We all search for meaning in our lives – which is why I find it puzzling that intellectual biographies and histories seem so rare….. I mentioned, the other day, the recently published Worldly Philosopher – the odyssey of Albert O Hirschmann
Another book of that genre I enjoy dipping into is Comparative European Politics – the story of a Profession – which presents a portrait of a profession, through intellectual (auto)biographies of the older generation of leading scholars in the field such as Hans Daalder, Juan Lintz, Richard Rose, Giovanni Sartori and Vincent Wright. The book gives a wonderful picture of intellectual endeavour in the post-war period showing how particular experiences turned them towards the study of politics when it was still a quiet field.
My uncle – Wilfrid Harrison - was actually one of the first post-war UK Professors of Politics which may partly explain the turn my life took – with the fateful decision in 1962 to switch at University from modern languages to politics and economics!
“The Story of a Profession” describes the scholarly infrastructure for international research which they developed in the post-war period and offers stories of academic careers, of achievements and of doubts, of lessons learned or imparted.
One of the lesser known figures paints here a rare landscape of life in 1940s Germany – and Richard Rose also has a vignette.
But patient surfing on the internet on the last 24 hours has unearthed quite a treasure trove – starting with a great interview with political anthropology Professor Cris Shore whose work (on the EC) I had noticed some weeks back and who turns out to be the son of a famous Labour Minister (in the 1960s Wilson Government)
That, in turn, led me to these reflections of leading Public Admin Professor RAW Rhodes – whom I had come across in the 1970s as he was starting his academic career – and to an amazing number of articles and books easily available in which he dissects and challenges the British political tradition. One review puts it as follows
Rhodes’s project is to offer an account of what he and Bevir call the ‘stateless state’. This is an image of the state that focuses on the agents of the state – the civil servants, politicians and special advisors – rather than its institutional structure. The state for Rhodes is effectively the sum of their actions. But they do not have free reign: their agency is situated in various webs of relations and beliefs, which are themselves shaped and influenced by particular longstanding narratives and traditions.
Rhodes identifies three particular narratives which are highly influential: the Westminster narrative, which are the longstanding codes of conduct around political neutrality and service to the minister which govern the behaviour of civil servants;
the managerial narrative, which has become increasingly prominent in the UK since the 1960s and in which the practices of managing, reputedly based on the private sector, according to identifiable targets and with appropriate sanctions shape conduct in the departments;
and the governance narrative, in which coordination is achieved through the internal and external organisation of networks across the state and often into civil society as well.
These narratives are not necessarily complementary and often competing. The image that is produced is one of various agents reproducing the state through their constant negotiation between these received traditions and the problems and dilemmas that confront them, rather than the more familiar image of the state as powerful, hierarchical and ossified institutions wielding structural power
On my surfing I also came across a charming tribute to another comparative political scientist; and also this autobiographical essay by the neglected development economist Andre Gunder Frank