recasting complex, ongoing social situations as problems with definite solutions.
Seeing puzzles to solve, vs issues to address - Gilles Paquet.
"The belief that all difficulties have benign solutions, often of a technocratic nature." Jennifer Lloyd @JEVLloyd, Oct 28, 2013
Paquet: seeing puzzles to solve, vs issues to address
Political philosopher Gilles Paquet ( - 2019) coined the term 'solutionism.'
In The New Geo-Governance: A Baroque Approach (2005) he wrote:
"The 'liberal constitutional project' (as Stephen Carter labels it) is predicated on the belief that only the central government has the capacity to appreciate the nature of today's problems, and to suggest meaningful solution. 'Solutionism' or 'ultrasolutionism' is indeed the name of the game: issues are interpreted as puzzles to which there is a solution, rather than problems to which there may be a response." (Paquet 2004b).
His reference is apparently to:
Pacquet, Gilles. Pathologies de gouvernance: essais de technologie sociale (2004), but we haven't discovered whether he uses the term itself in that book.
Dow Chemical ad campaign, 2012
"Solutionism: the new optimism "
Solutionism: the belief that together, science and humanity can solve anything."
Morozov: technological solutionalism
Social critic and Silicon Valley gadfly Evgeny Morozov popularized the term 'solutionism' with his 2013 book To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism.
His book uses as an epigraph a version of Paquet's 2005 usage:
"'Solutionism' [interprets] issues as puzzles to which there is a solution, rather than problems to which there may be a response." -Gilles Paquet
The term is explained further in the book:
"All these efforts to ease the torments of existence might sound like paradise to Silicon Valley. But for the rest of us, they will be hell. They are driven by a pervasive and dangerous ideology that I call “solutionism”: an intellectual pathology that recognizes problems as problems based on just one criterion: whether they are “solvable” with a nice and clean technological solution at our disposal."
"This never-ending quest to ameliorate...recasting all complex social situations either as neat problems with definite, computable solutions or as transparent and self-evident processes that can be optimized...I call the ideology that legitimizes and sanctions such aspirations 'solutionism.' I borrow this unabashedly pejorative term from the world of architecture and urban planning, where it has come to refer to an unhealthy preoccupation with sexy, monumental, and narrow-minded solutions...to problems that are extremely complex, fluid, and contentious."
Morozov discusses various other writers whom he considers to have made related critiques:
"In his brilliant essay “In Praise of Inconsistency,” published in Dissent in 1964, the Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski argued that, given that we are regularly confronted with equally valid choices where painful ethical reflection is in order, being inconsistent is the only way to avoid becoming a doctrinaire ideologue who sticks to an algorithm. For Kolakowski, absolute consistency is identical to fanaticism."
"Design theorist Michael Dobbins has it right: solutionism presumes rather than investigates the problems that it is trying to solve."
"Many of the antisolutionist jibes throughout this book fit into the tripartite taxonomy of reactionary social change so skillfully outlined by the social theorist Albert Hirshman..in his influential book The Rhetoric of Reaction.
"My critique of solutionism bears some resemblance to several critiques of the numerous eaerlier efforts to put humanity into too tight a straitjacket...I'm thinking, in particular, of Ivan Illich's protestations against the highly efficient but dehumanizing systems of professional schooling and medicine, Jane Jacobs' attacks on the arrogance of urban plans...James Scott's concern with how states have forced what he calls 'legibility' on their subjects. Some might add Friedrich Hayek's opposition to central planners, with their inherent deficiency, to this list."
As Morozov concludes in the final paragraph, the problem is not 'technology', but rather irresponsibly reductive approaches to issues:
“Technology is not the enemy; our enemy is the romantic and revolutionary problem solver who resides within."
Related terms / quotes
« Il n'y a pas de problèmes ; il n'y a que des solutions. L'esprit de l'homme invente ensuite le problème. Il voit des problèmes partout. »
"There are no problems; there are only solutions. The mind of the man then invents the problem. He sees problems everywhere." - André Gide
« S'il n'y a pas de solution c'est qu'il n'y a pas de problème.»
("If there is no solution, there is no problem.")
- Jacques Rouxel.
"I've been forming idea there's a pattern, a sort of inverse #solutionism, call it #nosolutionism, in which anything but the final, total, permanent presumed solution is figured as diversionary, false, fatally compromising, pointless, etc." - @tmccormick Aug 27, 2015.
"I'm suggesting rejecting all but a single, presumed correct/fundamental solution, even if complex, is also type of #solutionism. by #nosolutionism I'm not necessarily suggesting, the same as #solutionism, but something that may be related or co-occur.
- Wicked problem
- Kolakowski, Leszek. “In Praise of Inconsistency,” Dissent, 1964.
- Morozov, Evgeny. "The Perils of Perfection." The New York Times, Opinion, March 2, 2013.
- Morozov, Evgeny. To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism. 2013.
- Paquet, Gilles. The New NeoGovernance: A Baroque Approach. 2005.
- Paquet, Gilles. Pathologies de gouvernance: essais de technologie sociale. 2004.
- Scott, James C. Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. 1998.
- Spross, Jeff. "Why solving homelessness is stupidly easy." The Week, May 12, 2016. https://theweek.com/articles/623738/why-solving-homelessness-stupidly-easy.
- Winograd, Terry. "What's Wrong with Technological Fixes? Terry Winograd Interviews Evgeny Morozov." Boston Review, July 01, 2013.