Professor Perri 6: Understanding persistent and fast-changing political judgement: institutional dynamics

Event date: 
Wednesday 24 February
Perri 6

Professor Perri 6 - Understanding persistent and fast-changing political judgement: institutional dynamics

Please click HERE to go to the online talk


Political judgement is not only about what politicians and their advisers decide or believe. It is as much about how politicians and civil servants at national and international levels think about decisions, as it is about what they think. Explaining how policymakers think matters to understanding why in some fields, the patterns of their decisions change significantly in the lifetime of a single national government while in others, styles of judgement can persist over many decades. Changing styles of judgement can help to understand how policymakers respond to adversities, anomalies and setbacks, or when their policies produce unintended consequences. Understanding why sometimes judgement styles persist over decades contributes to explaining puzzling problems, such as why states remain committed to international regimes even when they could risk leaving and when they find the rules frustrating.

      A convincing explanation should be capable of handling both of fast-moving change and persistence. For this task I am developing a neo-Durkheimian institutional approach, drawing on the work of the anthropologist and social theorist, Mary Douglas. This argues that people’s informal social organisation shapes their thought style, and that, at the most elementary level, the forms of human organisation are plural, but limitedly so. Speeds of change in social organisation – and therefore in judgement styles – vary depending on the relationships among those elementary forms.

      My work on this issue fits with IASH’s and SSPS’s interests because I use historical cases and primary archival data and draw upon theory from social anthropology to address a puzzle about judgement in the study of executive and regulatory politics and international relations.

      To pursue this aim, during my IASH-SSPS fellowship, I shall be revising a monograph on trajectories of change in styles of political judgement in three contrasting fields of domestic and foreign policy within the time in office of each of several British governments between 1959 and 1974. To understand much more persistent styles of judgement, in work with Dr Eva Heims (University of York) I shall be working on articles on why Britain remained committed to membership of the international regime for telecommunications through the four and a half decades before the Great War, through many changes of government and despite seriously considering withdrawal when the government found the rules highly problematic. With Dr Heims and Dr Martha Prevezer (Queen Mary University of London) I shall prepare a research council grant application and an article on how so many international economic regulatory bodies survived the last deep deglobalisation not unlike the one that we may now be entering, in the interwar years when nationalism, trade wars, mercantilism and resort to unilateral regulation placed many international regulatory regimes under threat, and why some new ones were even created at the least promising moment in the depths the 1930s deglobalisation.

      These three strands of my project will offer a fresh account of how styles of political judgement are cultivated in different configurations of social organisation among policymakers and of contrasting fast and slow velocities of change.