Tocqueville and the Ostroms

Sarah J. Wilford*

*Autor correspondiente de este trabajo

Producción científica: Contribución a una revistaArtículorevisión exhaustiva


Although it is commonplace for political scientists to draw upon historical thinkers and the ‘great books’ of the past, the practice of using historical works as reference points for contemporary issues remains under-investigated. To address this practice, this article is positioned at the crossroads of social science and intellectual history. By examining the relationship of political economists Elinor and Vincent Ostrom with Alexis de Tocqueville, the article demonstrates some of the potential risks incurred by social scientists drawing on historical thinkers. After exploring the similarities between the Ostroms and Tocqueville, it identifies three key pitfalls of the Ostroms’ ‘Tocquevillian’ rhetoric. These pitfalls result in obscuring meaning and overlooking philosophical insights, both of which detract from the Ostroms’ project. Insights from the field of intellectual history are offered. A final section presents a key example of Vincent Ostrom overlooking Tocqueville's thought where Tocqueville's insights were directly applicable to his work. The article parses political science's relationship with the past and offers a critique that is applicable beyond Tocqueville and the Ostroms.

Idioma originalInglés
Páginas (desde-hasta)27-54
Número de páginas28
PublicaciónHistory of the Human Sciences
EstadoPublicada - 1 jul. 2023

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© The Author(s) 2022.


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