‘Social Science’: Trumpism’s Collateral Damage

Sanjay Reddy in his blog reddytoread:

ReddyThe shocking event that is the rise of trumpism has been by now analyzed widely. Most focus on the appeal of Donald Trump to those in the United States who for one another reason or another feel left behind, wish to retrieve an earlier, lost, social order, and rebuke establishment politicians who they feel do not serve their interests. In this, the recent American revolt echoes the shock of the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom and other recent events, but it is of far greater significance as it promises to reshape the entire global order, and with it the complaisant forms of thought that accompanied it.

…Finally, interpretations of politics were too restrictive in thinking of people’s political choices as based on instrumental and usually economic calculations, while indulging in a wishful account of their actual conditions (for instance, focusing on low measured unemployment but ignoring measures of distress and insecurity, or the indignity of living in hollowed-out communities). Mainstream accounts of politics recognized the role of identities in the form of wooden theories of group mobilization or of demands for representation. However, the psychological and charismatic elements, which can give rise to moments of ‘phase transition’ in politics, were altogether neglected, and the role of social media and other methods of mobilization in politics hardly registered. As new political movements (such as the Tea Party and then trumpism in the US) emerged across the world, these were deemed ‘populist’—both an admission of the lack of explanation and a token of disdain. The essential feature of such movements, the obscurantism that allows them to offer many things to many people, inconsistently and unaccountably, while serving some interests more than others, was little explored. The failures can be piled one upon the other. No amount of quantitative data provided by polling, ‘big data’, or other techniques comprehended what might be captured through open-eyed experiential narratives. It is evident that there is a need for forms of understanding that can comprehend the currents within the human person, and go beyond shallow empiricism. Mainstream social science has offered few if any resources to understand, let alone challenge, illiberal majoritarianism, now a world-remaking phenomenon.

Trumpism is a crisis for the most prestigious methods of understanding economic and social life, ennobled and enthroned by the metropolitan academy of the last third of a century. It has caused mainstream ‘social science’ to fall like a deck of cards. It can only save itself through comprehensive reinvention, from the ground up.

More here.