(joint editor with Mark Bevir)
Interpretive political studies can be treated as being as old as the study of politics. However, The Routledge Handbook of Interpretive Political Studies will concentrate on developments since the 1970s. Interpretive political studies appears here as an insistence on the importance of meanings in human action. It is a humanistic approach opposed to the scientism associated with behaviouralism and rational choice.
Much interpretive political studies draw on philosophical thinking that emphasizes the importance of meanings in the study of human life. It has been deeply influenced by phenomenology and hermeneutics. In Anglophone scholarship, these influences first became apparent with Charles Taylor’s immensely important essay on “Interpretation and the Sciences of Man” (1971-2). Taylor had a strong influence on Clifford Geertz and his development of thick descriptions based on ethnography. Much interpretive political studies still relies on ethnography to generate studies of meanings and cultures.
Through the 1980s and 1990s interpretive political studies also became increasingly popular among radical scholars influenced by cultural Marxism and postfoundationalism. These scholars explored ideologies, discourses, and traditions. They looked at the codes and power relations that operated across webs of meaning. Often they used textual analysis as well as ethnography.
Contemporary interpretivism is thus a broad church that challenges scientism for its lack of sensitivity to meanings, subjectivity, and historical context. It is also a growing and increasingly prominent church. The Handbook will capitalize on the growth and vigor of interpretive political studies. It will provide the first such book marking out the relevant terrain.