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Åsa Boholm, Annette Henning and Amanda Krzyworzeka

This article, part of a set of three articles, calls for a critical reexamination of a plethora of phenomena relating to choice and decision making, occasionally addressed by anthropologists, but more regularly studied by economists, political scientists, psychologists, and organization scholars. By means of a bird's-eye research overview, we identify certain weak spots pertaining to a formalistic unicentral view of human rationality, and argue that ethnographic approaches casting light on cultural contexts for thought, reason, and action can explain how choices are framed and constituted from horizons of perceptions and expectations. A positive account of socially and culturally embedded decision making heralds a mode of anthropology with a broad, integrating capacity to address public policy and administration and their interactions with everyday experience and practice.

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Amanda Krzyworzeka

The agricultural situation in Poland has been changing significantly during the last decades. In 1989, the predictability of the communist centrally planned economy was replaced by the unexpectedness and "invisible hand" of the free market economy. The socialist welfare state has been replaced by new modes of support, introduced by European Union (EU). On the basis of fieldwork conducted between 2005 and 2008 in farming communities in eastern Poland, I focus on decision making among small-scale farmers. This article addresses decision-making processes and their sociocultural context, including the reasons for and circumstances behind decisions, and also elements of decision-making processes that tend to hinder the introduction of EU agricultural policy. In the course of adapting to new and changing realities, farmers creatively use customary ways of thinking and acting in the various decisions they have to make while running the farm. Changes of the very mechanisms of decision-making processes seem to be rather slow, however.

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Annelie Sjölander-Lindqvist and Serena Cinque

According to Swedish environmental policy, harm to private property (mainly livestock, farm, and companion animals) caused by attacks from protected large carnivores is compensated by the state. In a case of suspected harm, a formal investigation process to assess the damage and its cause is initiated by the government. Inspections of damage on living private property are carried out by officials authorized by the regional County Administrative Board (CAB). By focusing on judgment in the making of property compensation decisions, this article demonstrates what occurs in frontline policy enactments, when the inspectors (as deliverers of political decisions) collapse organizational requirements and ideas with personal, yet socially and culturally framed commitments. It concludes that organizational decision making is neither fixed nor stable: organizations operate interactively, generating practices that enhance the agency and authority of particular actors in order to facilitate state policy implementation.

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Ikumi Okamoto

In modern medicine, patient choice and involvement in treatment decision-making are increasingly recognised as an important issue in improving the quality of healthcare, and in recent years the concept of shared decision-making has attracted attention as a new approach in the medical encounter. This model is particularly appropriate in life-threatening situations in which no best treatment exists and there are trade-offs between benefits and risk of available treatments. In this article, I demonstrate how clinical uncertainty makes shared decision-making difficult in practice, using the case of elderly patients with end-stage renal failure based on data collected by interviewing renal healthcare professionals in the U.K. I then propose the possibility of 'patient choice' becoming a burden for some elderly patients and the institutionalisation of shared decision-making, and discuss the importance of building a good relationship between healthcare professionals and patients to facilitate shared decision-making.

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Allan C. Hutchinson and Joel Colón-Ríos

The relationship between democracy and constitutions is a long and fractious one. Those who lean towards the constitutionalist side have tended to perceive democracy as a threat to political order and the preservation of important values, whereas those who take a more democratist stance tend to treat constitutions as elite hindrances to popular rule as much as anything else. In this paper, we will give the constitutionalist thesis a broader theoretical and political scrutiny. By way of explanation, we will address and recommend the possibilities and problems for putting into practical operation such an anti-constitutionalist stance; the recent experience of the U.S. State of California offers itself as a good forcing-ground for these ideas. In short, from a democratic standpoint, the challenge for the citizenry is not so much about defining the values of constitutions, but constitutions whose change is outside the scope of popular decision making, supposed to exclusively take place through judicial interpretation or through an amendment formula designed precisely to make change difficult and unlikely. Too often, constitutions place checks and limits on democratic participation in the name of some other set of vaunted truths or elite-favouring values. For the strong democrat, it is formal constitutions and their institutional paraphernalia that do more to inhibit and dull democracy's emancipatory potential than to nurture and fulfil it.

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Bernard Matolino

The disagreement over what was responsible for arriving at consensual positions, in traditional African polities, is best captured in the classic debate between Kwasi Wiredu and Emmanuel Eze. The former holds that rational persuasion was the sole informant of decision-making while the latter argues that non-rational factors played a crucial role in securing a consensual decision. If Wiredu is correct then consensus could work in modern society as it can be argued that it does not rely on traditionalistic scaffoldings. If, on the other hand, Eze is correct, then consensus cannot work in modern largely urbanised Africa as its traditional underpinnings have largely disappeared. While Emmanuel Ani’s intervention in this debate is welcome for its earnest search for a system that could work, his support for Eze is not bold enough to undermine Wiredu’s rationalistic orientation in consensus.

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Peter Scholten

Policy innovation is necessary for many environmental issues such as climate change and water management. Highly motivated individuals, who are both willing and able to take the lead and press home innovative proposals and as such transform existing policy, are vital in this process. This article focuses on such individuals. An exploration of the literature is confronted with the findings of an empirical study among local policy makers with a reputation for daring. The result is a conceptual map that can be used to further explore and understand the role of leadership and particularly daring decision making in environmental policy innovation.

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Yagil Levy

This article addresses the question of why Israel initiated the Second Lebanon War so quickly, despite the civilian agenda to which the government had been committed, other mitigating factors, and the fact that the kidnapping of two soldiers did not warrant such a massive operation. Arguably, the war reflected the syndrome of a gap of legitimacies, that is, the gap that has emerged since the 1980s between high levels of political legitimacy for using force and low levels of social legitimacy for making the attendant sacrifices. Both values led to belligerency. Strong support for the use of force pushed Israel into taking offensive action that a civilian government could not contain, while the low level of social legitimation for sacrifice led to speedy decision-making and the desire for a swift conclusion by using massive force. Such a response would obviate any restraints on military action that might result from discussions about how to avoid sacrifices.

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Roger A. Pielke

This essay explores the management and creation of ignorance via an exploration of the landscape of eastern Germany, which has seen profound social, political, and technological changes over the past several decades. Like in many places around the world decision makers in eastern Germany are seeking to reach a future state where seemingly conflicting outcomes related to the economy and the environment are simultaneously realized. The management of ignorance is an important but often overlooked consideration in decision making that the concept of "post-normal science" places into our focus of attention.

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Edward J. Woodhouse

Was the Hurricane Katrina disaster an aberration, or did it emerge from decision-making processes similar to those governing other public outcomes? Is it more reasonable to expect post-disaster analyses to lead to systematic learning and improved policy, or not to change very much? Most generally, what can be learned about appropriate expertise and usable knowledge from the Katrina experience? I argue that many of the same processes and institutions are at work to create vulnerable populations, design the built environment carelessly with respect to public values, place barriers in the way of preventive action, and make it difficult for experts to contribute to improved outcomes. No doubt there will be some hurricane-specific learning in Katrina's wake, such as more houses on stilts, but political influentials are unlikely to revamp the systemic norms, practices, and institutions that helped shape the disaster. Implications are discussed for interdisciplinary, problem-focused research and community service by scientists, engineers, and other experts.