For week 6 of the Scientific Inquiry–Theory & Inference seminar we wanted to put some flesh on the abstract skeletal structure we had covered thus far in the course. So we had them read a bunch of work that does some of the things we had covered thus far well.
At the end of class for week 5 I told them that they should not read the week 6 material for content, but instead evaluate whether the authors are clear about their conceptualization, their assumptions, and the underlying logic they invoke to produce implications.
A.D. Roy’s (1951) article on the distribution of earnings is my favorite example of a verbal argument that could be formalized, but need not be. The conceptualization is clear. His assumptions are clear. The underlying logic is transparent. I find it a fun paper to read. And the paper also demonstrates that the criteria discussed in the seminar for developing theory do not imply formal modeling (i.e., formal models are only a subset of models that meet the criteria).
Robert Dahl’s (1956) A Preface to Democratic Theory is more of the same, as is Ted Robert Gurr’s (1970) Why Men Rebel. For Dahl I assigned the “Madisonian Democracy” chapter and for Gurr I had them read pp. 22-30, 83-91, 155-60 and 317-22. Chapter two of Lin Ostrom’s (1990). Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action served as the Nobel Prize winning exemplar, and Donatella della Porta’s (1995) Social Movements, Political Violence, and the State served as an example from sociology that is also strictly verbal (I assigned pp. 1-14, 23-5, 55-8, 71-82).
I also assigned two works about legislatures: Keith Krehbiel’s (1998) Pivotal Politics: A Theory of US Lawmaking (pp. xiii-xiv, 3-6, 8-19) and Cox & McCubbins’s (2005) Setting the Agenda: Responsible Party Government in the US House of Representatives (chaps 2-3). Finally, I assigned Amy Liu’s (2011) “Linguistic Effects of Political Institutions” article.
Needless to say, others offering this course would select different exemplars. The goal was to provide a set of readings that were strong on at least two of the three criteria (and not poor on any one of them). During seminar I asked them which they found strongest on conceptualization, which strongest on clarity of assumptions, which best on laying out the logic that connected the concepts and assumptions to produce implications.
They also received a homework assignment, the goal of which was to confront them with a work which was poor on all three domains and let them get some practice making an effort to improve the conceptualization, assumptions and logic. I instructed them to read the first three chapters of Neustadt’s (1991) Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents: The Politics of Leadership from Roosevelt to Reagan, and then”reconceptualize, and identify the assumptions and arguments needed to establish logically coherent implications” from Neustadt’s effort.