Tag Archives: Bo Rothstein

Should Political Science Be Relevant?

This article might be of interest for all political scientists doing sustainability research. After decades of being dominated by quantitative models and theory-driven research, a panel of prominent scholars at the American Political Science Association (APSA) annual meeting, discussed whether  political science at all, was relevant for policy-makers trying to solve real-world problems. The Inside Higher Ed reports:

Gerry Stoker shared “a wicked thought” […]. What if he called as many senior figures in political science as he could reach and asked them “if they had ever said anything relevant in their entire careers”?


[…] Stoker also said that the discipline doesn’t reward relevance. A young scholar is more likely to be promoted for “the novelty of methodological contribution” than for “research that actually has an impact.”

The panel included very interesting interventions from prominent political scientists Sven Steinmo (University of Colorado at Boulder), Bo Rothstein (Göteborg Universty, Sweden) and Elinor Ostrom (Indiana University/Arizona State University). Prof. Bo Rothstein provided an interesting  observation:

Rothstein, […], said that maybe the problem to discuss isn’t whether political science is relevant, but whether American political science is relevant.

“If you want to be relevant as a discipline,” he said, “you have to recruit people who want to be relevant.” And in this respect, he said, American political science departments are not doing well.

Read the full article here.

Governance, memory and transformation

by Stephan Barthel

Thinkers that study social relations agree that socially constructed images of the world – negotiated versions and meanings of the past – to a large degree determine social practice . For instance, Bo Rothstein (2005) on his work on social capital shows with game theory that ‘the history of play’ determines trust and future strategies. This is what social memory is about. Can these thinkers teach us anything about governance of desirable trajectories of social-ecological systems, or even about transitions from undesirable ones?
Social-ecological memory is the means by which social practice about how to manage a local ecosystem is retained and stored among a group people, and modified and transmitted through time (Barthel et al 2010). Reification processes co-produces things that persist, which stores memory. Participation in ecosystem management is a mean for capturing and transmitting memory and identity. The one cannot continue without the other. Over time their combination in “community of practice” (Wenger 1998) becomes invested in social-ecological memory that tends to guide behavior (Barthel et al 2010).
In allotment gardens memory is captured and transmitted for instance via mentor programs, collaboration in management of commons and exchange of seeds, and it is stored in property rights, norms, proverbs and physical things such as artifacts, fruit trees, seeds, chalets and vegetable plots which all tend to outlive the repertoires of participation that first shaped them. Complicated? Well in short, social-ecological memory lives within relations, and it may be a conservative force of trajectories since it temporally carries social practice that co-evolves with local ecosystems.
How about transitions from undesirable trajectories? Rothstein argues (2005) that traps of low social capital are essentially impossible to get out since the history of play ‘sticks’ in the social memory of the players. It seems then that when working for transformation of a trap of mistrust, or an undesirable social-ecological trajectory, memory must be addressed. The logic goes; transformation of memory creates transformation of social practice. So if allotment gardens were on an unsustainable trajectory the work for transformation could address mentor programs, the way collaboration is performed and proverbs, as well as property rights regimes, artifacts, and physical objects. Maybe this kind of memory-practice thinking could be of interest when designing theories about adaptive governance for transformation.
Starting to sound scary? You all are aware of the creation and modification of social memory that has been done before in history (Nazi Germany, Soviet, Apartheid South Africa etc), so even if our goal is restricted to support resilient local social-ecological systems that generate ecosystem services, such thinking will require deep ethical reflections and analysis.