Realism in political theory, ethnographic sensibility, and the moral agency of bureaucrats

Prinz, Janosch (2020) Realism in political theory, ethnographic sensibility, and the moral agency of bureaucrats. Polity, 52 (1). pp. 64-87. ISSN 0032-3497

[thumbnail of Accepted_Manuscript]
PDF (Accepted_Manuscript) - Accepted Version
Download (660kB) | Preview


This article argues that ethnographic methods, or an ethnographic sensibility more broadly speaking, can go some way to addressing a thorny issue of realism in political theory. Realists are committed to taking context seriously and to offering critique, but how can they do both? Based on a reconstruction of the main lines of inquiry and arguments of Bernardo Zacka’s When the State Meets the Street, the article shows that an ethnographic sensibility is well suited to address the realist predicament because it combines two levels of interpretation. On one level, it seeks to reconstruct people’s understanding of what they are doing and who they are. On a second level, ethnography seeks to interpret the larger ideational and material power relations that affect people’s values and practices. The essay spells out how taking an ethnographic sensibility can enhance (realist) political theorists’ understanding of the nature and limits of politics in a particular context, while at the same time providing a starting point for potentially transformative criticism from within this context.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: political theory,realism in political theory,ethnography,bureaucracy,methodology
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Politics, Philosophy, Language and Communication Studies
UEA Research Groups: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Research Groups > Cultural Politics, Communications & Media
Related URLs:
Depositing User: LivePure Connector
Date Deposited: 16 May 2019 14:30
Last Modified: 22 Oct 2022 04:44
DOI: 10.1086/706521


Downloads per month over past year

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item