Morality in Politics: Epistemic governance and policymaking in modern world society
Financed by Academy of Finland (SA 296045)
September 2016 – August 2019
Dr. Ali Qadir
Associate Professor (New Social Research), Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Tampere
Docent in Ethnic Relations, Swedish School of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki
Modern politicians arguing for or against a policy are engaged in a thoroughly normative process but they do so in an apparently non-moral way. In the process of rationalized debate based on “facts,” their normative premises about what makes the common good are cleverly masked. This research project exposes and unpacks this paradox. The project significance lies in understanding how politics is being de-politicized, how social equalities are sustained, and how the global entangles with the local.
To build an empirically grounded theory that explains when and how morality is hidden in policymaking in modern world society, and what implications such masking has.
(1) moral discourse erupts openly into policymaking in one sector when sparked by an objective crisis but then spreads to various sectors;
(2) similar rhetorical techniques are used by politicians worldwide and across all sectors to mask their normative assumptions about the common good;
(3) international “scientific” bodies now carry moral authority with national policymakers in a similar way that religious organizations did earlier; and
(4) moral masking creates and sustains social inequalities.
(1) National policy-making as a discursive exercise
(2) Asylum-seekers and refugees
(3) Macroeconomic management in the financial crisis, and
Data and method:
(a) stratified random sample of parliamentary debates from 11 countries between 1994 and 2013 covering all policy sectors, and
(b) policy-specific debates from six countries over the past 20 years on the above sectors.
My method is generally qualitative discourse analysis, coupled with correspondence analysis to describe patterned relations.
Epistemic governance, a perspective that recognizes governance as functioning by taking into account and working on people’s conception of the social world and what are “good” actions:
Research in progress
(1) 2017—Moral authority of science in the modern world (Jointly with Dr. Jukka Syväterä)
This article offers a “thick,” qualitatively derived, bottom-up account of how the authority of science is built in national policymaking and what that results in. We ask what precisely policymakers talk about when they talk about science, what use individual actors put the authority of science to, under what conditions, and with what conflicts. Relying on a framework of epistemic governance, the paper examines parliamentary debates on new laws to describe the role of “objective” science in a quintessentially moral activity, namely lawmaking. Making a comparative, qualitative analysis of parliamentary discourse over 20 years in seven countries, we confirm the institutionalist argument that there is growing reliance on science around the world, and that this usage does not correlate with functional requirements. Furthermore, we find ample references not just to particular sciences, but also to science in the abstract, undefined sense, and find hardly any contests around the use of science. That is, science enjoys a largely uncontested authority in parliaments around the world in making new laws. Moreover, the nature of parliaments means that our findings reflect broad socio-cultural premises considered valid in modern society. We argue that science has assumed what Durkheim referred to as a “moral authority.”
(2) 2017—Moral categories in parliamentary discourse on asylum-seekers and refugees
This paper will study how moral categories of asylum-seekers are created in these debates, whether they are correlated with country or party affiliation, and how they deploy narratives that build an ontology of the social environment (what the world is), actor identifications (who we are in that world), and norms (whether an action is necessary or desirable). The article will also examine how moral categories are hidden by “rationalized” debates on objective facts and technical solutions, and what impact this masking has on perpetuating social inequalities.
(3) 2018—Morality and religion: Parliamentary discourse around hereticization of the Ahmadiyya in Pakistan
This article exposes the rupture between morality and religion around the seminal constitutional amendment in Pakistan in 1974 that declared the Ahmadis as non-Muslim heretics. Examining the parliamentary discussion that enacted this amendment, the paper argues for appreciating the sociological implications of a radical, necessary, Kierkegaardian break between morality and religion. The analysis also reveals the different ways in which moral and religious summons to a community function and are institutionalized.
(4) 2018—Imageries of the social world in moral panics around counter-terrorism
This research will study what narrative imageries support and sustain moral panics. It will begin from the premise that parliamentarians seek to convince each other and the public of a crisis by relying on certain imageries about the social world and what action that entails. It will empirically examine which narrative imageries work in the panic generated in parliaments around the world after the September 11 attacks in USA. The article will also analyze how moral panics are sparked by an objective crisis in one sector (counter-terrorism and national security) but quickly spill over to other debates.
(5) 2019—Moral masking in financial crisis responses
This research will address the question of how moral presumptions and goals are masked in parliamentary discourse around the financial crisis since 2007. By examining parliamentary debates from before and after the crisis, the study will explore what rhetorical techniques are invoked across different countries to mask the normative ends of new legislation, including invoking scientific authorities and presenting facts that “necessarily” entail certain policy actions.