Utility of Political Inquiry Models: Scientific vs. Interpretive
Scientific methods of inquiry, also called empirical, positivist, or rational approaches, are used by the vast majority of researchers in the social sciences (deLeon, 1998). The scientific approach has largely relied on a behaviorist approach, which defines human behavior as following the laws of nature and therefore inherently predicable. The logical conclusion from this is that the goal of political research is being able to predict the behavior of humans as they engage in politics. As Douglas Torgerson stated in 1986, "… knowledge would replace politics" (as cited by deLeon, 1998, p. 148).
In contrast, the interpretive school of political inquiry advocates for a more nuanced approach, one that recognizes that human behavior, whether by individuals or groups, is far too complex to render it reducible to quantitative measures (deLeon, 1998). Rather than having a goal of being able to predict human behavior, interpretive inquiry seeks to gain beneficial insights into the political process. These scholars would even go so far as to claim that a scientific approach which excludes the influence of human traits, such as patriotism or free will, does more damage than good.
One example of a political issue that received a lot of attention in the recent past is the welfare and welfare-to-work programs (WWP) that swept the country in the mid-1990s. Writing in the New York Times, Steven Manos (1994) argued that WWP merely shifts welfare recipients to jobs by displacing others who would have otherwise taken those jobs. From his perspective, WWP does not result in a net savings by reducing the number of welfare recipients or increasing the amount of income taxes paid, because WWP does not actually create jobs. In other words, WWP does nothing more than churn the welfare rolls. This cost-benefit analysis would represent a scientific approach to this policy issue; however, Manos' argument...
President Clinton touted the Indiana program as the most successful WWP in the country based on the magnitude of welfare roll reductions. What Coffield and Indiana welfare recipients discovered was that the "work first" program in Indiana emphasized gainful employment to such an extent that efforts to overcome persistent poverty were formally marginalized. Of the policies that contributed to this trend was a prohibition on state support for training programs lasting longer than a month and the pursuit of college degrees taking longer than a year to complete. The outcome of these policies was a drop in the number of welfare recipients enrolled in training and college programs from 68% to 28%.
The case study presented by Coffield (2002) is about an African-American mother (Bridgett) with five children in her late 20s. With a history of being on and off welfare and working low-wage jobs, the WWP case workers had declared Bridgett hostile because she refused to reveal intimate details about her personal life or engage in activities needed to meet the program's requirements. Bridgett had also 'voluntarily' refused benefits so that she could continue attending college classes towards a nursing degree. Apparently the "work first" program in Indiana placed so much emphasis on getting any job that Bridgett would have been required to attend classes in life skills and job search strategies, instead of attending her nursing classes. The effective goal of these WWP classes was getting Bridgett off welfare by finding her another low-wage job. As Bridgett declared with conviction: "I can't work some stupid minimum wage job and end up screwing up my chances with my schooling & #8230;, and I'm not sticking my kids in some fifth-rate child care center to…
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