“Thinking institutionally”

Det går inte att komma ifrån att böcker av typen The Oxford Handbook of Political Institutions innehåller många sömnpiller till artiklar. Men så finns det undantag. Som exempelvis Hugh Heclo’s ‘Thinking Institutionally’:

To think about science is not the same as thing as thinking with a scientific mind. To think about marriage is not necessarily to think like a married person, and similarly, to think about Christianity is not equivalent to having, as Paul put it, the mind of Christ Jesus “in you”. So too, thinking about institutions is not the same thing as thinking institutionally. “Thinking about” does not tell us what it is like for a person to go around with presuppositions of things institutional in his or her head. In fact, “thinking about” may actually diminish capacities for thinking institutionally. It has the effect of confining a person to a subject/object relationship, never telling you what it means to inhabit mentally the world presented by institutions. This outside-in vs. inside-out distinction matters because, while thinking about institutions is an academic’s intellectual project, thinking institutionally is something that people do or do not do in the real world—at the office, in their family relations, at the polls, in talking about the news at the local diner. Whatever academics may say about institutions, an institutional way of thinking–and its absence–has consequences.


We might begin by observing what institutional thinking is not. It is not critical thinking, as intellectuals use that term today. In other words, the central impulse is not to question rigorously and challenge everything presented. It does not have the “critical” agenda to unmask, demystify, and expose the real from the apparent. […] By beginning in this way, one risk burning bridges to any well-schooled reader. The widespread assumption and teaching in academia is that the only kind of real thinker is the critical thinker. A constantly questioning, skeptical awareness is taken to be the very hallmark of intelligence. However, the truth is that modern intellectuals, who are the sort of people who write about institutions, are a peculiar social type with a particular outlook. They champion the idea of self-consciously thinking about and questioning everything we are doing, while–just like the rest of us–most of their lives are filled with doing things from habit. Since there is much about thinking institutionally that is not focused on thinking critically about what you are doing, the conventional intellectual perspective subtly but consistently devalues institutions. It does so by missing or holding in low esteem one of their central operations, which is internalizing norms to the point of habitual practice. […]

Modern prejudice to the contrary, thinking institutionally is still thinking. Rather than being mindless, it means being mindful in certain ways. It means exercising a particular form of attentiveness to the world.

Heclo, Hugh (2006), ‘Thinking Institutionally’, i (red.) Rhodes, Binder & Rockman The Oxford Handbook of Political Institutions, s. 731–742. Heclo har senare, upptäckte jag nu, skrivit en bok på samma tema.
Det är svårt att undgå den konservativa grundtonen hos Heclo, men missar man den kan man låta David Brooks förklara budskapet. Med en fin formulering: institutioner “save us from our weaknesses”.

[I]nstitutions comes with certain rules and obligations that tell us how to do what we’re supposed to do. Journalism imposes habits that help reporters keep a mental distance from those they cover. Scientists have obligations to the community of researchers. In the process of absorbing the rules of the institutions we inhabit, we become who we are. […]

I thought it worth devoting a column to institutional thinking because I try to keep a list of the people in public life I admire most. Invariably, the people who make that list have subjugated themselves to their profession, social function or institution.

Second, institutional thinking is eroding. Faith in all institutions, including charities, has declined precipitously over the past generation, not only in the U.S. but around the world. Lack of institutional awareness has bred cynicism and undermined habits of behavior. Bankers, for example, used to have a code that made them a bit stodgy and which held them up for ridicule in movies like “Mary Poppins.” But the banker’s code has eroded, and the result was not liberation but self-destruction.

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