Theme Panel: Rethinking, Restructuring and Reconnecting by Making Worldviews Explicit

Rethinking, Restructuring and Reconnecting by Making Worldviews Explicit


(Chair) Peter J. Katzenstein, Cornell University; (Presenter) Bentley B. Allan, Johns Hopkins University; (Presenter) Michael N. Barnett, George Washington University; (Presenter) Timothy A. Byrnes, Colgate University; (Presenter) Jairus V. Grove, University of Hawaii, Manoa; (Presenter) John M. Owen, University of Virginia

Session Description:
Sometimes we get overwhelmed by the uncertainties of life and the open-endedness of the future. The pandemic gripping the world since 2020 is one such instance. As the virus spread, a sense of personal vulnerability and radical uncertainty spread as well, barely masked by incessant talk about changing risk calculations. In such moments many proponents and opponents of science do not turn to theories, models, or hypotheses. Instead, they turn to worldviews to gain some traction in a world turned upside down.

This theme panel draws on many of the participants in a collaborative research project now in production as an edited volume (Peter J. Katzenstein, ed., Uncertainty and Its Discontents: Worldviews in World Politics, Cambridge UP 2022). It approaches the conference theme of Rethinking, Reconstructing and Reconnecting from the perspective of worldviews, an overlooked and undertheorized construct in political science. The reigning worldview that informs political science is the mechanical model of Newtonian physics as articulated in the late 19th century. It has a profound affinity with the Hobbesian notion of power as control and the conventional social science notion of calculable risk. Virtually all scholars who think of themselves as doing political “science” adhere to this worldview. Yet, starting at the outset of 20th century quantum physics and many other natural sciences, as well as most of the humanities, have instead come to embrace a post-Newtonian worldview centered on the Machiavellian concept of power potentialities and unfathomable uncertainty. That worldview is more consonant with the unexpected political turns and twists that regularly stump participants and analysts. Newtonianism’s anthropocentrism invites another worldview, often referred to as post-humanism, that puts humans among rather than above other sentient beings. In contrast to Newtonian writings which views the environment as an issue area to be managed through coordinated action, critical theoretical writings on global warming and the Anthropocene are informed by this post-humanist worldview. Scholars often borrow from these four worldviews – Newtonian and Post-Newtonian, Humanist and Post-Humanist — without being aware of the eclecticism that they practice.

Panelists will talk to the overall theme of the roundtable (Katzenstein), the conventional anthropocentric Newtonianism (Owen), a Weberian relational version of Newtonianism (Barnett), a critique of Weberianism (Allan), a deep scientific relational alternative (Grove), and a religious relational worldview with its surprising affinity to scientific relationalism (Byrnes). The roundtable thus hopes to offer ample material for “Rethinking, Restructuring, and Reconnecting.”

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