard, recycle, and then go out for brunch. If they feel really guilty, they’ll compost.

It is not clear to North American political scientists why critical theorists are so critical considering that they live in Europe. It might be because European political scientists are all unemployed. This is because the only thing that Europe likes better than post-positivism is producing thousands of post-positivist political scientists without creating the academic positions to match. On the plus side, they still receive health care. And the coffee is better.

You might want to engage the thinking of European political scientists, but this is a dangerous idea. European political scientists want a more inclusive and egalitarian world but that does not include you. European political scientists successfully keep others out by using post-intelligibility. European political scientists like to take words that you thought you knew the meaning of and make you not so sure anymore. Like discourse. Or narrative. Or practice. Or text. They also continually use words that you do not recognize and still have not looked up. Like epistemes. Or hermeneutics. Or phenomenological. They throw you off with an arb(itr)ary use of (pa)rentheses. And they make nouns into verbs (see gendering), all in an effort be inaccessible and impenetrable. In this latter sense they are like all other political scientists.

See also:
Stuff Political Scientists Like #2
Stuff Political Scientists Like #1.