>When political scientists shed their skins

>My daughter has become an aficionado of snakes and ladders and soon I know every last nuance and variant of its random ups and downs – there’s about a one in four hundred probability of winning in four goes by climbing up successive ladders. Listening to the radio in the kitchen I hear Aidan Hartley’s excellent Radio 4 documentary describe the coup-ridden politics of West Africa as a game of snakes and ladders, seeing junior officers propelled to high office and propelled out equally fast, although Ghana’s Jerry Rawlings emerges as great survivor. A related point is made by Mark Blyth in the latest issue of American Political Science Review, who argues that Comparative Politics as a sub-discipline has been too fixated with a basically predictable world of known risk, rather than rampant uncertainty where the mechanisms of change are not clear to us. For this reason comparative political scientists are periodically whacked over the head by unexpected events (rise of fascism, collapse of communism, 9/11 etc) and end up doing a major paradigm shift producing a ‘great punctuation’. Basically, he says we are playing snakes and ladders, but never know quite how many dice we are rolling or how many sides they might have .… Slippery business, politics.

Mark Blyth ‘Great Punctuations: Prediction, Randomness and the Evolution of Political Sciences’, American Political Science Review, 100 (4): 493-98.

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