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Crippling Epistemologies and Governance Failures

A Plea for Experimentalism

Gilles Paquet

Publication Year: 2009

In Crippling Epistemologies and Governance Failures, Gilles Paquet criticizes the prevailing practices of the social sciences on the basis of their inadequate concepts of knowledge, evidence and inquiry, concepts he claims have become methodological “mental prisons”. Paquet describes the prevailing policy development process in Canada in terms of its weak information infrastructure, poor accountability, and inflexible organization design. In contrast, he suggests that social science and public policy should promote forms of “serious play” that would allow organizations to experiment with new structures.

Paquet engages with numerous foundationalist programs in the social sciences in order to show their inadequacy and suggests important and unexplored directions in policy areas as diverse as education, science, health, intergovernmental and foreign policy. He closes the work with a plea for experimentalism in academic research, policy development, and organization design.

Published by: University of Ottawa Press

Series: Governance Series

Table of contents

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xxiv

This book reports on certain recent episodes in the long voyage of the human sciences from a focus on understanding to a fixation on “methodism” and back. A truly comprehensive treatise would go back to the birth of the human sciences...

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INTRODUCTION: The difficult emergence of a new mindset

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pp. 1-10

The experience of the aftermath of World War II gave the scientistic social sciences a quite artificial boost. In particular, Keynesian economics promised a new capacity to govern the economy as a result of the lessons learned during the difficult period...

PART I: Crippling Epistemologies

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pp. 11-100

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pp. 13-15

Part I may appear to some to be tedious reflective whining about the defective philosophy of the social sciences and their ambient culture, an overlong detour on the way to the sort of practical policy research announced above. This is not...

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CHAPTER 1: Two tramps in mud time

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pp. 16-41

There may be no better description of the humanities and the social sciences, and no better characterization for the time, than the title of Robert Frost’s poem quoted above, “Two Tramps in Mud Time”. My argument raises questions...

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CHAPTER 2: Professional “wrighting and wroughting”

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pp. 42-75

Education (stricto sensu), training and personal development are capital goods whose “just price” is difficult to gauge at the time of buying. The just price worth paying is the discounted value of the streams of benefits of all sorts that can be...

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CHAPTER 3: Corporate culture and governance

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pp. 76-100

Crippling epistemologies may be endogenously generated by the evolving traditions in the human sciences, or fuelled by a post-secondary education enterprise that focuses exclusively on episteme to the detriment...

PART II: Weak Infrastructure and Inadequate Scaffolding

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pp. 101-167

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pp. 103-105

Crippling epistemologies are the major impediments to a full appreciation of circumstances, but they are not the only ones. Even if one could imagine a world in which there were no intellectual, educational and cultural filters, it is simplistic to assume that there...

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CHAPTER 4: Weak cognitive infrastructure

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pp. 106-117

It is not sufficient for government to experiment with new mechanisms or collaborative arrangements, such as P3s, to deliver public goods that they have provided directly, or to partition public services into different regimes. Even though these...

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CHAPTER 5: Unintelligent accountability

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pp. 118-145

In his book La contre-d

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CHAPTER 6: Organization design neglected

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pp. 146-167

Organization design is to governance what engineering is to science: the essential process of operationalization without which good reflective work is bound to remain fruitless. Yet this design work is poorly understood and quite difficult...

PART III: Less than Effective Bricolage

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pp. 169-233

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pp. 171-173

Can one infer that failures of governance are logically bound to follow from crippling epistemologies and inadequate scaffolding? Not automatically and not always, but, as a matter of probability, most certainly. It cannot be expected that an effective apparatus of governance...

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CHAPTER 7: Nothing is more rational than a rationalization

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pp. 174-186

We should greet with exhilaration the announcement that, as the result of scientism and the new religion of accountabilism (Weinberger 2007), a wave of rationality is blowing through government operations and the policy development process in Canada...

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CHAPTER 8: Science policy: circumstantial evidence

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pp. 187-204

A question has long haunted Canadians interested in problems of science and technology: how can Canadian activities in science and technology be coordinated so that Canadians can make the highest and best use of their brain...

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CHAPTER 9: Foreign policy: the many are smarter than the few

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pp. 205-233

This chapter was first presented at a conference with a captivating, perplexing and exceedingly circumspect title: “Polycentric Governance?: Subnational Governments and Foreign Policy in an Age of Globalization”. First, such a title...

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CONCLUSION: The difficulty of unlearning

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pp. 234-249

There is a facile theory of learning that defines it as a smooth, continuous, cumulative and linear process of correcting errors in a seemingly effortless way. This view is both enlightening and perplexing. It assumes, rightly, that a great deal of learning...

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pp. 250-251

Most of the work that led to this book was carried out at the University of Ottawa, with the help of the Telfer School of Management and then under the auspices of the Centre on Governance. Substantial financial assistance...


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pp. 252-270


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pp. 271-279

E-ISBN-13: 9780776617787
E-ISBN-10: 0776617788
Print-ISBN-13: 9780776607030
Print-ISBN-10: 0776607030

Page Count: 298
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Governance Series