The Limits Of Local Knowledge

Dec 21 2011 @ 7:34am

Jay Ulfelder challenges the idea that one must be an expert in the politics of a specific country to make good judgments about its future:

I’ve encountered many people in my professional life who know a lot about the history, culture, and social and political dynamics of specific places, but I remain unconvinced that the deep "local" knowledge they possess automatically positions them to give more reliable diagnoses of, and forecasts about, every situation that arises there. Sometimes–maybe even usually–a little distance and a lot of comparative perspective can be a good thing. … When it comes to diagnosing and forecasting the outcome of rare political crises, I think deep knowledge of specific cases is overrated. Specialists in what Charles Tilly called recurrent "mechanisms" and "processes" can bring something valuable and important to the party, too.