Concepts such as “contested normative valance” are of value, in my view, because it’s useful to include concepts from the social sciences in the study of history.
For this reason, it’s of interest to read the views of Sönke Neitzel, a historian, and Harald Welzer, a sociologist and social psychologist, regarding warfare. Similarly, it’s of interest to read the views of historian Peter Burke regarding the influence of social theory on the study of history.
Contested normative valence and essentially contested concepts
Another article that discusses contested normative valance is Essentially Contested Concepts: Debates and Applications, by David Collier, Fernando Daniel Hidalgo, and Andra Olivia Maciuceanu, published in the Journal of Political Ideologies (October 2006).
“Contestation” refers to disagreement. In this case, the reference is to conceptual contestation, which refers to disagreement regarding concepts.
As Collier, Hidalgo, and Maciuceanu (2006) note (p. 212 of the article), “The strong normative valence [see definitions below] associated with some concepts, often combined with other considerations, motivates users to strongly prefer a particular meaning. They may energetically defend their own usage, whereas others will contend that an alternative usage is correct – hence the idea of a contested concept.”
The Oxford Canadian Dictionary, Second Edition (2004) refers to “normative” as an adjective defined as “of or establishing a norm.” Relevant definitions for “norm” include:
- a standard or pattern or type
- standard quantity to be produced or amount of work to be done
- customary behaviour, appearance, etc.
- the average or general level
In the above-noted article, the authors note (p. 241) that “the terms ‘normative’ and ‘appraisive’ [that is, concerned with the making of appraisals] refer to arguments that explicitly or implicitly reflect judgements about what ‘ought to be’ or ‘ought not to be.'”
Among the definitions for “valence” at thefreedictionary.com is one that reads:
- Psychology The degree of attraction or aversion that an individual feels toward a specific object or event.
Usage and terminology
I believe there is tremendous value in defining one’s terminology clearly – especially in the case of contentious topics such as neoliberalism.
Update: A 2003 article in the Journal of Medical Ethics, available at the British Medical Journal website, is entitled “Medicine as an essentially contested concept.” I found the article of much interest as it touches upon topics, including ones studied by Erving Goffman among others, that have long been the subject of contestation.
The 2003 article noted above (p. 262) highlights what “essentially” means when we speak of W.B. Gallie’s notion of an essentially contested concept: “The force of ‘essentially’ is to mark off this kind of contestedness from contests which are simply contingent or accidental, perhaps resulting from ignorance, which can in principle be resolved. To claim that a concept is essentially contested is to claim that disputes over its use are not resoluble even in principle.”