June 1, 2003

Analytic Narratives and Scenario Building

  • Paul Dragos Aligica

    Senior Fellow, F. A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics
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During the last three decades, social sciences were profoundly influenced by the raise to pre-eminence of rational choice theory. The powerful new paradigm shifted social analysis from social structure to individual motivation and introduced micro-economics tools such as indifference curves and marginal analysis to model individuals’ actions and their consequences and thus to explain the origins of complex social phenomena (Eggertsson, 1990; Calvert, 1995; Lee, 1996; North, 1992). Though the impact of the new approach on the social sciences was not immediate, it has steadily grown in influence in political science, sociology, and history creating today a unique interdisciplinary framework that redefines the traditional disciplines and the disciplinary boundaries (Swedberg, 1990). The power of the rational choice paradigm stems from a combination of factors, crucial being its robust analytical potential, its interdisciplinary nature, its coherence, and the fact that rational-choice theory views itself less as a substantive theoretical body than as a framework of analysis, free to be applied to a wide range of social and institutional phenomena (Eggertsson, 1990; Calvert, 1995; Knight, 1992).

Given its influence in other fields and its initial impact on scenario building and operations research, it is remarkable that the rational choice revolution and the emerging literature didn’t make a larger impact on the scenario development dimension of futures studies and on futures studies in general. It is true that operations research as defined by Helmer (1986) and scenario planning as defined by Kahn (1960, 1967) were from the very beginning building on many rational choice ideas. Nevertheless, as years went by, the field didn’t engage fully and consistently with the further evolutions in the rational choice research program. This is especially intriguing as future studies as a scholarly area is probably the most intellectual- ly open field by any methodological, epistemological or theoretical standards. Thus, myopia or lack of intellectual flexibility on behalf of futures scholars is very unlikely to offer an adequate explanation. The real reason for this paradoxical situation is to be found in a special epistemological and theoretical interpretation given to rational choice theory initially, an interpretation that generated an incompatibility between the future studies agenda and the way the first generation rational choice research programs were defined.

Citation: Aligica, Paul Dragos. "Analytic Narratives and Scenario Building." Futures Research Quarterly 19, no. 2 (Summer 2003): 57-71.