In the era of ‘post-truth’ and electoral outcomes that don’t follow the seductions of quantification (Merry 2016), it might be appropriate to return to discussions of the ‘event’ in the Derridean sense —that which always exceeds calculation and prediction (Derrida 2007).
In the twentieth century, the social sciences turned, and turned again, and the politics of knowledge have remained unsettled. If the twentieth century saw the challenge to classical knowledge paradigms in the form of critical, social, post-structuralist, post-colonial and ‘post-modern’ interventions, the tables were quickly turned by a series of methodological counter-reformations, begun in the mid-century with the Popperian and ‘rational choice’ programs in Anglo-American political science and the growing prestige of economics. Adherents to these broad churches laid down the methodological gauntlet, facilitating a growth industry of texts, handbooks and training manuals for graduate students and researchers, the development of formal methodological organisations, conferences and journals.
This debate clearly designated as ‘interpretivist’ anything not regarded as ‘positivist’ or ‘causal’ social science. Scholars in the ‘interpretivist’ camp, broadly defined, have in turn responded with their own treatises and texts addressing constructivism, hermeneutics, assemblage, and discourse, both within the disciplinary literatures of politics (Yanow and Schwartz-Shea 2006, Klotz and Lynch 2007, Brady and Collier 2010, Jackson 2011) and well beyond (Pryke, Rose et al. 2003, Law 2004, Latour 2005, Steinmetz, Adams et al. 2005).
Today, amid the popular appeal of ‘big data’ and the promise of further quantification, similar challenges to the role of interpretation in research are being rehearsed. In turn, the call for pluralism has been heard by disciplinary gatekeepers with the response of ‘mixed methods’. In the context of unprecedented global events, the self-assurance of science in the social sciences may again be on the back foot. The conference, therefore, calls for investigation into the value of interpretation as method, interrogating what it means to ‘interpret’ the political.
More information can be found on the conference website.