Political Science

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Political Science

The basic subject matter


Method and theory


This article provides a broad introduction to the discipline of political science. The major subfields are reviewed in the entries International law; International relations; Political behavior; Political theory; Politics, comparative; Public administration; Public law. For individual contributions to the development of the discipline see the biographies of Bagehot; Barnard; Beard; Bentham; Bentley; Brecht; Bryce; Coker;Condorcet; Follett; Goodnow; Heller; Key; Lindsay; Llppmann; Lowell; Maine; Marx; Merriam; Mlchels; Mlll; Mosca; Ostrogorskii; Pareto; Rlce; Richardson; Schmitt; Tocqueville; Wallas; Weber, Max; Willoughby; Wilson. Related material from other disciplines may be found in Political anthropology; Political sociology.

Political science in mid-twentieth century is a discipline in search of its identity. Through the efforts to solve this identity crisis it has begun to show evidence of emerging as an autonomous and independent discipline with a systematic theoretical structure of its own. The factor that has contributed most to this end has been the reception and integration of the methods of science into the core of the discipline.

The long failure of political science to assert a fundamental coherence of subject matter led some scholars to deny that it could ever form an autonomous field of research coordinate with other social sciences, such as sociology, anthropology, and psychology. They would rather assign it to the category of an applied field, one in which the theoretical concepts formed in the other social sciences are applied in the study of political institutions. But this assessment of the theoretical status of political science is largely a result of the failure to perceive the profound revolution that has taken place in the discipline, especially since World War II. In these decades political science has taken some firm and well-articulated steps toward its own reconstruction as a theoretical discipline.

During the many centuries from classical antiquity almost to the end of the nineteenth century, the study of political life remained not a discipline in the strict sense but a congeries of inherited interests. Only in retrospect, when modern criteria are imposed upon the thought of past social philosophers, is it possible to identify their intellectual concerns as indeed part of what today we choose to call political science. As a result, by the time political science took shape as an independent academic discipline, it had assumed a thoroughly synthetic character; its subject matter appeared to consist largely of a collection of loosely related topics handed down and modified through the ages. On the surface, all that seemed to draw these interests together was their relationship to some vaguely defined political institutions and practices.

If we examine the history of political inquiry in the last 2,500 years, we discover that, for the most part, the questions which achieved prominence in the thought of those social philosophers who dealt with political matters not unnaturally reflected the major issues of the day. Over the course of time these topics had accumulated, so that the older political science grew as an intellectual pursuit, the greater was the volume and variety of subjects it embraced. By mid-twentieth century the discipline as a whole threatened to collapse under the strain of absorbing and imposing a logical and consistent order on a staggering load of knowledge about highly diverse subjects.

By then, however, there also were clear signs that the traditional way of selecting problems for research was threatening to change fundamentally. A nagging question had begun to press in earnest upon the members of what by that time had become a highly specialized discipline. Is political science indeed only a synthetic discipline, composed of a mélange of topics as suggested by historical concerns? Is political science little more than a historical accident that has brought together all thinking in the general neighborhood of governmental or political institutions–and no more precisely or profoundly defined than that? Or is it possible to say that it is in any sense a theoretical discipline with a definable intellectual unity?

The basic subject matter

Two widely differing sets of criteria have emerged, in the last hundred years or so, for differentiating political life from all other aspects of society and, thereby, for isolating the subject matter of political science. The one has sought to define political life in terms of the institutions through which it is expressed; the other has turned to the activities or behavior of which institutions are the particular historical forms. Under the first set, political science has been described, not very profoundly, as the study either of governmental (or political) institutions or of the state. Under the second set, which did not gain widespread acceptance until well into the twentieth century, it has been characterized as the study either of power or of decision making.

Institutional criteria

Two institutional approaches may be distinguished.

Governmental institutions. To this day, the most frequent and most popular way of describing the field of political science is as the study of governmental or political institutions (Bentley 1908; Truman 1951). Yet it is the least useful, since it leaves almost entirely to intuition the sorting of political institutions from all other kinds. [SeeGovernment.]

As the basic conceptualization of the field, it begs the vital question. It does not help us to distinguish governmental or political institutions from other kinds. We are left as much in the dark about the subject matter of political science as ever, that is, at the mercy of our intuitions. This way of orienting oneself to political research virtually abdicates all responsibility for elevating the theoretical level of the discipline. Just what is to be included within it must rest on the emergent but undefined consensus of each generation of political scientists.

The state. No conceptualization of the subject matter of political science has had a longer history than that of the “state.” Its origins as a way of orienting political inquiry lie buried in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Machiavelli is often cited as one of the first known users of the term, but his invention of it is disputable. However, during these centuries it slowly emerged as a substitute for earlier terms to refer to important political entities, such as kingdom, land, principality, commonwealth, republic, dominion, and empire (Ma-clver 1926).

The state’s long tradition as a central political concept testifies more to the persistence of practical political interests in setting research perspectives than to the utility of the idea for understanding political life. In fact, its shortcomings for theoretical purposes have become so widely recognized since World War ii that its professional use has dwindled to a small fraction of its previous frequency (Easton 1953). For research and analytic purposes, scholars have denuded the term of most of its implication; it has been reduced simply to a neutral and empty conceptual shell for identifying the actors in the international sphere. In its place is appearing “political system,” a concept that is burdened with few practical political overtones. [SeeState, article ontheconcept.]

Functional criteria

In the face of the theoretical limitations inherent in institutional concepts, it is scarcely surprising that efforts were made to develop alternative first approximations to a gross description of the major variables of political science. Dissatisfaction with an institutional approach has given birth to a variety of interpretations that have at least one quality in common: they all identify the subject matter of political science as a kind of activity, behavior, or, in a loose sense, function. Although some definitions of this kind originated in the nineteenth century, it is only since the middle of the twentieth century that they have finally come to be accepted as an approach superior to an institutional one. The specification of the political function in a society permits political scientists to generalize their subject matter. It is no longer limited in any way by the variable historical structures and institutions through which political activities may express themselves, whether they be in the form of highly centralized “states,” undifferentiated tribal systems, or diffusely organized international systems.

Power. During the nineteenth century, conceptualization of political science as the study of the state had reached its zenith in the Staatslehre (state theory) school of political inquiry in the German-speaking countries. Its major characteristic was that it reduced political inquiry to an idea of the state interpreted as a body of formal constitutional norms. Ultimately this converted political science to an arid legal formalism that turned away entirely from social reality and at times even seemed to escape contact with legal reality itself.

The opponents of this school saw the state not as a body of legal norms but as a set of social groups in eternal competition for power over its instrumentalities. For example, Marx, Treitschke (1897–1898), and the early political sociologists, such as Gumplowicz (1885), Ratzenhofer (1893), and Oppenheimer (1907), saw force and power, especially in the struggle and conflict among groups or classes, as an inherent aspect of political relationships. In the United States it took somewhat longer for this change to gain acceptance, if only because it was frequently associated with unacceptable European social philosophies. But by the 1930s Catlin (1930) and Merriam (1934) were arguing for an interpretation of politics as a set of power relationships, and they were joined in short order by many others (Lasswell 1936; Lasswell & Kaplan 1950; Key 1942).

As a means of approaching the analysis of political phenomena, power has been dramatically successful in breaching the walls of an institutional approach and in blazing a new pathway, one that has led toward a functional conceptualization of political science. An enormous amount of time and energy has gone into describing and defining power relationships, between individuals, groups, and nations and within national political systems, local communities, and organizations. It has commanded the attention of all disciplines. Yet as a central theme, power has one overwhelming drawback. Despite all efforts, the idea of power remains buried under a heavy cloud of ambiguity. It has been suggested that the time may be long overdue for giving serious consideration to the question of whether the social sciences ought not to abandon the idea entirely as a useful concept for the direct purposes of analysis and research (March 1966).

But we may wish to adopt a more hopeful attitude. We may assume that the inability to achieve a clear understanding of the referents of power stems from insufficient research or from inadequate but improvable tools of analysis, rather than from the excessively global character of the term itself. In that event we would be left with other equally insurmountable conceptual barriers to the use of power as an orienting concept. Even with a stable, unambiguous meaning, power would still be at one and the same time too narrow and too broad to describe even grossly the boundaries of political research.

It is too narrow because political interaction, within any normal use of the term, involves more than the control of one person or group by another or efforts at reciprocal influence. Power, it is true, appears in all political interactions. However, each political relationship may include other aspects as well, and we can neglect these only at the peril of failing to achieve an adequate understanding of the situation.

The description of politics as the study of power also casts the definitional net far too broadly. Conflicts over control take place in all areas of life, not just the political. A parent has power over a child, a priest over his parishioner, a friend over a friend, a corporation over its employees. If we wished, we might choose to designate all of these kinds of power relationships as political. In this event, by fiat we could convert the study of politics into the search for a general theory of power applicable to all social relationships.

But if we were to undertake to do this, it would still leave an unresolved question on our hands. Normally many of these kinds of power relationships seem to fall far outside even the broadest conception of the frame of reference of political science. The control of a parent over a child is seldom considered to be political, except in an analogical sense. But if this is granted and it is accepted that there are some power situations that are not political, we would then be left with the task of devising criteria for distinguishing political power from all other types, such as parental or, for that matter, economic, religious, and the like. In this event we would be right back where we started, at the point of searching for a workable criterion for identifying the “political.”

At the very most, a general theory of social power would be extremely helpful for shedding light on the properties of power relationships in a political setting. In itself this would be no mean accomplishment. But beyond that, it would not help us to attain a conceptualization of political relationships as a whole. [SeePower.]

Decision making. Toward the middle of the twentieth century there appeared an important and popular variation on the theme of power as the central subject of political science. In this view, power attains significance because it leads to control over the processes through which public decisions are made and put into effect. This interpretation was quickly absorbed into the discipline. It has led to the direct interpretation of political life as a set of relationships through which public decisions or policies are formulated and put into effect. Power as a component recedes into the background, as just one possible determinant of decisions.

The description of political science as the study of the making of public policy has become so widespread, particularly in American political science, and has become so much a part of the normal and even unstated intellectual apparatus of most students of politics, that its elaboration as a major concept can no longer be associated with any single person or group. Its beginnings may be found in the work of Carl Schmitt in Germany, where it arose as a response to the years of indecision following World War i [seeSchmitt]. At that time, however, the idea left little impact on political science as a discipline, and it was only through the efforts of organizational theorists in the United States in the 1940s that its general significance for political analysis and research became apparent.

From its beginnings in the study of organizational behavior, the study of policy making has spread into virtually every sector of political research. Indeed, its use by political science reflected the even broader penetration of the idea of decision making into all of the social sciences. Decision making has proved to be one of the truly seminal ideas of the decades following World War ii, and few conceptualizations of political science can afford to ignore it entirely. [SeeDecision making, article onpolitical aspects.]

But however transparently relevant a decisional approach is to understanding at least one component of political processes, decisions, like power, are characteristic of all other spheres of life as well. Similar decisional behavior occurs in such organizations as trade unions, corporations, churches, and families, as well as in the political system. Thus the mere definition of political science as the study of decision making provides little guidance in differentiating political decisions from other kinds of decisions. The adoption of decision making as the major focus would, to be sure, provide us with a general theory of social decision making, which would undoubtedly throw some light on our understanding of decision processes in a political context. But we would still need criteria by which to isolate political decisions from other kinds of decisions. The concept in and of itself is insufficient to delineate, even at the grossest level, the range of data that any initial description of political science would have to include.

The political system

On the whole, the efforts at describing the broad range of interests of political science have been less than successful in the decades following the turn of the twentieth century. Institutional definitions, such as government and the state, merely serve to define one unknown, political science, by other unknowns. Functional conceptualizations based on power and decision making go well beyond any range of interests that political scientists would at least intuitively seek to embrace within their discipline.

Each description of the subject matter of political science has something to commend it, if only because no one way of accounting for the intrinsic cohesion of any field is either the only or the necessarily correct one. Each mode of conceptualization creates its own blind spots and opens its own unique windows on political reality. The adequacy of any formal definition will depend on the extent to which it gives a sufficiently general description of the subject matter so that past and current content areas accepted by most scholars are not excluded–or if they are, it is with convincing theoretical justification.

No more than for sociologists, economists, anthropologists, or psychologists is it appropriate for political scientists to presume to adopt the total behavior of a society as their special concern. Rather, from all social interactions, political science can abstract only those kinds which its theoretical perspectives dictate to be political in nature. In this sense, politics as a field of study is analytically distinct from the other disciplines. By the same reasoning, since each discipline directs its special attention to only one aspect of the total aggregate of interactions called society, no one discipline is “more basic” than or prior to the others. In its theoretical status each represents an equivalent level of abstraction from the totality of interactions in which the whole biological person engages.[SeeSystemsanalysis.]

We may usefully identify the political interactions in a society as its political system, rather than as government, the state, power, or a set of decision-making processes. How are we to distinguish this system from other systems of behavior, such as the religious, economic, psychological, and cultural? In answering this question, we shall simultaneously Obtain an initial, gross conceptualization of political science, one that can serve as a point of departure for distinguishing political science as a theoretically separate and autonomous discipline.

We may describe the political system as that behavior or set of interactions through which authoritative allocations (or binding decisions) are made and implemented for a society (Easton 1953; 1965a; 1965b). The implications of this thumbnail definition are enormous, and here we can examine only the most salient ones.

The authoritative allocation of values

Scarcity prevails in all societies. This is a fundamental starting point for political analysis. There are not enough of the values (valued things) to meet the wants of the members of a society. This is as vital a political assumption as it is a sociological, anthropological, and economic one. Differences and conflicts over values in scarce supply cannot be avoided. In most controversies, members in all societies are able to negotiate settlements independently, without the intervention of any special agency speaking in the name of the society. Integration of social behavior is in large part a consequence of the independent interaction of members as dictated by their personalities, the social structure, and the culture. Through such autonomous behavior they are able to adjust their differences, however acceptable or distasteful any resolution may be to the participants.

But in all societies there are always some valued things over which differences cannot be easily negotiated by the members themselves. In these cases, empirically we always find that special institutions or processes have emerged as mechanisms for helping to impose a settlement. Without such special means at the disposal of a society, its integration might be threatened. In addition, collective purposive action would be impaired, if not eliminated. If the society sought to adopt any objectives requiring the combined effort or resources of part or all of its members, some means would have to be found to organize and direct their energies. Differences would have to be reconciled or regulated so that purposive action in the name of the society could become possible. This involves more than just the establishment and maintenance of order, although that may be and typically has been a primary objective. But regardless of the goals, each society has in fact devised some means for regulating differences, so as to be able to coordinate the efforts of its members.

One way of achieving this result is by invoking force in the name of the society. Others are through the use of persuasion, manipulation, ad hoc mediation, and the like. The weakness of these methods is that they do not offer stable and regularized procedures through which conflicts over valued things may be negotiated when the members are not able to arrive at an autonomous settlement.

Regular and stable means for meeting this situation require two things at the very least: first, structures and procedures for undertaking decisions and related actions—what we may call allocations—that will help reduce or regulate differences, and second, some guarantee that there will be a greater rather than a lesser likelihood that these decisions and actions (allocations) will be accepted as authoritative. That is, the outcomes of efforts to regulate the differences must have a relatively high probability of being accepted as binding.

In structurally differentiated societies, the making and implementing of decisions with which the members normally comply are assigned to special institutions that have come to be known as “governmental.” But in small, nonliterate societies, where structures are combined and unspecialized, such tasks will usually be undertaken by persons in social roles that cannot be described as either purely or largely governmental. A lineage head in a tribal society may be chief religious leader, regulator of hunting (economic director), and familial chief, as well as the paramount negotiator of disputes not regulated by the members themselves.

In every society, therefore, we can expect to find those kinds of interactions which have to do primarily with influencing and shaping the way in which authoritative allocations of values (decisions and actions) are made for the society. It is these interactions taken collectively which constitute the behavior to which the term “political system” refers; it is the study of these interactions that provides the basic subject matter of political science. We must examine each of the component terms of the phrase “authoritative allocations of values for a society” if we are to appreciate its full implications.

Politics revolves around allocations. An allocation distributes valued things among the members of a society. In providing safety, a policeman helps to allocate this value differently from the way it would have been allocated without his presence; in building roads, a government offers a benefit to its users and a deprivation to other taxpayers, for whom it may have no importance at all. An allocation may occur in three significantly different ways: when a decision or action prevents a member from retaining a value that he already possesses; when it prevents him from obtaining one he would like to possess; when it gives him access to a value that he might not otherwise have obtained. Generally an allocation apportions benefits or deprivations in such a way that they are different from what they would have been but for the allocative activities.

An allocation of values may be formal. In modernized political systems, allocations take such forms as legislation, laws, judicial decisions, and administrative decrees. They may be informal in these systems, as when administrative action substantially modifies or subverts a law in the process of applying it. They may also be informal, as in nonliterate societies, where a council of elders may meet and achieve an unarticulated consensus on what ought to be done, and the responsible members of the lineage or clan may then feel impelled through custom to undertake the necessary actions. Control over allocations may be diffused throughout a society, as in a direct democracy, or it may be confined to the hands of a few, as in an autocracy. The allocations may benefit all members of a system or only a powerful few. In each case some redistribution of values has taken place in the sense we are here discussing.

But allocations occur in all spheres of life. The distinctive property about an allocation in the political system is that it is usually highly probable that the decisions and actions will be accepted as authoritative. If this is not so, either the system is in the throes of collapse or the members are no better off than they would be without a political system. In that event, there would be no way of fulfilling what we may assume to be a requirement in all societies for political kinds of settlements.

To say that an allocation is authoritative does not necessarily imply that it will be accepted as legitimate. This conclusion is made possible only if we equate authority with legitimacy—a possible, but not a necessary, identity. Thus, a totalitarian usurper may be able to allocate values through the political processes even though a majority of the members in the system consider his power to be illegitimate. Yet out of fear of the consequences they may accept his decisions and actions as binding. As long as there is a greater rather than a lesser probability that most of the members will accept a decision, and its implementing actions, as binding most of the time, it is authoritative.

There are numerous reasons why members accept allocations as authoritative. They may do so because of tradition and inertia, love and affection for the rulers, fear of violence for failure to comply, self-interest, or loyalty. But as is often the case, compliance may result from a strong conviction that it is right and proper to obey those who make the decisions and put them into effect, that is, that they are legitimate. In this use of the concept “authoritative,” legitimacy is only one ground for the acceptance of an act as having this quality. But regardless of the grounds for considering a decision and related actions as authoritative, what separates political allocations from other kinds is the fact that this compelling quality is associated with it. [SeeLegitimacy.]

But political science is not centrally interested in every allocation, even when it is accepted as authoritative. In every organization, aside from the political system, there normally are those who engage in making and implementing decisions that are considered binding by the members of the organization. If we wished, we could so broaden and redefine the scope of political science that it embraced the study of authoritative allocations wherever they are found. In this event, the making of binding decisions in a family, church, trade union, fraternal club, or corporation would become phenomena that lie at the heart of political research. But there is a more useful and theoretically more economical way of handling this situation. It will also enable us to obtain the full benefits of research into authoritative allocations wherever they may occur, and yet it will clearly distinguish political allocation as an analytic type different from others.

Theoretically we would be adhering more faithfully to the long traditions of political inquiry if we confined the concept “political” to those authoritative allocations which apply to a society rather than only to an organization within that society. That is to say, we would devote our attention to those allocations which are normally accepted as binding by most members of the society, whether or not the members themselves are actually affected by them. This contrasts with the binding decisions and actions effected by organizations within the society. Such allocations need be accepted as authoritative only by the constituent members of the organization; other members of society need not consider themselves bound in any way. Thus, political allocations in the inclusive sense proposed here are societal in their scope and implications. It is because of this and the functions they fulfill for a society that formal and special sanctions, such as the use of force, are often associated with them. But this is only a typical accompaniment, not a necessary one, in political systems (Schapera 1956).

This conceptualization of political science need not neglect the obvious fact that in other kinds of organizations, authoritative allocations are also undertaken and that the investigation of the processes surrounding them will aid immeasurably in understanding similar processes within the societal political system. If we wished, we could describe those aspects of voluntary organizations, families, lineage segments, or interest groups which determine the way in which binding decisions are made and implemented for these groups as their political systems. We could then distinguish organizational political systems from the societal political system.

To be sure, political scientists have typically been interested in the internal processes of such groups and organizations, for at least two reasons. First, in most societies such groups help to influence the way in which binding decisions are formulated, their content, and their implementation. But this is only a derived interest. It flows from the hypothesis that we cannot understand the authoritative allocations for a society without becoming sthoroughly familiar with the internal operations of groups that influence these allocations. But a second possible reason is that these organizations and social units look very much like political systems, at least in microcosm. We might even designate them as parapolitical systems, the comparative study of which might help shed light on the political processes of the broader society (Easton 1965a). But recognition of their relevance for political research is entirely different from equating them with the object at the center of attention of a science of politics, i.e., the political system.

Resulting areas of research

The areas of research for political science that flow from this description cannot be itemized here. In general, they will encompass all the structures, processes, and activities more or less directly related to the making and implementing of authoritative allocations for a society. But we cannot know in advance what these are under specified historical conditions. They will vary with the kind of political system under scrutiny and the historical period in which it is examined. This conclusion in itself reveals the folly of seeking to describe the subject matter of political science in the specific terms of the kind of institutions that exist at any historical moment.

It is instructive, however, to recognize that none of the variable structures and processes of interest to political science in mid-twentieth century need be neglected in the conceptualization of the discipline suggested here. Thus, in nonliterate systems, where little differentiation of political structure prevails, such general social structures as the kinship groups, lineage councils, village headmen, paramount chiefs, friendship cliques, and war parties may be most relevant for revealing the way in which binding decisions are made and put into effect. [SeePolitical anthropology.]

In industrialized, structurally differentiated societies the fields of research assume an equally specialized character. Through the examination of such variable differentiated structures as legislatures, executives, administrative organizations, parties, and interest groups, political science has sought to explore those elements of a political system which are influential in determining who makes the allocations, the nature of the ones that are undertaken, and the way in which they are implemented.

Through the study of electoral, or voting, behavior, political scientists seek to identify the kinds of issues that become subjects of controversy as possible authoritative allocations and try to explain the recruitment of those responsible for the day-today tasks related to making and effectuating such allocations [seeVoting] Public law examines the way in which a system validates binding decisions according to legal criteria, thereby contributing to their acceptability as authoritative in a system [seePublic law]. Comparative politics casts its net over similar aspects of political life, but in cultural and social settings alien to the national origin of the research worker himself [seePolitics, comparative]. International relations turns the attention of political science to those institutions and structures through which binding decisions are made and implemented in the relationship among individual political systems. Here it is helpful to conceive of the interaction among political systems as constituting a kind of political system itself, at a higher level of generality. In this view, the participating political systems are just subsystems of the international system, in much the same way that states or provinces may be subsystems of socalled national political systems [seeInternational relations].

The other subject matters standard in political science at mid-twentieth century also fall comfortably into place when we conceptualize political science as the study of those actions more or less directly related to the making of authoritative allocations. Thus, political philosophy represents that area devoted to the assessment of allocations and related structures according to ethical criteria. It also examines and critically evaluates the way in which philosophers have attempted this in the past. Empirical theory, however, seeks to systematize the research processes themselves and to bring conceptual order and consistency to the discipline as a whole or in its various parts. To it belongs the task of developing, in the form of general theories, comprehensive explanations of how authoritative allocations for a society are made and put into effect; and in the form of partial theories, interpretations of the operations of aspects or segments of political systems. [SeePolitical theory.]

Brief and formal as this listing of the range of interests for political science is, it does demonstrate that the description of the discipline that has been suggested is consistent with all the research that political scientists characteristically undertake. Not that the subfields just mentioned are fixed in any sense: historically the very opposite is the case. They represent only a convenient and changing way of dividing the whole field for purposes of specialized research. But the point is that the new conceptualization of the key problems with which political science deals does not in itself preclude the continuation of past concerns in political research. It includes them and unites them analytically, but it leaves the door open to, and indeed invites, their reformulation and extension.


The content of political science as a discipline also reveals a long-range trend toward greater analytic unity. We can see this best if we trace the various substantive areas into which political science has come to divide itself. In describing the evolving relationships among these subdivisions, we shall find that increasingly they have come to depend less upon practical issues and problems for setting their main areas of interest—although the hold of a problem orientation is still strong—and more upon theoretical criteria.

Historically the successive patterns of the subfields that political science has found it useful to adopt fall into four major categories: universalism (moral philosophy), legalism (Staatslehre), realism (political process), and behavioralism. Methodological considerations have some important bearing on the movement toward the latest patterning of the subflelds, but we can leave discussion of this aspect for the following section. Although the actual changes from one pattern to the next occurred in a relatively slow and imperceptible way, they brought about major upheavals in the kinds of data to which political science has directed its attention.


The period of universalism was by far the longest and least homogeneous or distinctive. It encompasses the time from the founding of conscious political reflection in Greek antiquity to somewhere in the nineteenth century. The subject matter of politics was fully integrated with the general study of society, that is, with universal moral philosophy. Each scholar was what we might today call a general or universal social scientist. Without specialization in the study of political matters, there was no reason for special subdivisions of inquiry to arise. The social philosopher was free to follow his own political interests, as dictated by the problems of the day. The subject matter, therefore, was as varied as the history of Western political thought.


After the centuries in which a political interest was indistinguishable from universal philosophy, the emergence of the legalistic Staatslehre school in the nineteenth century opened up a new era. Imported from Germany into the United States by J. W. Burgess and others, it was reinforced by the positivistic utilitarianism of Bentham and Austin. For a brief time it sounded a note harmonious with scholarly opinion in the United States, in tune as this opinion already was with specialism. The Staatslehre school provided a body of knowledge devoted to the study of the state. It is true that the state was narrowly defined as a collection of legal norms and empirically confined to formal legal structures. Nevertheless, concentration on the state, even in this way, did enable those in the United States who later in the nineteenth century began to call themselves political scientists to appropriate, albeit unobtrusively, this body of knowledge as their own.

At the turn of the twentieth century, the flow of texts in the United States—from J. W. Burgess, W. W. Willoughby, R. G. Gettell, J. W. Garner, and others—clearly revealed that as a specialized discipline of political science began to take shape for the first time, it absorbed and adapted the formal legalism of the Staatslehre school as the core of its concerns. Thus, political science turned to the investigation of the nature and origin of the legally conceived state, particularly with respect to its sovereign properties and the growth of law. To these were added detailed descriptions of the legal provisions for the forms of governments and for the formal powers of the electorates, the judiciary, the administrative services, and the executive department. This objective formal description was fortified with traditional philosophical inquiry into the ends of government and the state.


Although in Europe political research remained confined to legal forms well into the twentieth century, the American environment could not tolerate such restriction for long. The social problems of a rapidly growing industrial society and the political complexities accompanying the large-scale immigration of varied ethnic groups clearly called for more accurate and increased knowledge about the realities of political life. Behind these social and political needs, in the intellectual sphere, pragmatism as a social philosophy pressed for contact with and interpretation of social experiences.

However we may account for the early demise of the Staatslehre approach in the United States, its conscious rejection ultimately led political investigation into entirely new substantive paths. In this third phase, political science began to penetrate beneath the legal forms to the political realities, identified in due course as the underlying political process. To legal form and structure were added nonlegal and informal processes.

The shift toward these new kinds of data came about in two distinctive but overlapping stages. In the first, the tendency was to denounce arid legalism in favor of a new realism in political research. Following the approach of Bagehot in The English Constitution (1865–1867), Woodrow Wilson in his Congressional Government (1885) condemned the “literary theory” of the constitution and in its place discovered that the true source of legislative control lies in Congressional committees. Other realists followed in his footsteps. James Bryce, in his American Commonwealth (1888), added another dimension to the new reality by stressing the role of parties and unearthing their inner groups—very much like James Fitzjames Stephen’s wire pullers —in whom the main power was presumed to rest.

Realism quickly opened up a second stage of inquiry. In it the generalized search for the political realities came to a sharper focus on the basic groups that seemed to be increasing their power on the American scene. In this discovery of groups as the major vehicle through which the political struggle worked itself out, American political science found a new direction for research, the implications of which were not exhausted until after World War ii. Politics came to be interpreted as a process through which group activities, outside the formal political structure but acting upon and through it, managed to influence all phases of governmental activity.

Charles Beard exposed the impact of extralegal economic groups on the course of historical events. Although Arthur Bentley was not influential until almost a half century later, at the beginning of the twentieth century his insistence upon conceiving of all political activities as group phenomena (and upon the need to abandon the habit of attributing causation to ideas and legal norms) reflected the latent sentiments about political research that others were coming to adopt. A group orientation among European sociologists, imported by sociologist Albion Small, together with philosophic pluralism, reinforced this interest among American political scientists. With the appearance of Herring’s Group Representation Before Congress (1929) the basic pattern of group research for the first half of the twentieth century had been set. It was left only to Truman, in The Governmental Process (1951), to formulate systematically the whole conception of political life as conflict among groups. [SeePolitical group analysis.]

With this penetration to groups as a new kind of data to explain political events, the twentieth century witnessed a great proliferation of subfields in political science. In the 1960s most scholars still functioned more or less with some dependence on the topical delineation of the field as it was laid down during this third stage in the substantive development of the discipline.

For the first time political science broke up into a large number of specialized areas. The distribution of these subfields unmistakably reveals their origins in nineteenth-century legalism. In addition, they testify to the continuation of the historic habit of choosing a research topic by reference to the varied practical problems for which it might offer an immediate and direct solution. Thus, the main divisions of political science as a discipline are defined institutionally, a heritage from political legalism; and the institutions are those peculiar to Western political systems and are linked, intuitively, to the solution of the changing issues of politics, especially in democratic systems.

Until World War ii, political science consisted of four main fields with names that clearly mirror these legalistic origins and practical interests: political philosophy or theory, national government, comparative government, and international relations. Political philosophy showed the strongest ties with the past (we shall later return to this fully). In the area of national government, the practical criteria of the legalistic phase led political science to open up all institutional aspects of Western democracy for major exploration: the executive, legislature, judiciary, and administration. The basic organization here was regional: at the national, state (provincial, department), and local (municipal, township, county) level. “How to improve them” was the immediate, implicit, and persistent theme.

With the inroads made by a concern for the socalled realities of politics, the area of national government was vastly extended to include the underlying and informal social and political group structure. New special fields of research arose to meet these new interests: political parties, interest or pressure groups, and the public or electorate as an influential aggregate and an ethically important element in a democracy.

Comparative government added little to the criteria for selecting topics already visible in the area of national government. Research in the comparative field required attention only to the same kinds of institutions, but in political systems other than the one in which the investigator happened to live, a simplistic but nonetheless close-to-accurate description of the differentiating characteristics of this field. Because empirical political research was less advanced in countries other than the United States, however, comparative government in those countries tended to confine its attention to the governmental and party level, with groups and the electorate receiving little attention until after World War ii.

In the comparative field, strangely enough, systematic comparison received little serious attention. Research either took the form of configurative descriptions of the complex of political institutions in each system considered, or where comparisons were essayed, they consisted only of taking institutions with the same name from one system, setting them beside those of another, and commenting on the apparent similarity and differences. Herman Finer and C. J. Friedrich were virtually alone in breaking from this pattern and, somewhat ahead of their time, pointed the way to an analytic approach.

Finally, the establishment of the League of Nations virtually gave birth to the field of international relations. But in this area the legal tradition died hard. International law and the formal description of various international organizations and treaty relationships, joined with the traditional study of foreign policy as the history of diplomacy, fairly exhausted the research interests.

In all areas, prior to World War ii, some early efforts at reconceptualization had begun to assert themselves. In particular, the view of political life as a struggle among groups for some measure of influence over government helped to draw attention to the fact that there might be a single basic kind of activity in the light of which all politics could be explained: the struggle for power over policy. This shift in focus away from legal norms, first to groups and then to power (whatever the over-all shortcomings of power as an introduction to the basic subject matter of political science), pointed to the arrival of a fourth phase in the organization of fields, that of behavioralism. In this phase theoretical criteria begin to crop up beside the traditional, practical ones and to play some part in the selection of the basic areas of inquiry in political science.


The behavioral movement in political science came to full bloom after World War ii. In common with a tendency that pervaded all of the social sciences, political science began to probe in earnest for the concrete behavior that goes to make up the activities broadly described both as legal structures and as informal groups. It turned to the individual—his attitudes, motivations, values, and cognitions. The new level of reality in the political process that was thereby uncovered was very much a product of the discovery of new techniques for the study of human behavior in an interactive situation; both the methods for the exploration of a new level of subject matter and the new kinds of data arose simultaneously and as different aspects of the same general research trends. [SeeBehavioral sciences.]

Although the methodological implications of political behavioralism normally command most attention (we shall turn to them in the following section), what has been largely neglected is the equally important impact it has had upon the organization of the subject matter of political science. It has been propelling the discipline toward a fundamental rethinking of the way in which it subdivides itself for research.

This restructuring of the field was still very much in progress in the 1960s, and the ultimate point of stabilization is by no means clear or easy to predict. Nevertheless, one conclusion cannot be avoided. As a result of this revolution in methods and data, political science has begun to break away in earnest from an institutional orientation. The formulation of research tasks has also begun to move a considerable distance away from the immediacy of practical political issues as understood by common sense, toward a subtle, if at times inarticulate, search for basic theoretical criteria to guide the selection of research topics. Processes, rather than structures and institutions, have begun to appear as the major guidelines for political research. This both mirrors and reinforces a slow trend away from the older synthetic discipline toward a newer analytic one. In the process, the very organization of political science is undergoing profound changes.

Long before World War ii, Graham Wallas, in Human Nature in Politics (1908), had turned to political motivations as a significantly new and noninstitutional dimension in understanding political life. Over the decades, a sprinkling of others had joined him. Walter Lippmann, in Public Opinion (1922), had signalized the relevance of stereotyped opinions in molding the behavior of individuals. In Psycho-pathology and Politics (1930), Harold Lasswell had introduced psychoanalysis as a method for penetrating to the impact of latent motivations on political activity. The whole of the Chicago school in the 1930s had exercised itself about the importance of psychology in understanding participation in politics. In isolating varying kinds of behavior that cut across existing institutions known through common-sense observation, these new approaches began the process of chipping away the foundations of the prevailing institutional subdivision of political science.

The subfields of political science

Even though the discipline has not yet settled on a new, coherent, and viable structure, it is clear that the old subfields have begun to acquire new names; at the same time they have been joined by a variety of new subspecialities.

National politics. In particular, national government as a field has shown signs of disintegrating. In its place there is arising a vast array of cross-sectional or functional topics. For example, side by side with the continuing study of the executive, political leadership and elitism as general phenomena to be found in many different settings have come to provide a new focus for research. Similarly, judicial, administrative, and legislative behavior have become substitute or parallel companion fields for the pre-existing institutional areas of the judiciary, administration, and legislature. The conviction has grown that the specific institutional setting is of less importance than are the generic forms of behavior that appear in the various institutions, at least as a starting point for better understanding the way in which the institutions themselves function.

To the older institutional interests that have been decimated in this way, new major subfields have been added in increasing numbers. Out of the earlier concern for public opinion as an influential force, at least in democratic systems, there has blossomed the vast field of voting, or electoral, behavior (Berelson et al. 1954; Michigan, University of… 1960). Through it, efforts have been made to document the precise way in which public opinion operates upon political institutions in the selection of leadership in a democratic system, in the impact on parties, and in the shaping of public policies. The spread of ideas and influence has been traced as a pattern in the flow of political communications (Deutsch 1953; Bauer et al. 1963). Studies have revealed the role of the personality in determining the nature of political participation in varying institutional settings (Lasswell 1948; Lane 1962). Research about political socialization has begun to explore the effects of early attitudes, values, and beliefs on attachments to the political system and on later political participation. New approaches have characterized such problems as political recruitment, leadership, representation, and ideology. We have here but a rough indication of the degree of proliferation of new fields relevant to national government but cutting through it from entirely new, noninstitutional directions. [SeePolitical behavior.]

Comparative politics. By the 1960s comparative government had also been shaken to the roots by the general behavioral upheaval in political research. Policy interests that had expressed themselves in configurative and formal description of structure now began to give way to the search for theoretical criteria as a basis for organizing research. Themes in the comparative field have begun to look very much like those which had emerged in the behavioral study of national politics. Form and structure have yielded to the study of behavior as it appears in all structural settings. Decision making, socialization, leadership, political motivation and personality, communications, political participation, ideology, and the like have become equally significant topics of comparative research.

In addition, comparative research itself has been able to make a signal contribution to the theoretical analysis of research on domestic systems. As a result of World War ii and the subsequent colonial revolutions, comparative government has extended the range of its interests in two new major directions. Static description has given way to the pursuit of an understanding of the conditions of political change. It has thereby provided political analysis with a new and profound dimension in which theoretical thought has begun to crystallize. Furthermore, comparative government has also moved beyond the narrow confines of European governments to include the political systems of exotic cultures. It has brought in its train a recognition of the special function of cultural variations and of the need for rigorous concepts to ensure the adequate isolation of cultural determinants. Both of these innovations—the identification of change as a focus and of culture as a vital variable—show promise of raising the study of politics in the comparative field to the same level of sophistication as that to which the behavioral movement has been raising the study of national political systems. In recognition of this profound transformation, by the 1960s the name of the subfield had changed from that of comparative government to comparative politics. [SeePolitics, comparative.]

The most significant outcome of the new content being poured into this old field, as a result of the pervasive behavioral movement, is that it has become increasingly difficult to distinguish research in the comparative area from that in the domestic. The discovery of the importance of change and culture has fed back upon the main body of political research and has sensitized students of national politics to the significance of their own culture patterns in the behavior of the members of their own systems. As a result, it is becoming increasingly meaningless to attempt to distinguish comparative research from national research, especially since all rigorous scientific analysis by definition must be comparative, as J. S. Mill in Book 6 of his System of Logic long ago insisted.

These mutual effects of the national and comparative subfields have helped to bring about a more uniform and consistent blend of the whole discipline. They have strengthened the impulse to search for a theory that unifies the study of all political systems, and thereby may ultimately force upon the discipline a major reorganization of its subfields. Since all scientific research is by nature comparative, subfields may no longer rest on geographic differences between domestic and alien systems, the existing principle of division, but must rest upon major theoretical discriminations in subject matter, regardless of spatial location and political jurisdiction.

International politics. The behavioral movement has brought about similar modifications in the field of international research. In the past it bore the label “international relations and organization”; by mid-twentieth century its internal transformations, under the impact of behavioralism, had begun to give it the new name “international politics,” a slight but highly meaningful shift in emphasis. It indicates that political science no longer considers that because the actors in the international sphere are nations, the field is therefore sui generis. [SeeInternational politics.]

In Politics Among Nations (1948), Morgenthau demonstrated that, as in the group-process phase of domestic research, power was also needed as a concept to help cut through the variety of institutions in which international politics manifested itself. As was seen earlier, the decision-making concept was also found to be a useful tool for analyzing the behavioral aspects of international politics, thereby freeing the subfield from an exclusive preoccupation with those institutions and structures peculiar to a given stage in history. Others have devised logical models for analyzing the behavior of international actors based upon strategies of choice under varying kinds of political and social relationships (Kaplan 1957). Deutsch (1953) has sought to explain international political interactions as a complex process of cleavage and adjustment dependent upon the patterns of communication among the relevant units. As in the other subfields of political science, the practical problems of the day are receding in importance in setting the priorities for research. [SeeInternational relations.]

Political theory. In no area is the behavioral shift from an institutional and practical problem orientation more sharply revealed than in the subfield of political theory itself. In a very real sense the changes within it sum up the whole pattern of development in political science toward an analytic discipline. At the same time, these changes have propelled political science even more forcefully in the same direction. For this reason the subfield of political theory merits special attention. The further restructuring of subfields in the discipline may depend upon the conscious leadership offered by political theory, since it alone accepts an over-all responsibility for the coherence and direction of the whole discipline.

Contemporary political theory had its origins in general political philosophy. During the long process of separation from the main body of social knowledge, political philosophy, as noted earlier, was scarcely distinguishable from all reflection about human institutions. Indeed, it was the capstone of such thought. The intention of most social philosophers was to shape moral criteria for assessing current trends and for constructing images of the good society. Political philosophy was therefore ethically creative in its intentions. From Aristotle to John Stuart Mill, it sought to create new goals and social arrangements that would serve to guide personal behavior and social policy.

By the turn of the twentieth century, however, as political science blossomed into a separate area of specialization, it had lost this ethically creative quality. If moral constructiveness endured anywhere, it remained with the parent stem, philosophy itself. In the trend toward a science of politics, political philosophy limited itself to the history of the ideas of others, such as the great political philosophers. It not only recounted the progression of such ideas—as in the evolution of ideas about freedom, constitutionalism, democracy, or equality —but it also sought to understand them better by analyzing them for their clarity, consistency, and implications. In addition, it sought to explain their growth, persistence, and diffusion as historical phenomena. In effect, political philosophy thereby became an unarticulated but nonetheless real amalgam of the history of ideas, logical analysis, and the sociology of knowledge (Sabine 1937; Easton 1953). Reflection on and speculation about the desired state of affairs—ethically creative analysis—found its way only incidentally into the field of political philosophy.

But as a part of the advance of behavioral research, a latent aspect of political philosophy for the first time emerged to the forefront for considered attention. In some limited measure, if only inadvertently, all political philosophy in the past had sought to explain how and why political systems function as they do. It was this aspect that expanded after World War ii to become empirically oriented, or behavioral, theory. [SeePolitical theory.]

Empirical theory has been growing on a number of levels, thereby demonstrating the way in which trends in subject matter have since World War ii been converting political science from a topical discipline to an analytic one. In its most limited scope, the new theory requires the phrasing of propositions as singular generalizations if they are intended to describe the relationship between two or a few phenomena. At a broader level, statements that embrace a segment of political life but something considerably less than the whole may be designated as partial theories. Thus, there have been efforts at formulating theories of parties (Duverger 1951), leadership, administrative behavior (Simon 1947), decision making, representation, community power structure, consensus and cleavage (Lipset 1960), and the like.

But theory also comes in larger packages and seeks to include the whole of a subject matter described as a discipline. This is general theory. At each level—singular, partial, and general—the behavioral revolution has stimulated the formulation of empirically oriented theory. But it is general theory alone that offers political science a basic means for identifying and assessing the full range of its interests and, ultimately, its intrinsic sense of identity as a discipline.

General theory has shown signs of asserting itself in two guises: as allocative theories and as system theories. Allocative theories shed light on the way in which the various political processes contribute to the distribution and use of political resources. In effect, they help us understand those forces which are at work in determining the kinds of policies adopted in a political system. For example, the group approach to politics, as systematized by Bentley and Truman, presents an equilibrium theory of political processes. It interprets policies as the outcome or equilibrium attained as the groups in a system achieve an adjustment or accommodation in the exercise of their power. Power theories seek out the various dimensions of influence that determine control over resources, personnel, and institutions and, thereby, over the formulation and implementation of public policies. Theories of decision making have presented a third alternative to the analysis of allocative processes in political systems.

Equilibrium, power, and decision making, as allocative theories, have tended to dominate political science since World War ii. Not that they are usually self-consciously interpreted as allocative theories. It is in the nature of theoretical inquiry in political science, at its stage of development in the 1960s, that the status of these theories is not at all clearly defined. They do not see each other self-consciously as competitors, or even as overlapping explanations at the same level of analysis. Nor is any theory deliberately geared to explain allocative problems. Political science is still at a very early stage in its awareness of its own theoretical development and of the role of theory as an integral part of its growth as a science.

Allocative theory helps in the organization of inquiry into political life from the inside, as it were —that is, with regard to its internal operations. It helps us to understand the forces that contribute to the making of authoritative allocations or binding decisions, the kinds of the outcomes characteristic of political interactions. But if such allocations are to be made at all, this presupposes that it is possible for a system of political interactions to continue over time. What allocative theory takes for granted—the persistence of a system of political behavior—system theory questions. It assumes that the logically prior problem is to explain the conditions under which a system of political interactions manages to persist at all.

The general approach to a political system at this level has appeared in two forms, functional analysis and systems analysis. Functional analysis had just begun in political science during the 1960s (Almond & Coleman 1960). Although it has yet to be elaborated in the detail it deserves, if it were to proceed along the lines familiar in sociology and anthropology, it would focus primarily on the problem of the maintenance of political systems. It would assume that we can better understand political structures and institutions if we are able to depict the part they play in maintaining the whole complex of interactions that we call a political system. Close analysis would reveal, however, that a functional approach represents not a theory as such but, rather, only the protocol setting forth procedures to be used in any adequate scientific research about social relationships. But since it does encourage the search for patterns of relationships, it moves in the direction of all-inclusive or general theory.

Systems analysis, however, launches us directly into theory construction (Easton 1965a; 1965b). It does not find it necessary to postulate self-maintenance as a theoretical organizing principle. Rather, it may be used to view political life as a set of interactions imbedded in a social environment but analytically separable from it. Political interactions would then constitute an open system subject to influences from this environment in the form of inputs. The system, in turn, modifies the environment through the production of outputs peculiar to this kind of system alone—allocations accepted as binding by most members of a society most of the time.

The key question for systems analysis is how such a political system manages to persist over time, even in the face of disturbances from its environment—such as economic crises, social disorganization due to rapid change, defeat in military conflict—that threaten it with destruction. Persistence under possible stress, it suggests, is a function of the fact that a political system is a self-regulating pattern of interactions. Such a system is able to react creatively to stress and to take actions aimed toward its own persistence through time. It may persist by maintaining existing structures and processes, but it may also respond by changing these both marginally and fundamentally. In this interpretation, self-maintenance is only one mode of response and not necessarily the most frequent one. [SeeSystems analysis, article onpolitical systems.]

Regardless of the merits of the allocative or system theories that have become available since World War ii, together they would offer the most comprehensive and most general tool of analysis for political science. It is true that at the present stage of development neither of these types of theories measures up to the ultimate ideals of a theoretical science. As in most other social sciences, theory is in a very early and rudimentary state. Nevertheless, it is incontrovertible that this initial thinking about allocative theory and system theory, even in the first few decades following World War ii, has been lighting the way toward a comprehensive, empirically based general theory of political systems. In the process, it can aid in bringing order out of the changes under way in the subfields of political science by offering positive criteria for testing the relevance and significance of alternative ways of parceling out the discipline for specialized research.

Method and theory

The increasing tendency of political science to take the shape of an analytic discipline rather than a synthetic one has been reinforced and, in some measure, even initiated by a major revolution in method that has also shaken the discipline. By the 1960s the methods of modern science had made deep inroads into political research, under the rubric of the study of political behavior. This behavioral revolution has permanently changed the methodological and technical face of political science. It has heightened the level of scientific awareness among political scientists, making them increasingly sensitive to the role of scientific theory. It has also encouraged a rapid growth in the range and quantity of factual research about political life; the economical interpretation of this became impossible without the guiding hand of theory. The metamorphosis in political research has thus given birth to the search for a new theoretical coherence in political science.

The technical revolution

Only as a specialized academic discipline of politics began to take shape in the United States, during the nineteenth century, did the methods of political inquiry become a salient matter. In part, political science could emerge as a discipline separate from the other social sciences because of the impetus Marx had given to the idea of the difference between state and society, an idea virtually unheard of before his time. This interpretation made it possible for students of politics to contemplate the state as an independent focus for their interests. But in part, the origins of political science also lie buried in the Staatslehre approach, brought to the United States during the nineteenth century. It too identified the state as a central and separate subject matter, but it cut the state off from those roots in society which Marx tried to uncover. As we have seen, it interpreted the state as a sociologically disembodied set of abstract legal-constitutional norms. However inadequate this formal interpretation was, it did offer students of politics an apparently independent and coherent subject matter, something they had lacked until that time.

It is one of those strange ironies of history that the very approach which helped to set political science on its feet as a separate academic discipline should be so quickly rejected, as it was in the United States. But even in the process of being cast off, the Staatslehre approach inspired a new scientific consciousness in political research. The revolt against arid legalism in the United States took place in the very name of science itself.

The work of James Bryce is a classic and representative illustration. Although he was a Scot, in his self-conscious espousal of science and in his insistence (1921) that this involved the discovery of the facts of political life at all costs— “It is facts that are needed: Facts, Facts, Facts”—he reflected the antilegalistic mood of the American intellectual environment. By the 1920s this passion for unearthing facts had been thoroughly legitimated under the imposing title “the new science of politics” (Merriam 1925). A hyperfactual era began, one in which the collection of brute, but it was hoped reliable, facts became the accepted rule and part and parcel of the prevailing understanding of science (Easton 1953).

But in the new-found passion for “hard” data, American political science lost sight of the grand fact that in spite of its profligate use of the adjective “scientific,” it still had a long distance to go to throw off the heavy yoke of the Greek classical tradition. The new science of politics, as it developed in the first few decades of the twentieth century, had mistaken a concern for the so-called facts of political life for the whole of a science of politics. It had substituted one kind of scientific product—empirical, verifiable data—for the whole. But in the realm of method it was still operating on some of the major premises of the classical tradition. It continued to assume that the methods of inquiry were not themselves problematic. It had no clear idea of the form of the propositions in which its findings needed to be stated to make verification possible. It had done little to clarify its views on the relationship between facts and values, and as a result, political science continued its complete and unquestioned immersion in a prescriptive, problem-oriented approach.

The “behavioral revolution” in political science after World War ii stands as a summary label for the consequences of the full reception of scientific method. It received its important start in the 1920s and 1930s under the stimulus of the Chicago school, as represented in the work and inspiration of Merriam, Lasswell, and Gosnell. It brought to a head the many tendencies that had been evolving over the centuries and then exploded the discipline in a multitude of new directions. By the 1960s the behavioral methods had gone a long way toward becoming homogenized with the main body of political scence.

If we disregard particulars for the moment, what stands out with brilliant clarity in the behavioral revolution in political science is the final and complete acceptance of the idea that methods of investigation, in all their aspects, are problematic and, accordingly, merit special, concentrated attention. Once this was acknowledged, the main barrier to sophisticated methodological development was destroyed. It opened up a limitless vista of opportunities for the acquisition of reliable methods of inquiry. Time alone was needed for the consequences to work themselves out. But one immediate result was the sudden awakening of the discipline to the need for special academic courses devoted to methods of research alone. Through this special attention, the discipline will in time be able to offer the same kind of innovative leadership in the area of methods and techniques of research and analysis that is characteristic of its best efforts in the substantive fields.

The theoretical revolution

While the technical revolution was taking place, the behavioral movement was casting aside the last remnants of the classical heritage in political science. It has brought about a profound transformation in conceptions about the role that theory plays as a tool for political research. Thereby it has tended to drive political science away from a prescriptive, problem-directed discipline to one in which research depends increasingly upon empirically oriented theoretical criteria.

The growing acceptance of the difference between factual and evaluative statements, and the need to be aware of when and how each is being used, has placed the prescriptive policy orientation of past political science in a new perspective. In the long past of political inquiry, and even to a considerable extent in the 1960s, students of politics have considered it a major objective to address themselves directly to the question of how to solve current political problems—how to bring about a responsible two-party system, to improve control over bureaucracies, to increase the responsiveness of representatives, to achieve political stability in a changing world, to reduce the survival chances of dictatorial systems, to control international conflict, and the like. All these problems taken collectively have in effect denned objectives of political research.

With the growing commitment to the goals and methods of a rigorous science, political scientists began, by the 1960s, to show a strong inclination to pose questions in a sharply different way. Understanding began to take logical and chronological priority over premature efforts to prescribe policies. Not that political scientists have arrived at a conviction that they ought to avoid the application of their knowledge to the solution of practical day-to-day issues of society. Any science that thus divorced itself from society would soon find itself extinct, and justifiably so. But the belief is that there may often be a clear difference between the short-run needs of society, on the one hand, and the long-run needs for an adequate understanding of political life, on the other. To be able to offer reliable judgments about how to improve and reform political systems, it may be necessary to grasp the fundamentals about their operations, regardless, initially, of the goals for which this knowledge might later be used. [See Public policy.]

However, the clarification of the role of values and prescription in the methods of political analysis has posed a new and serious problem. And yet it is through efforts to meet and conquer this problem that we can anticipate an acceleration in the conversion of political science from a synthetic science to a pure science.

However much the desire to prescribe for the solution of current political issues may distract political science from a search for a fundamental understanding of political systems, the positing of ethical purposes did have a singular merit. At the very least it defined some outer limits on the range of research; research had to be relevant in some way to current social issues. But when, by the 1960s, these ethical criteria began to disappear, the gates were opened wide to an unrestrained flood of empirical research. If it is no longer necessary to test the relevance of research findings by their significance as possible solutions to practical problems, the choice of topics would seem to depend entirely on the intuitions and proclivities of the research worker himself. There would, consequently, be no foreseeable limit to the variety or volume of research carried out in the name of political science. If only to abort a danger like this, theoretical criteria could be expected to assert themselves, as indeed they did in the 1960s.

Even if none of these other factors had been at work, the state of the technical arts in social research today would have been driving political science in the same direction. Political science has come to an appreciation of the role of rigorous research at the very time that the rapid growth of computer technology has made possible the collection, storage, retrieval, and analysis of vast mountains of raw data. The very fact that in the past political science had been slow to take advantage of systematic methods in its research was, in the 1960s, turned to its advantage. Since it did not have a tradition or vested interests in older techniques to hold it back as it moved into the area of more sophisticated methods, it was able to take advantage of the most advanced technology available. For this reason political scientists in the 1960s were to be found in the lead in the development of information storage and retrieval systems for social data. [See Information storage and retrieval.]

But these new skills brought with them a parallel danger: Even more than in the past, it has become feasible to generate data in political science at an ever steeper rate. Even if purely ethical criteria had continued to set the patterns of research, the data that had already begun to accumulate in the interwar period would have cried out for some systematic way of bringing economy and order to their organization, analysis, and future growth. It is here that theory entered to play a major role. For theory imposes limits by differentiating fundamental research from trivial research, by systematizing and codifying knowledge, and by offering guidance for future research. The transformation of political science from a synthetic discipline to a theoretical discipline became, therefore, no longer a matter of choice; it was being forced upon the field out of a sense of self-preservation.

The decades after World War ii have witnessed a marked growth in scientific consciousness in all disciplines, accompanied by a spreading appreciation of the place of theory in scientific methodology itself. This has given added impetus in political science to the search for scientifically more respectable and acceptable criteria for analyzing the boundaries and intrinsic unity of the discipline. The decline of pure empiricism in the other social sciences has helped to provide the incentives in political science to search even more intensively for a theoretical matrix that would give direction and analytic purpose to empirical research and that would draw all the basic subdivisions of political science together into a conceptually consistent unity. Not that consensus at the theoretical level has been achieved, or is even in the offing. But experimentation with alternative theoretical frameworks and analytic models promises to reveal the intrinsic coherence of political science as a discipline. Developments of this kind give strong evidence that political science has been slowly evolving from its synthetic past into a theoretical future. As this happens, political science will join its neighboring disciplines as one of the basic social sciences.

David Easton


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Kaplan, Morton A. 1957 System and Process in International Politics. New York: Wiley.

Key, V. O. Jr. (1942) 1964 Politics, Parties, and Pressure Groups. 5th ed. New York: Crowell.

Lane, Robert E. 1962 Political Ideology: Why the American Common Man Believes What He Does. New York: Free Press.

Lasswell, Harold D. (1930) 1960 Psychopathology and Politics. New ed., with afterthoughts by the author. New York: Viking.

Lasswell, Harold D. 1936 Politics: Who Gets What, When, How? New York: McGraw-Hill.

Lasswell, Harold D. 1948 Power and Personality. New York: Norton.

Lasswell, Harold D.; and Kaplan, Abraham 1950 Power and Society: A Framework for Political Inquiry. Yale Law School Studies, Vol. 2. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press. → A paperback edition was published in 1963.

Lippmann, Walter (1922) 1944 Public Opinion. New York: Macmillan. → A paperback edition was published in 1965 by the Free Press.

Lipset, Seymour M. 1960 Political Man: The Social Bases of Politics. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday

MacIver, Robert M. (1926) 1955 The Modern State. Oxford Univ. Press.

March, J. G. 1966 The Power of Power. Pages 39–70 in David Easton (editor), Varieties of Political Theory. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall.

Merriam, Charles E. (1925) 1931 New Aspects of Politics. 2d ed. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Merriam, Charles E. 1934 Political Power: Its Composition and Incidence. New York: McGraw-Hill. → A paperback edition was published in 1964 by Collier.

Michigan, University Of, Survey Research Center. 1960 The American Voter, by Angus Campbell et al. New York: Wiley.

Morgenthau, Hans J. (1948) 1967 Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace. 4th ed., rev. New York: Knopf.

Oppenheimer, Franz (1907) 1926 The State: Its History and Development Viewed Sociologically. New York: Vanguard. First published in German as Der Staat.

Ratzenhofer, Gustav 1893 Wesen und Zweck der Politik. 3 vols. Leipzig: Brockhaus. → Volume 1: Die sociologische Grundlage. Volume 2: Die Staatspolitik nach Aussen. Volume 3: Der Zweck der Politik im Allgemeinen.

Riker, William H. 1962 The Theory of Political Coalitions. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press.

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Schapera, Isaac 1956 Government and Politics in Tribal Societies. London: Watts.

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Political Science

views updated May 29 2018

Political Science








The first efforts to systematically study politics can be traced to Platos Republic (c. 427c. 347 bce) and Aristotles Politics (384322 bce). Their works were later incorporated into Christianity through neo-Platonists, such as St. Augustine (354430 ce), and neo-Aristotelians, such as St. Thomas Aquinas (c.12251274 ce). The classical and Christian traditions of political philosophy postulated metaphysical first principles and relied on a process of deductive reasoning that sought to derive the moral and ethical principles of an ideal-state. Whether the ideal-state was ever achieved by any civilization was considered secondary to discovering the highest good that ought to guide citizens and statesmen.

The political writings of Niccolò Machiavelli were the first to break with these traditions of political philosophy. Machiavelli believed that the study of political history could yield general principles to guide statesmen in the conduct of politics, diplomacy, and war. He studied existing and historical political institutions, and the actions of great statesmen, not for the purpose of discerning a morally ideal-state, but to identify institutional arrangements that would maintain social order and political stability. The separation of politics from any metaphysical or theological foundation led subsequent political philosophers to seek a new basis for legitimate political authority, although, in the end, solutions such as reason, natural law, custom, and tradition were superceded by the idea that sovereignty resides in a nations people.


Francis Lieber (17981872) is considered the first modern political scientist. He was a liberal German émigré to the United States, who from 1827 to 1832 devoted himself to writing and editing the thirteen-volume Encyclopedia Americana. Its major contribution was to establish the idea of the state, or Staatswissenshaft, as the organizing concept of political science. The idea of the state was gaining wide currency in Europe, particularly in Germany, but it was Lieber who first argued in the United States that the idea of the state is the basis of a class of sciences, and gives them a distinct character as belongs to the various classes of history, philosophy, theological, medical, &c., sciences (1838, Vol. 10, p. 225). He drew a distinction between idea of the state and the form of government, which was merely a means of obtaining the great objects of the state (1838, Vol. 11, p. 568). Against the backdrop of events leading up to the U.S. Civil War, Lieber articulated a distinctly idealistic theory of the state which identified the state as an abstract and organic sovereign society that was the source of governmental authority and the basis of its legitimacy. Liebers appointment as professor of history and political science at Columbia University in 1857 made him the first person to hold that title in the United States.


After Lieber, political science was established as a broader discipline when John W. Burgess, a professor of constitutional law, founded the Faculty of Political Science at Columbia in 1880. Burgesss school became the leading graduate faculty in political science during the 1890s along with the Department of History, Politics, and Economics, which had been established by Henry Baxter Adams at Johns Hopkins University in the 1870s. Burgess and Adams were both adherents of the Staatswissenshaft doctrine, but they shifted the disciplines methodological emphasis from political ethics to history.

In 1886 Columbias faculty founded the Political Science Quarterly (PSQ), which was the new disciplines first scholarly journal. In its first issue, Edmund Munroe Smith, a professor of international law, announced that it would recognize but one political sciencethe science of the state (1886, pp. 23). However, the PSQ also facilitated a new departure in Staatswissenshaft by emphasizing that it was one thing to describe the states development, comparatively and historically, but more was required to explain changes and development in the state. Smith argued if we seek to trace through history the evolution of the state, we find each step in its development recorded in the evolution of law and explained to a great degree by economic changes (p. 7). This methodological principle, which was called the economic interpretation of history was developed first by James E. Thorold Rogers (18231890), a professor of political economy at Oxford University, whose work stimulated the next advances in the discipline.


The Populist revolt and the Progressive movement were fertile political environments for an intellectual revolt against the formalist-idealism of the early discipline. The method of economic interpretation led to a new iteration of Staatswissenschaft that seemed better able to explain the political conflicts of the era. During the 1890s, there were several miscues in the effort to define the method of economic interpretation, including both skirmishes and dialogues with Marxian historical materialists. The major breakthrough came from Edwin R. A. Seligman, a political economist in Columbias Faculty of Political Science. Seligmans general statement of the economic interpretation of history is that:

The existence of man depends upon his ability to sustain himself; the economic life is therefore the fundamental condition of all life. Since human life, however, is the life of man in society, individual existence moves within the framework of the social structure and is modified by it.To economic causes, therefore, must be traced in the last instance those transformations in the structure of society which themselves condition the relations of social classes and the various manifestations of social life (1967, p. 3).

The method of economic interpretation was widely adopted by political scientists in the early twentieth century, particularly after Seligman had differentiated it from Karl Marxs historical materialism. Nevertheless, the method of economic interpretation is most often identified with the work of Charles A. Beard, one of Seligmans students, and the author of An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States (1913). In its political context, the book became an intellectual lightning rod, because according to Beard capitalistic interests had dominated the U.S. Constitutional Convention of 1787 and, consequently, they authored a founding document that appealed directly and unerringly to identical interests in the country at large (p. 188). Beard later sought to generalize this doctrine in The Economic Basis of Politics (1922).

Beard exerted a powerful influence on the discipline over the next two decades, partly by authoring the first introductory textbook on American Government and Politics (1910), which became a standard text in political science for nearly four decades. In 1926, Beards soaring reputation secured his election as president of the American Political Science Association (APSA). By the mid-1930s, his economic interpretation of the American state had achieved orthodox status among scholars as the Great Depression forced economic considerations to the forefront of government and political science.

However, developments in political science and other disciplines put the doctrine of Staatswissenschaft under pressure from the outset. In 1895 the American Historical Association was established by historians seeking to institutionalize Leopold von Rankes methodological program of historical positivism. Frank J. Goodnow, who had been a member of PSQ s editorial board, led the founding of the American Political Science Association in 1903, along with its new journal, the American Political Science Review. As the APSAs first president, Goodnow reaffirmed that the domain of political science is that political organization of society which is termed the State (Ross 1991, p. 282). Nevertheless, the vision for a science of the state, anchored by political economy, started to fragment as one social science after another splintered into separate disciplines and, after World War I, began exploring the new positivist philosophy as an alternative methodological foundation.


During the 1920s, political science began a paradigm shift that culminated in the behavioral revolution of the 1950s. The first aspect of this paradigm shift was a redefinition of the meaning of science. The positivist movement sought to place political science on the same methodological foundations as the natural sciences. This movement was also promoted by the federal government, which was anxious to bring about the same types of technical success in the social sciences as had been achieved in the physical, life, and behavioral sciences (psychology) during World War I. Positivists claim that all research is similar in method and differs only in the specific problems to be solved by a particular science. Thus, there is a single scientific method that starts with the formulation of a hypothesis, followed by empirical observation or experimentation, which leads to a falsification or verification of the initial hypothesis. Knowledge is accumulated incrementally as hypotheses are rejected or accepted as a result of empirical tests.

The Social Science Research Council (SSRC) was chartered in 1923 as an independent nonprofit organization, and funded by private foundations, specifically to encourage behavioral research in economics, sociology, and political science that employed empirical and statistical methods of the type advocated by positivists. The University of Chicago, which was among the first to pioneer such methods, was designated as the SSRCs showcase institution. The SSRC distributed funds to political scientists and political science departments for fellowships and training in the new empirical methods, for the development of new courses in statistics and behavioral research design, and general department building along the Chicago model. Charles E. Merriam, a professor of political science at Chicago, is often called the father of behavioral political science. In his New Aspects of Politics (1925), Merriam called for a science based on the observation of real governments and political behavior, although he remained skeptical about an overly quantitative political science. This skepticism was retained by Harold D. Lasswell and V. O. Key, who were both students of Merriam and important transitional figures between the positivist movement of the 1920s and the behavioral revolution of the 1950s. Lasswell called for an applied political science oriented toward solving the problems of democracy as opposed to a discipline that emulated natural science in a quest to discover universal laws of political behavior without respect to their practical applications. In 1951 Lasswell proposed that policy scientists should conduct research that was directly and immediately useful to decision makers, while employing appropriate quantitative methodologies that acknowledged the limits of data availability and the pressures of time and scarce resources in the decision-making process. Key is best known for his work on political parties, interest groups, electoral behavior, and public opinion. Although he disagreed with the behavioralists fundamental tenets, he pioneered many of the statistical techniques and analytic concepts later employed by them.


The positivist influence reached its apogee in the behavioral revolution of 1950s, which consolidated the disciplines paradigm shift, first, by codifying behavioral methodology and, second, by finally rejecting outright the concept of the state. The behavioralists broke with the earlier practice of political scientists by claiming to have discovered a value-neutral science and by viewing all earlier works on politics as merely a storehouse of hypotheses for empirical falsification or verification. This attitude toward political philosophy widened the long simmering rift between empirical political science and normative political theory with the latter regarded as an unscientific legacy of the disciplines past.

Behavioralisms main methodological claim was that uniformities in political behavior could be discovered and expressed as generalizations, but that such generalizations must be testable by reference to observable political behaviors, such as voting, public opinion, or decision making. Most behavioralists equated observation with quantification to a degree that went beyond what Merriam, Key, or Laswell had considered appropriate quantification. Finally, the behavioralists proposed a pure science where the theoretical explanation of political behavior was to precede the solution of urgent practical policy problems in society.

The concept of the state, which had been central to political science, was also displaced in the 1950s by a concept of the political system that is mainly associated with Talcott Parsonss systems analysis. Parsonss sociology identified the political system with behaviors and institutions that provide a center of integration for all aspects of the social system. David Easton echoed this view by declaring, neither the state nor power is a concept that serves to bring together political research and instead defined the political system as those interactions through which values are authoritatively allocated for a society (1953, p. 106). Systems analysis was tied closely to various theories of decision making, but most notably to pluralist theory, which viewed decision making as the outcome of peaceful bargaining between interest groups in society. Easton emphasized that to account for the persistence of political systems, one had to assume that they successfully generate two system outputs: (1) the political system must successfully allocate values for a society (decision making); and (2) the political system must induce most members to accept these allocations as binding, at least most of the time (legitimacy). These policy outputs feed back into the social, economic, international, and natural systems to generate new inputs and demands that must be continually processed by the political system.

Eastons model of the political system stimulated a great deal of research over the next two decades on decision making, interest groups, political communications, political parties, elections and voting behavior, legislative behavior, political socialization, political beliefs, and the policy process. These fields of research have also been characterized by ever increasing levels of sophistication in the use of statistical techniques and concepts. However, the systems model was often limited in applicability by its emphasis on system stability and the assumption of institutional arrangements peculiar to Western democracies. These limitations were partly addressed by the functionalists, who employed a modified concept of the political system that focused on functions and processes, while acknowledging that the same functions could be fulfilled in various political systems through different processes or institutions. Functionalism was particularly influential in the study of comparative politics and non-Western political systems, where there were different institutional arrangements or where the use of statistical techniques was hampered by the absence of data and technology.

During the 1950s the political science discipline also assumed its current form as a collection of distinct subfields with most political scientists specializing in one or two subfields, while having less and less interaction with practitioners in other subfields of the discipline. The standard subfields are American government, comparative politics, international relations, political theory, public administration, and public policy, although the two latter applied fields have often been shifted into separate academic units, such as schools of public administration or public policy, while political theory is now actually practiced as often by historians, philosophers, and literary critics as by political scientists.


Political science entered a postbehavioral revolution amidst the political rebellions of the late 1960s and the new social movements of the 1970s and 1980s. New intellectual currents, such as neo-Marxism, postpositivism, poststructuralism, and postmodernism were conjoined with a variety of political movements, including pacifism, feminism, environmentalism, postcolonialism, and the gay and lesbian liberation movements. Easton identified the source of the postbehavioral revolution as a deep dissatisfaction with political research and teaching, especially of the kind that is striving to convert the study of politics into a more rigorously scientific discipline modeled on the methodology of the natural sciences (1969, p. 1051). The behavioral persuasion remains the dominant orientation of the official discipline, but it has been challenged numerous times since the late 1960s.

One of the most significant intellectual challenges to the behavioralist paradigm and to pluralist theory was the return to the state initiated in the late 1960s by Marxists, such as Ralph Miliband and Nicos Poulantzas and then carried forward by the new institutionalists. Nicos Poulantzass Pouvoir Politique et Classes Sociales (1968), and Ralph Milibands The State in Capitalist Society (1969) directly challenged systems analysis and pluralist theory by drawing on a radical tradition identified with the writings of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, V. I. Lenin, and Antonio Gramsci. These authors developed theories of the state that questioned the basic assumptions of the dominant political science, particularly its assumption that political power is distributed more or less equally among different social groups. At the height of his popularity in the mid-1970s, Miliband was recognized as one of the leading political scientists in the English-speaking world, while Nicos Poulantzas was arguably the most influential political theorist in the world for a time.

However, the interest in state theory waned temporarily as many political scientists abandoned the quest for grand theory in the context of a more widespread intellectual disillusionment with grand scale metanarratives, such as state theory and their attendant transformational political projects. The shift from Marxist to post-Marxist to poststructuralist and postmodernist theory shifted the analysis of power from macroscopic to microscopic forms of power and, therefore, to the multiple technologies of power such as language, family, interpersonal relationships, culture, leisure and entertainment, and the configurations of repressed desire (Foucault 1972, p. 12).

The growing discontent among a minority of political scientists led to the establishment of the Caucus for a New Political Science in 1967. The Caucus includes political scientists of many diverse viewpoints, but it is united by the idea that the discipline should abandon the myth of a value-free science and advance a progressive political agenda. While originally founded as an alternative to the APSA, it won recognition as the first organized section of the APSA with the right to sponsor its own panels, collect dues, and to publish its own journal New Political Science. Members of the Caucus have authored numerous commentaries on the tragedy of political science, the crisis in political science, and the flight from reality in political science. In 2000, these discontents again resurfaced in the perestroika rebellion, which denounced the APSA as an organization controlled by East Coast Brahmins, which promotes a narrow parochialism and methodological bias toward the quantitative, behavioral, rational choice, statistical, and formal modeling approaches (Monroe 2005, pp. 1, 9).

While Caucus members remain a small proportion of the APSAs membership, it established a precedent that has resulted in the proliferation of organized sections to represent the interests of political scientists in interdisciplinary, subfield, and methodological research outside the official discipline. There are now 37 organized sections in the APSA, whose combined membership is greater than that of the discipline as a whole and attendance at section panels of the APSAs annual meeting tends to be higher than at the disciplinary panels. Political science is now fragmented into so many subfields, methodological approaches, area specializations, and theories that political scientists apparently come together at APSA meetings, but only in spatial terms (Yanow 2003, p. 398). The future of the discipline in the next century is not clear, but its development over the last century has been characterized by the accretion of multiple approaches. Despite major paradigm shifts, no conception of the discipline is ever completely displaced by another approach and the discipline is now clearly marked by a lack of consensus concerning its basic concepts, theories, and methodology.

SEE ALSO Campbell, Angus; Dahl, Robert Alan; Data; Data, Longitudinal; Economics; Empiricism; Enlightenment; Experiments; Game Theory; Methodology; Methods, Qualitative; Methods, Quantitative; Methods, Research (in Sociology); Methods, Survey; Philosophy, Political; Plato; Political Psychology; Political Science, Behavioral; Politics; Politics, Comparative; Regression; Regression Analysis; Reliability, Statistical; Research, Cross-Sectional; Research, Longitudinal; Research, Survey; Scientific Method; Social Science; Validity, Statistical


Almond, Gabriel A., and G. Bingham Powell Jr. 1966. Comparative Politics: System, Process, and Policy. Boston: Little, Brown.

Barrow, Clyde W. 1993. Critical Theories of the State: Marxist, Neo-Marxist, Post-Marxist. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Beard, Charles A. 1913. An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.

Burgess, John W. 1897. Political Science and History. American Historical Review 2 (3): 401408.

Burgess, John W. 1930. The Founding of the School of Political Science. Columbia University Quarterly 22: 351396.

Burgess, John W. 1993. The Idea and Forms of the State. In Discipline and History: Political Science in the United States, eds. James Farr and Raymond Seidelman, 4962. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. (Article orig. pub. 1891).

Dahl, Robert A. 1956. A Preface to Democratic Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Easton, David. 1953. The Political System: An Inquiry into the State of Political Science. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Easton, David. 1965. A Framework for Political Analysis. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Easton, David. 1965. A Systems Analysis of Political Life. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Easton, David. 1969. The New Revolution in Political Science. American Political Science Review 63 (4): 10511061.

Foucault, Michel. 1972. The Archaeology of Knowledge & The Discourse on Language. New York: Harper and Row.

Furner, Mary O. 1975. Advocacy and Objectivity: A Crisis in the Professionalization of American Social Science, 1865-1905. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press.

Goodnow, Frank J. 1905. The Work of the American Political Science Association. Proceedings of the American Political Science Association 1: 35-46.

Gunnell, John G. 1993. The Descent of Political Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lerner, Daniel, and Harold D. Lasswell, eds. 1965. The Policy Sciences: Recent Developments in Scope and Method. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Lieber, Francis, ed. 1838. Encyclopaedia Americana. 13 vols. Philadelphia: Thomas, Cowperthwait, & Co.

Lyotard, Jean Francois. 1984. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Merriam, Charles E. 1925. New Aspects of Politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Merriam, Charles E. 1993. Recent Advances in Political Methods. In Discipline and History: Political Science in the United States, eds. James Farr and Raymond Seidelman, 129146. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. (Article orig. pub. 1923).

Monroe, Kristen Renwick, ed. 2005. Perestroika! The Raucous Rebellion in Political Science. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Ricci, David. 1984. The Tragedy of Political Science. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Rogers, James E. Thorold. 1888. The Economic Interpretation of History. New York: G. P. Putnams Sons.

Ross, Dorothy. 1991. The Origins of American Social Science. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

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Seligman, Edwin R. A. 1967. The Economic Interpretation of History. 2nd ed. New York: Gordian Press.

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Yanow, Davora. 2003. Practicing Discipline. PS: Political Science and Politics 36 (3): 397399.

Clyde Barrow

Political Science

views updated May 23 2018


Political science, as currently conceived, is a relatively new concept that dates to the nineteenth-century United States. Prior to this time, the study of politics in the West remained a part of natural philosophy, and it tended to focus on philosophical, historical, and institutional approaches. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle is often named as the first "political scientist," but his approach differs markedly from what is currently understood to be "political science." Aristotle primarily occupied himself with addressing what sort of political system would best enable the highest human life of eudaimonia (happiness). In the Politics, Aristotle surveys an array of constitutions, separating them into six categories based on how many rule the system and whether or not they rule well. This may be considered an empirical study of sorts and perhaps the first "typology," but his method of study falls well short of what is currently considered to be scientific.

The ancient Indian approach exemplified in the treatise Arthashastra (written by Kautilya around 300 b.c.e.) similarly differs from the modern approach to studying politics. Kautilya, often compared to Thucydides, Thomas Hobbes, and Niccolò Machiavelli, discusses the importance of law, kingly conduct, foreign policy, and administrative practices in an attempt to explain that governments have the responsibility of tending to the well-being (broadly understood) of their people. While these ancient approaches to studying politics differ in important ways from the contemporary approach of political science, their emphasis on the pragmatics of political rule connect rather well with contemporary political practice in the West. The Islamic approach to political practice, however, contains some important differences. Notably, Islamic political practice is firmly grounded in religion in so far as it sees the purpose of the state to be the satisfaction of Allah's wishes, namely, the eradication of evil. Thus, whereas political practice in the industrialized West has been able to evolve as ethical and moral codes have been altered or evaporated (for example, the Christian prohibition on usury no longer carries much weight in a capitalist framework), Islamic political practice has much more difficulty with such changes because Allah is considered the One who dictates moral and ethical codes.

Political scientists of the early twenty-first century are motivated far more by an interest in attaining political "knowledge" than Aristotle or Kautilya were. Aristotle sought less to be sure of what he knew than to assess the role of politics in the good life. Indeed, this was the motivating force behind almost all studies of politics (with the notable exceptions, perhaps, of Augustine of Hippo and Machiavelli) until the nineteenth century. In many areas of the world, such as Continental Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, the importance of studying politics for more metaphysical reasons, rather than for simply epistemological ones, continues into the twenty-first century. In these places, society still generally tends to take precedence over the individual as the focus of political study. In the United States and the United Kingdom, by contrast, the study of politics has adopted a strongly scientific stance, a stance that has embedded itself in empiricist epistemology and individualism.

The Importance of Knowledge

The reasons for the empiricism of political science multiply the more one investigates the topic, but the secularization of the Western world certainly played a prominent role. The changes that occurred during the sixteenth century called into doubt the traditional understanding of the place of humans in the world by undermining the existential authority of the church. Now humans were faced once again with the same metaphysical problem of antiquity ("why are we here?"), and the French essayist Michel de Montaigne (15331592) gave voice to the age-old skeptical response. Interestingly, the French philosopher René Descartes (15961650) followed Montaigne in the seventeenth century by providing a very similar answer, though he couched it in philosophical terms. Montaigne had said that because human knowledge is in doubt and human existence correspondingly has no necessarily universal meaning, it is up to the individual to endow his or her own life with meaning based on his or her own beliefs. Descartes also believed that human knowledge was in doubt, and he too contended that the grounding point for knowledge and human existence was the individual human. Actually, the grounding point for him was reason but only insofar as individual human beings exercise reason. Descartes believed that the world was composed only of matter and mind. The mind accesses matter via the senses and reason, but the senses are faulty and therefore they give humans an imperfect understanding of matter. Reason, however, is much more trustworthy. It is more trustworthy because it focuses the mind on the eternal or universal characteristics of the things it encounters, whereas the senses focus on the mortal or particular characteristics of the things it encounters. The senses trick people into focusing on the things that change, whereas reason focuses the mind on what is universal, on the properties of the thing rather than on the thing itself.

So, one can see that even in the modern epoch philosophy focused (as did the ancients) on the relationship between the particular and the universal. Interestingly, though, in the modern epoch God dropped out of the picture. Descartes did not rely on God to provide the universalistic foundation for particularistic actions, beliefs, knowledges, and so on. Instead, for him, reason played this role. This "individualist" turn in philosophy led to some interesting problems with existence of God arguments, and some interesting solutions as well (for example, that of the eighteenth-century Irish philosopher George Berkeley [16851753]). Descartes, in other words, humanized philosophy, which opened up space for the individual. The individual's exercise of reason allowed access to an understanding of the universal properties of the material world. All of modern philosophy extends from this basic principle. The eighteenth-century Scottish philosopher David Hume (17111776) dealt with it in his problem of induction. Berkeley approached it with his emphasis on perception. And the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (17241804) addressed it with the synthetic a priori and the categorical imperative. Modern philosophers showed themselves to be preoccupied with epistemology, with finding a universal grounding point for knowledge in the absence of God as a unifying force. Science, accompanied by the belief that knowledge could transcend the subjective viewpoints of individual humans, ultimately emerged as an organizing principle for knowledge and, then, for society.

The Universal and the Particular

The first applications of this particular understanding can be seen in the attempts by Kant, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (17701831), and Karl Marx (18181883) to assess history in terms of how one might, through the proper understanding of historical trends and developments, actualize history's end (or purpose). For each of these thinkers, the proper application of reason to history would enable humans to live together in peace and harmony. But these sorts of approaches to studying politics were quickly displaced by narrower, more empirical approaches. Hegel had argued that the existential problem of human history had always been oriented toward an interplay, or dialectic, between the particular and the universal. Humans, in other words, have always sought to understand the nature of being, not only their existence in the world but also the existence of the world. The movement of history, then, can be seen in terms of the dialectic between developing understandings of the particular place of humans in the universe. For Hegel, the critical metaphysical question became not so much "why are we here?" but "who are we, here?" Hegel, in other words, sought to situate human beings within lived (or material) history and also within spiritual history. Hegel, that is, wanted to determine who people are or believe themselves to be (in spiritual history) at particular moments (in lived or material history). He understood who individuals are at particular moments in history to be simply the current synthesis of the historical dialectic between the particular and the universal. This approach, he believed, allowed human beings to ask not only what it means to be me (as a self or as an individual apart from others) but also what it means to be us (as individuals living together in a particular material and spiritual moment in history).


Hegel's idealism, while quite popular during much of the nineteenth century, was nevertheless displaced (in the United States and the United Kingdom, at least) by empiricism. (Positivism and logical positivism are contained within the empiricist approach.) Empiricists define knowledge in terms of a separated subject or agent accessing the truth, or accurately representing the facts, of the objective world. This presupposes Descartes's separation of mind from matter, taking as given the existence of both and their necessary division. In this view, the external objective world of matter simply is separate from the internal subjective world of the mind. The problem for humans, and indeed for empiricist epistemology, then becomes how minds gain knowledge, understood in the universal terms of certainty, of the material world. The modern empiricist view of knowledge, then, proceeds from a profoundly skeptical viewpoint, which is what Kant called, in his Critique of Pure Reason, the "scandal of philosophy."

Indeed, Kant endeavored to answer the skepticism of Descartes. Kant's fundamental concern was to determine if inner experience (that is, ideas, perceptions, and representations) provides humans with any true knowledge about outer experience (that is, the objects that humans believe exist in the external world). But Kant, of course, was much more concerned with developing a scientific metaphysics. Modern empirical scientists had different goals. In the modern scientific view, the object world has a logic all its own. This means that anything that is actually separate from a subject or that is understood to be separate from a subject can be known (i.e., accurately represented) by a subject who has an inclination to represent it. One might even go so far as to say that any such separate thing can be understood by a subject so inclined to understand it. This allows individuals to give understandable and accurate representations of the things they study, and it helps them explain how humans might behave given those representations. But any deeper, more metaphysical understandings and explanations of human actions drop from view. Some, such as Martin Heidegger, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Paul Feyerabend, have differed strongly from the empiricist approach, but they have not succeeded in dulling the effects of the empiricist approach on political science.

And so, whereas in the early history of modern political science one can still find many of the lingering foci of earlier political studies (for example, attempts to provide political solutions to the timeless questions of antiquity regarding the good life), by the twentieth century many of these foci had disappeared. Increasingly, political scientists oriented their inquiries into politics around analysis of the concepts raised by the classical questions. Political scientists, in other words, began to shy away from metaphysical questions and systemic solutions, preferring instead to suggest pragmatic and prudential political action in accord with the rules established by the current political system. They took this approach because they appeared to find the political questions and "answers" put forth by metaphysicians to be philosophically irresponsible (because they cannot be logically justified given deductive logic), and this philosophical irresponsibility would then give rise to social, political, and moral irresponsibility. The metaphysical commitments of the philosophical idealists must be authoritarian because they can only be contingent and perspectival rather than necessary and absolute. Therefore, the "responsible" thing to do was to, as Daniel Bell put it in The End of Ideology, give up "the dream of organizing society by complete blueprint." The prudent action is to focus, "within a framework of liberal values, on problem solving as a means of remedying social ills and inadequacies" (Bell, p. 419). Political science, then, must echo President John F. Kennedy's statements in his commencement address at Yale University in 1962. It must "research for sophisticated solutions to [the] complex and obstinate issues" associated with the practical management of modern society. Searches for meaning and morality in social action, then, must fall by the wayside. No matter what, then, the human value of political action ceases to be a viable consideration when politics is studied scientifically.

The Discipline of Political Science

The beginning of American political science as an organized discipline can be dated to December 30, 1903, when John Burgess, Frank Goodnow, Westel W. Willoughby, and others founded the American Political Science Association (APSA). The association's journal, the American Political Science Review (APSR ), followed in 1906. Even though most schools still lacked separate political science departments, the appearance of the APSA, and thereafter its journal, legitimated professional commitment to political science as a coherent area of study. The APSA gave political scientists, in and out of the university, a sense of common purpose, and the APSR offered an outlet for original research and scholarly exposure.

As the discipline was established, political scientists increasingly incorporated political knowledge as their peculiar domain. Political scientists, after "authorizing" themselves through the creation of a discipline, began cordoning off political research as their area of study. The study of politics started to become a professional pursuit, sanctioned by a professional association. This trend toward professionalism in the field of political research became more clear during the behavioral revolution's move to "pure" science. With behavioralism, the discipline settled on a scientific identity, an identity that has changed little since its inception. Behavioralism, though, has its roots in the "science of politics movement," which began in the 1920s.

Political scientists believed that a scientific, disciplinary, and professional identity (that is, acceptance as "legitimate" producers of knowledge) depended on a common and useful methodology to separate trained "political scientists" from methodologically untrained amateurs. Scientific method would allow political scientists to arrive at objective, value-free truth (or truths) about a certain aspect of (usually) American politics in order to aid a modernizing polity in a purely technical way. There could be no normative goals in a value-free science. Political scientists, in other words, should not seek to express what ought to be done. Instead, their goal must be simply to explain the political world.

The roots of behavioralism.

In the early 1900s, Arthur F. Bentley offered a tool for empirical, value-free social research in his work, The Process of Government: A Study of Social Pressures. Although Bentley was not an academic by trade, he did influence subsequent generations of political scientists, especially those within the behavioralist tradition. In The Process of Government, Bentley wanted to move away from the traditional notions of scientific explanation in society. He considered political science, with its nineteenth-century reliance on formalist studies of institutions, to be dead. The "barren formalism" of political science needed to be touched up with the "glow of humanity" by studying social actors themselves "for what they are" and "for what they represent" (Bentley, pp. 163164). According to Bentley, the "raw material" for the scientific study of government cannot be found in one person. It must always be located in "something doing," in the activity of groups, in "the dispersal of one grouping of forces by another grouping." And while these groups do consist of thinking and feeling persons, the social scientist knows "nothing of 'ideas' and 'feelings' except through the medium of actions" (p. 175176). Government is a process that is forever in flux, and, as such, it can never be described by law books, law, essays, addresses, or constitutional conventions.

Bentley argued that social science, then, should be empirical, measurable, progressive, and concerned with the interaction and activity of a complex and overlapping system of social, political, and economic groupings. Such a social science could, in Bentley's view, be objective and, as such, achieve "knowledge." Most of these aspects are evident again, in the science of politics movement of the 1920s and 1930s and in the behavioral political science that conquered the discipline by the late 1950s. The empirical, measurable, "progressive," and quantified behavioralist tradition gave political science the "scientific" identity it had sought since Bentley's era.

The science of politics movement.

The new era in political science that followed World War I, like most new eras in the discipline, repudiated the previous era of political science. Progressive political science was condemned as invalid and partisan, not scientific enough. The new era sought even more detached, scientific, methodical, and therapeutic reforms for what was perceived to be a democracy in crisis. According to postWorld War I political scientists, the United States' "liberal democracy" emerged badly shaken from the war. Political scientists had supported the war "for the usual reasonsit was supposed to end European autocracy and thus end war" (Seidelman and Harpham, p. 102). Instead, emboldened and effective fascist and communist governments in Europe strengthened their abilities to motivate their populaces to act in accordance with government interests. PostWorld War I political scientists in America noticed a peculiar lack of any such motivational ability in the United States, and their wrath fell on their immediate predecessors. In their view, reform-minded progressive political scientists had not adequately and systematically located receptive reform publics, and their superficial and hasty analyses and proposals had consequently failed to be effective.

In light of this, political scientists of the new era saw the need for scholarly renovation. They renewed their dedication to establishing scientific inquiry in the hope that "scientific knowledge would emerge and contribute to improving the quality of public life in America" (Ricci, p. 77). The professional identity of the political scientist became that of political "healer," and political knowledge, implemented in the governmental system, was to be constructed toward this end. Political scientists such as Charles E. Merriam and Harold D. Lasswell saw themselves as social engineers whose purpose was the "rational" supervision of political actors tasked with ordering and controlling a logical and brave new political society. Merriam and Lasswell simply wanted to install a professional identity for political scientists based on a science that was organized to aid the liberal democratic state. As such, political knowledge was to be organized for the same purpose. This is part of the reason why such a formulation of science caught on in the discipline. It was constructed to correspond to the technical needs of society, and therefore it became the accepted identity for political scientists. But after World War II, this identity began to crumble. Behavioralists wanted to purify scientific political knowledge.

According to Albert Somit and Joseph Tanenhaus, numerous factors emerged to help establish behavioralism as a force in political science: Political scientists perceived that they were not considered legitimate scientists and consequently had problems securing research grants; they believed that the other social sciences (particularly psychology) were making broad advances while political science lagged behind; the reformist, normative nature of the discipline was generally considered speculative and unscientific; research technology (including survey techniques, statistical computations, and computers) became much more refined and available; and they pursued a "pure" science that operated on the presupposition that democracy is the best system of government because of its open and scientific qualities. In short, postWorld War II political scientists sought to define the science of politics from the standpoint that science should be pure. The science of politics should be interested only in explaining the workings of American democracy in order to understand the American system better.


Postwar political scientists believed that political crises remained because preWorld War II political scientists had allowed their reformist aims to occlude their understanding of politics. Many postwar political scientists wanted to embark on the pure scientific project of analyzing the workings of the American system without tainting the analysis with speculative notions of reform. These were the first self-conscious attempts to push normative political theory to the margins of the discipline. The assumption that American democracy is the best political system in the world expels the normative determination of value from the discipline's activities. A pure science, after all, cannot consider such a claim. Rather, it must presuppose its end as it determines how best to reach or enhance it.

Somit and Tanenhaus have combined the various strands of behavioralism into what they term the "behavioral creed":

  1. Political science should search rigorously for regularities in political behavior in order to facilitate prediction and explanation.
  2. Political science should concern itself with empirical political phenomena, that is, with the behavior of individuals and political groups.
  3. Data should be quantifiable in order to aid predictive capabilities.
  4. Research should be theory driven; in other words, research should begin with a theory that yields empirically testable hypotheses.
  5. Political scientists should avoid applied (reform-minded) research in favor of pure scientific research.
  6. Values such as democracy, equality, and freedom cannot be scientifically established and should thus be avoided unless they can somehow be made empirically testable.
  7. Political science should become more interdisciplinary, at least at the behavioral level.
  8. Political science should place more emphasis on methodology and make better use of multivariate analysis, sample surveys, mathematical models, and simulation.

Behavioralists were intent on building a scientific community that was centered on behavioral inquiry. They could do this by further institutionalizing political knowledge. Therefore, the research skills that behavioral inquiry required served to exclude those who did not possess the proper training and to solidify the scientific identity of political scientists.

One example of behavioral inquiry can be found in the work of David B. Truman, who is probably best known for his book The Governmental Process, first published in 1951, which revived Bentley's group process theory of government. Truman's argument, although less polemical, closely resembles Bentley's and is offered in response to the expanding role of interest groups in American politics and the public's growing fear of their influence. The Governmental Process, by Truman's own account, contributed to the "political behavior movement" in political science by increasing "the analytical strength and usefulness of the discipline" (pp. xixxx). It also triggered the growth of the study of interest groups in the United States and abroad. Like Bentley's work, The Governmental Process offers a tool for analysis: a theory to drive systematic behavioral research. It contains many "testable hypotheses" ranging from the political orientations of groups to the internal politics of the group process to the influence of groups on the legislature, the executive, the judiciary, and elections.

Truman's basic argument revolves around the notion that because every individual attempts to become an accepted participant in a group or a set of groups, it makes sense to study political behavior in terms of groups and group interactions. He argues that "the patterns of action and attitude among individuals will differ from one another in large measure according to the clusters of group affiliations that the individuals have" (p. 16). Individuals define themselves based on the opportunities that groups afford. In Truman's words, "It appears that the group experiences and affiliations of an individual are the primary, though not the exclusive, means by which the individual knows, interprets, and reacts to the society in which he [sic] exists" (p. 21). Like Merriam, Truman believed that society had become sufficiently complex to necessitate an interdependent approach to the analysis of political behavior and government. In other words, any social or political action involves a complicated series of interactions, particularly at the group level, that affect individuals and the government. With this in mind, the purpose of Truman's book was to analyze rigorously both the operations of representative government in the United States and the character of groups' relationships with the governing process. He does not desire progressive reform; his research seeks "pure" explanation.

Another behavioralist, Heinz Eulau, openly criticized the reformist ("utopian") political science of the preWorld War II era. In his 1969 book, Behavioralism in Political Science, Eulau argued that science can function only "in an environment that permits freedom of inquiry and freedom of speech" (p. 12). American liberal democracy allows such freedoms and thus is most suitable for scientific work. Political science can never undermine liberal democracy, as David M. Ricci reported that preWorld War II political scientists feared. Political scientists assumed, then, that American democracy must be alive and well as they pursued the new, nonreformist, scientific goal of analyzing and explaining the ways in which the American political system functioned.

The dominance of the behavioral approach to studying politics was seen in the field of international relations as well, which tended to personify states and study their "behavior." This approach has been seen most clearly in realist and neorealist research in international politics. The field of comparative politics was also affected by the behavioral shift, as its practitioners abandoned the field's legal-institutional approach in favor of a more quantitative analysis. Instead of simply explaining the similarities of and the differences between political institutions across culture and context, behaviorally inclined comparative politics scholars sought to ground such institutional differences and similarities in "universal" terms of political behavior. The field of normative political theory was largely immune to the behavioral revolution and operated as a critic from without, which ultimately served to marginalize it from the accepted approach of the discipline. Postbehavioralism altered this situation in some important ways. All of the various subfields of study were opened to other methodological approaches, and political theory moved in a bit from the margins. Still, the scientific mood was not fundamentally altered.


In 1967 the Caucus for a New Political Science was organized as a response to behavioral hegemony. Behavioral discourse, pro and con, dominated the discipline's mainstream by the mid-1960s in terms of method, language, and research focus. Members of the caucus lamented the limited scope of behavioral inquiry. Behavioralism, they argued, neglected too many possible points of view; it was too "parochial." The caucus desired a more open and expansive discipline. In 1969 David Easton responded to the aims of the caucus in his presidential address to the APSA. Easton coined the term postbehavioralism and made relevance and action its watchwords. Postbehavioralists, Easton argued, wanted to make political science more relevant to and active in society.

Ultimately, new areas of research were opened up within the discipline (for instance, the Vietnam War, race relations, poverty, and women's rights), and the well-populated, university-centered discipline became specialized. Political scientists increasingly carved up special areas of the discipline for themselves, each area with a special language and technique that made intercommunication difficult and often without purpose. These subfields rapidly grew into self-contained entities within the field of political science.

During this era of fragmentation, antibehavioral forces found new voices. Research that was distinctly anti-or nonbehavioral found legitimacy as the discipline's professional identity evolved away from its behavioral parochialism. The discipline became more tolerant of various perspectives on politics and political science during the postbehavioral era. The intellectual "community" that behavioralism constructed in the discipline of political science collapsed during the 1970s, the decade that witnessed the fragmentation of the discipline's research agenda. This transpired for at least three reasons: (1) the Caucus for a New Political Science's effectiveness at forcing the field to open up to more research interests; (2) the population explosion that occurred in the discipline following World War II, which increased the competition for recognition among political scientists; and (3) a related mood of openness that prevailed in the discipline following the closed and parochial behavioral era.

Because political scientists were generally required to publish in order to advance the accumulation of knowledge that "scientific communities" need, and because the range of suitable research topics was limited during the behavioral era while the population of the discipline was rapidly increasing, the discipline was quickly saturated. Political scientists sought new areas of expertise and the discipline opened up, allowing for the creation of many new subfields. The topics covered by these new subfields were so diverse by 1977 that Nelson Polsby, the managing editor of the APSR at the time, "conceded that no editor could 'judge the quality of manuscripts over the full range of concerns that political scientists write about'" (quoted in Ricci, pp. 222223).

The discipline has become so complicated that even political scientists are unable to comprehend completely or become comfortable with its entire range of research. So much material is published in increasingly narrow fields that political scholars find it difficult to keep up with their own subfields, much less understand and integrate other subfields. Specialties and subspecialties continually emerge, and a broader base of expertise results. Each subfield churns out vast quantities of literature, and the literature from each subfield, taken together, is more than any one researcher can master. Nevertheless, one researcher can become an "expert" in the work of one subfield. Therefore, the discipline does not consist of "experts" in political knowledge (a central tenet of the APSA); it consists of "experts" in certain aspects of political knowledge. But while political scientists from different subfields find communication difficult, the notion of a common purpose (the construction of a body of political knowledge) remains.

In the early twenty-first century, however, the claim to this common purpose has come under some scrutiny by a new movement within the discipline called "Perestroika." The Perestroika movement, begun anonymously in 2000, calls attention to two problems in the discipline: its lack of inclusiveness and its increasingly mathematical approach. In many ways, this movement revives the thinking behind the Caucus for a New Political Science movement in its concern for the apparent irrelevance of the discipline in the wider political context and its criticism of an increasingly quantitative orientation within the discipline. Those active in the Perestroika movement consistently point to the growing preponderance of rational choice approaches to studying politics, which, in their view, are becoming hegemonic within the discipline as departments re-populate themselves with scholars using rational choice methodologies in their research. While the Perestroika movement has witnessed some success (such as the founding of a new journal that promises to be more methodologically inclusive), it is not at all clear that it will succeed in altering the increasingly quantitative orientation of the discipline.

See also Democracy ; Historical and Dialectical Materialism ; Humanism ; Machiavellism ; Marxism ; Power ; Representation: Political Representation .


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Bell, Daniel. The End of Ideology. Rev. ed. 1962. Reprint, with a new afterword, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000.

Bentley, Arthur F. The Process of Government: A Study of Social Pressures. Rev. ed. Evanston: Principia Press of Illinois, 1949.

Easton, David. A Framework for Political Analysis. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1965.

. "The New Revolution in Political Science." American Political Science Review 63, no. 4 (1969): 10511061.

Easton, David, John G. Gunnell, and Michael B. Stein, eds. Regime and Discipline: Democracy and the Development of Political Science. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995.

Eulau, Heinz. The Behavioral Persuasion in Politics. New York: Random House, 1963.

. Behavioralism in Political Science. New York: Atherton Press, 1969.

. Micro-Macro Political Analysis: Accents of Inquiry. Chicago: Aldine Publishing, 1969.

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Farr, James, and Raymond Seidelman, eds. Discipline and History: Political Science in the United States. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993.

Feyerabend, Paul K. Against Method. 3rd ed. London: Verso, 1993.

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Gunnell, John G. The Descent of Political Theory: The Genealogy of an American Vocation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.

Haddow, Anna. Political Science in American Colleges and Universities, 16361900. New York: Octagon Books, 1969.

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Phenomenology of Spirit. 1807. Translated by A. V. Miller, with analysis of the text and foreword by J. N. Findlay. Oxford: Clarendon, 1977.

Hempel, Carl G. Aspects of Scientific Explanation. New York: Free Press, 1965.

Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Pure Reason. 1781. Translated by F. Max Müller. New York: Anchor Books, 1966.

Kaplan, Abraham. The Conduct of Inquiry: Methodology for Behavioral Science. San Francisco: Chandler, 1964.

Kress, Paul F. Social Science and the Idea of Process: The Ambiguous Legacy of Arthur F. Bentley. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1970.

Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

Lakatos, Imre, and Alan Musgrave, eds. Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1970.

Lasswell, Harold D. Politics: Who Gets What, When, How. New York: Peter Smith, 1950.

. Psychopathology and Politics. 1930. Reprint, with a new introduction by Fred I. Greenstein. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977.

Laudan, Larry. Progress and Its Problems: Toward a Theory of Scientific Growth. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1977.

Locke, John. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. 1690. Reprint, edited with a foreword by Peter H. Nidditch. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.

Merriam, Charles E. The Making of Citizens. 1931. Reprint, with introduction and notes by George Z. F. Bereday, New York: Teachers College Press, 1966.

Popper, Karl R. Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach. Oxford: Clarendon, 1972.

. "Unity of Method in the Natural and Social Sciences." In Philosophical Problems of the Social Sciences, edited by David Braybrooke, 3241. New York: Macmillan, 1965.

Ricci, David M. The Tragedy of Political Science: Politics, Scholarship, and Democracy. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1984.

Seidelman, Raymond, and Edward J. Harpham. Disenchanted Realists: Political Science and the American Crisis, 18841984. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1985.

Somit, Albert, and Joseph Tanenhaus. The Development of American Political Science: From Burgess to Behavioralism. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1967.

Truman, David B. The Governmental Process: Political Interests and Public Opinion. 2nd ed. New York: Knopf, 1971.

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Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations. Translated by G. E. M. Anscombe. New York: Macmillan, 1953.

. Tractatus logico-philosophicus. 1921. Translated by D. F. Pears and B. F. McGuinness. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1961.

Tim Duvall

Political Science

views updated Jun 08 2018

Political Science


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To provide financial assistance for college to residents of Tennessee preparing for a career in government or politics.
Title of Award: George Oliver Benton Memorial Scholarship Area, Field, or Subject: Political science Level of Education for which Award is Granted: Four Year College Number Awarded: 1 or more each year. Funds Available: Stipends range from $500 to $2,500 per year. Funds are paid to the recipient's school and must be used for tuition, fees, books, supplies, room, board, or miscellaneous expenses. Duration: 1 year; recipients may reapply.
Eligibility Requirements: This program is open to residents of Tennessee who have served or are serving as legislative interns. Applicants must be enrolled or planning to enroll in a 4-year college or university. Special consideration is given to students whose extracurricular activities indicate in interest in government. Interested students must submit a completed application, their high school and/or college transcript, and 2 letters of recommendation. Selection is based on academic record, standardized test scores, extracurricular activities, work experience, community involvement, recommendations, and financial need. Deadline for Receipt: March of each year. Additional Information: Recipients may attend college anywhere in the United States. They must attend school on a full-time basis. This program was established in 2001.


Attn: DAH-2
Bolling Air Force Base
Building 6000
Washington, DC 20340-5100
Tel: (202)231-4713
Fax: (202)231-4889
Web Site: http://www.dia.mil
To provide loans-for-service and work experience to women, minority, and disabled high school seniors interested in majoring in specified fields and working for the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).
Title of Award: Defense Intelligence Agency Undergraduate Training Assistance Program Area, Field, or Subject: Computer and information sciences; Geography; International affairs and relations; Political science Level of Education for which Award is Granted: Undergraduate Number Awarded: Only a few are awarded each year. Funds Available: Students accepted into this program receive tuition (up to $18,000 per year) at an accredited college or university selected by the student and endorsed by the sponsor; reimbursement for books and needed supplies; an annual salary to cover college room and board expenses and for summer employment; and a position at the sponsoring agency after graduation. Recipients must work for DIA after college graduation for at least 1 and a half times the length of study. For participants who leave DIA earlier than scheduled, the agency arranges for payments to reimburse DIA for the total cost of education (including the employee's pay and allowances). Duration: 4 years.
Eligibility Requirements: This program is open to women, minorities, and individuals with disabilities who are graduating high school seniors and interested in majoring in 1 of the following fields in college: geography, foreign area studies, international relations, or political science. Applicants must have a high school GPA of 3.0 or higher, have an SAT score of 1000 or higher or an ACT score of 21 or higher, be able to demonstrate financial need (household income ceiling of $65,000 for a family of 4 or $80,000 for a family of 5 or more), be U.S. citizens and from a family of U.S. citizens, and demonstrate leadership abilities through extracurricular activities, civic involvement, volunteer work, or part-time employment. Deadline for Receipt: November of each year. Additional Information: Recipients are provided a challenging summer internship and guaranteed a job at the agency in their field of study upon graduation. Recipients must attend school on a full-time basis.


Attn: Office of International and Off-Campus Programs
Brothers College Room 115
36 Madison Avenue
Madison, NJ 07940-4036
Tel: (973)408-3438
Fax: (973)408-3768
E-mail: [email protected]
Web Site: http://depts.drew.edu/offcamp/non-DrewScholarships.htm
To provide financial assistance to students from any college who wish to participate in the off-campus programs in the United States or abroad sponsored by Drew University.
Title of Award: Drew University Off Campus Programs Scholarships Area, Field, or Subject: Art; British studies; English language and literature; European studies; General studies/Field of study not specified; Performing arts; Political science Level of Education for which Award is Granted: Undergraduate Number Awarded: Varies each year. Funds Available: Grants up to $3,000 per semester are available to be applied to the cost of the programs. Duration: 1 semester.
Eligibility Requirements: Students from any American college or university who have been accepted to participate in 1 of the off-campus programs sponsored by Drew University may apply for financial aid if the university's financial aid office determines that they meet the standards of financial need. Applicants for semester programs must be entering their junior or senior year and have a GPA of 2.7 or higher. Deadline for Receipt: April of each year for the fall semester; November of each year for the spring semester. Additional Information: The programs available recently included a Washington semester on American politics, a semester on the United Nations in New York, a New York semester on contemporary art and culture, a semester on the new Europe, a program in Eritrea on developing countries, and a London semester on British politics, history, drama, or literature.


Attn: Research Department
4351 Garden City Drive
Landover, MD 20785-7223
Tel: (301)459-3700
Free: 800-EFA-1000
Fax: (301)577-2684
E-mail: [email protected]
Web Site: http://www.epilepsyfoundation.org/research/grants.cfm
To provide funding to undergraduate and graduate students interested in working on a summer research training project in a field relevant to epilepsy.
Title of Award: Behavioral Sciences Student Fellowships in Epilepsy Area, Field, or Subject: Anthropology; Behavioral sciences; Counseling/Guidance; Economics; Epilepsy; Nursing; Political science; Psychology; Rehabilitation, Physical/Psychological; Social work; Sociology Level of Education for which Award is Granted: Graduate, Undergraduate Number Awarded: Varies each year; recently, 4 of these fellowships were awarded. Funds Available: The grant is $3,000. Duration: 3 months during the summer.
Eligibility Requirements: This program is open to undergraduate and graduate students in a behavioral science program relevant to epilepsy research or clinical care, including, but not limited to, sociology, social work, psychology, anthropology, nursing, economics, vocational rehabilitation, counseling, and political science. Applicants must be interested in working on an epilepsy research project under the supervision of a qualified mentor. Because the program is designed as a training opportunity, the quality of the training plans and environment are considered in the selection process. Other selection criteria include the quality of the proposed project, the relevance of the proposed work to epilepsy, the applicant's interest in the field of epilepsy, the applicant's qualifications, and the mentor's qualifications, including his or her commitment to the student and the project. U.S. citizenship is not required, but the project must be conducted in the United States. Applications from women, members of minority groups, and people with disabilities are especially encouraged. The program is not intended for students working on a dissertation research project. Deadline for Receipt: March of each year. Additional Information: This program is supported by the American Epilepsy Society, Abbott Laboratories, Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical Corporation, and Pfizer Inc.


c/o David H. Stafford
Escambia County Supervisor of Elections
213 Palafox Place, Suite 4
P.O. Box 12601
Pensacola, FL 32591-2601
Tel: (850)595-3900
Fax: (850)595-3914
E-mail: [email protected]
Web Site: http://www.gotvflorida.com/scholarship.htm
To provide financial assistance to Florida residents who are interested in majoring in business, political science, or communications in college.
Title of Award: Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections Scholarship Area, Field, or Subject: Business administration; Communications; Journalism; Political science; Public administration Level of Education for which Award is Granted: Four Year College Number Awarded: 3 each year. Funds Available: The stipend is $1,200 per year. Duration: 1 year; recipients may reapply.
Eligibility Requirements: This program is open to residents of Florida who have completed 2 years of undergraduate study and are enrolled or planning to enroll full time at a 4-year college or university in the state. Applicants must be majoring in business administration, political science/public administration, or journalism/mass communications and have a GPA of 2.0 or higher. They must be U.S. citizens registered to vote in Florida. Along with their application, they must submit 2 letters of recommendation, a resume of high school and/or college activities, and documentation of financial need. Applications should be submitted to the student's county Supervisor of Elections. Each county's supervisor will review the applications received and select 1 finalist to be sent to the association for consideration. Deadline for Receipt: March of each year. Additional Information: This program includes the following named scholarships: the Joe Oldmixon Scholarship, the Jimmy Whitehouse Scholarship, and the Dorothy Walker Ruggles Scholarship.


Attn: Scholarship Department
1164 Bishop Street, Suite 800
Honolulu, HI 96813
Tel: (808)566-5570; 888-731-3863
Fax: (808)521-6286
E-mail: [email protected]
Web Site: http://www.hawaiicommunityfoundation.org/scholar/scholar.php
To provide financial assistance to residents of Hawaii for undergraduate or graduate studies in fields related to achieving world cooperation and international understanding.
Title of Award: Marion Maccarrell Scott Scholarship Area, Field, or Subject: Anthropology; Economics; Geography; History; International affairs and relations; Law; Peace studies; Philosophy; Political science; Psychology; Sociology Level of Education for which Award is Granted: Graduate, Undergraduate Number Awarded: Varies each year; recently, 258 of these scholarships were awarded. Funds Available: The amounts of the awards depend on the availability of funds and the need of the recipient; recently, stipends averaged $1,749. Duration: 1 year.
Eligibility Requirements: This program is open to graduates of public high schools in Hawaii. They must plan to attend school as full-time students (on the undergraduate or graduate level) on the mainland, majoring in history, government, political science, anthropology, economics, geography, international relations, law, psychology, philosophy, or sociology. They must be residents of the state of Hawaii, able to demonstrate financial need, interested in attending an accredited 2- or 4-year college or university, and able to demonstrate academic achievement (GPA of 2.8 or higher). Along with their application, they must submit an essay on their commitment to world peace that includes their learning experiences (courses, clubs, community activities, or travel) related to achieving world peace and international understanding and explaining how their experiences have enhanced their ability to achieve those goals. Deadline for Receipt: February of each year.


1001 Connecticut Avenue, N.W., Suite 632
Washington, DC 20036
Tel: (202)296-0009
Fax: (202)296-3633
E-mail: [email protected]
Web Site: http://www.hsfi.org/scholarships/generation.asp
To provide financial assistance to Hispanic and other students majoring in designated business, engineering, social science, and science fields who are interested in employment with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Title of Award: Next Generation of Public Servants Scholarship Area, Field, or Subject: Accounting; Biological and clinical sciences; Business administration; Computer and information sciences; Engineering; Environmental science; Finance; Geology; Information science and technology; Management; Mathematics and mathematical sciences; Physics; Political science; Psychology; Sociology Level of Education for which Award is Granted: Undergraduate Number Awarded: Varies each year. Funds Available: The stipend is $3,000 per year. Duration: 1 year; may be renewed up to 2 additional years if the recipient maintains full-time enrollment and a GPA of 2.8 or higher.
Eligibility Requirements: This program is open to U.S. citizens enrolled full time as sophomores with a GPA of 2.8 or higher. Applicants must be interested in preparing for a career with the DOE in an energy-related field. Eligible academic majors are in the fields of business (accounting, business administration, finance, and management), engineering (biomedical, chemical, civil, computer, electrical, environmental, industrial, materials, mechanical, metallurgical, nuclear, and petroleum), social science (economics, organizational psychology, political science, and sociology), and science (biological sciences, computer science, geology, information technology, mathematics, microbiology, and physics). They must be willing to participate in co-ops with the DOE. Along with their application, they must submit a 2-page essay on why a career in public service interests them, how their academic major connects with their stated DOE career goal, why the DOE should invest in them through this program, and how they believe the DOE will benefit from this investment. Selection is based on academic achievement, financial need, demonstrated commitment to public service, and interest in federal employment with the DOE. Deadline for Receipt: February of each year. Additional Information: This program, sponsored by DOE's Office of Economic Impact and Diversity, is administered by the Hispanic Scholarship Fund Institute as part of its effort to increase Hispanic participation in federal service.


c/o Dale M. Dennis
State Department of Education
120 East Tenth Street
Topeka, KS 66612
To provide financial assistance African American college students in Kansas who are interested in a career in politics.
Title of Award: Kansas African American Legislative Caucus Scholarships Area, Field, or Subject: Communications; General studies/Field of study not specified; Political science Level of Education for which Award is Granted: Undergraduate Number Awarded: 2 each year: 1 female and 1 male. Funds Available: The stipend is $1,000. Duration: 1 year.
Eligibility Requirements: This program is open to residents of Kansas of African American ethnic background who are attending a college or university in the state. Applicants must have a GPA of 2.6 or higher. Selection is based on academic achievement, leadership ability, and community involvement. Preference is given to students majoring in communications or political science. Males and females are judged separately. Deadline for Receipt: March of each year. Additional Information: This program is funded by past and present African American members of the Kansas Legislature.


Attn: Executive Director
56 Roland Street, North Lobby, Suite 203
Boston, MA 02129
Tel: (617)776-2676
Fax: (617)776-2579
E-mail: [email protected]
Web Site: http://www.massdems.org/involved/internship.htm
To provide financial assistance for college to Massachusetts residents, with preference given to registered Democrats.
Title of Award: John F. Kennedy Scholarship Area, Field, or Subject: History; Political science Level of Education for which Award is Granted: Four Year College Number Awarded: 2 each year: 1 is set aside specifically for a female and 1 for a male. Funds Available: The stipend is $1,500. Duration: 1 year.
Eligibility Requirements: This program is open to Massachusetts residents who are entering their third or fourth year of study at a college or university anywhere in the United States. Applicants must be majoring in political science, government, or history. They must be able to demonstrate a serious commitment to the study of American politics and be qualified to receive financial aid (as certified by their financial aid officer). Males and females compete separately. Preference is given to registered Democrats who have a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Finalists may be interviewed in Boston. Deadline for Receipt: April of each year.


Attn: Scholarship Program
2701 Park Center Drive, B704
Alexandria, VA 22302
E-mail: [email protected]
Web Site: http://www.dcnnoa.org
To provide financial assistance to African American high school seniors from the Washington, D.C. area who are interested in majoring in designated fields in college.
Title of Award: DCNNOA/Advanced Concepts and Technologies Scholarship Area, Field, or Subject: Computer and information sciences; Political science; Public administration Level of Education for which Award is Granted: Undergraduate Number Awarded: 1 each year. Funds Available: The stipend is $1,000 per year. Duration: 1 year; nonrenewable.
Eligibility Requirements: This program is open to African American seniors at high schools in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area who plan to enroll full time at an accredited 2-year or 4-year college or university. Applicants must be planning to major in governmental affairs, political science, or computer science. They must have a GPA of 2.5 or higher and be U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Selection is based on academic achievement, community involvement, interpersonal and leadership skills, creativity, drive, and maturity. Deadline for Receipt: April of each year. Additional Information: Recipients are not required to join or affiliate with the military in any way. This program is sponsored by Advanced Concepts and Technologies, Inc.


Attn: Office of Recruitment and Staffing (Roberts)
9800 Savage Road, Suite 6779
P.O. Box 1661, Suite 6779
Fort Meade, MD 20755-6779
Tel: (410)854-4725; (866)672-4473
Web Site: http://www.nsa.gov/careers/students_4.cfm
To provide financial assistance and work experience to college sophomores and juniors interested in preparing for a career with the National Security Agency (NSA) as a global network analyst.
Title of Award: Pat Roberts Intelligence Scholars Program for Global Network Analysts Area, Field, or Subject: Banking; Computer and information sciences; Finance; Information science and technology; International affairs and relations; Political science; Telecommunications systems Level of Education for which Award is Granted: Undergraduate Number Awarded: Varies each year. Funds Available: The stipend is $25,000 per year. During the summer after application, students participate in a Global Network Analysis internship. After graduation, they have an employment obligation to NSA equal to 1.5 times the length of educational support provided. Duration: 1 year; may be renewed 1 additional year. The summer internship program is for 12 weeks.
Eligibility Requirements: This program is open to college sophomore and juniors whose academic program includes 1 of the following areas of emphasis: 1) technical studies (computer science major with a minor in political science or international relations); 2) topical studies (terrorism, proliferation or related sciences, international banking and finance, or telecommunications and information systems networks); or 3) disciplines (technical intelligence analysis, information assurance, networks, and telecommunications). Applicants must be enrolled full time with a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Along with their application, they must submit a 1-page essay describing how the proposed program of study will improve their ability to analyze information and to think and write critically. U.S. citizenship and eligibility to obtain a high-level security clearance are required Deadline for Receipt: October of each year. Additional Information: After graduation, participants enter NSA's Global Network Analysis Internship Program as a full-time employee.


Attn: Director of Student Services
1333 Main Street, Suite 200
Columbia, SC 29201
Tel: (803)737-2260; 877-349-7183
Fax: (803)737-2297
E-mail: [email protected]
Web Site: http://www.che.sc.gov
To provide scholarship/loans to teachers in South Carolina who wish to improve their content knowledge and degree programs.
Title of Award: South Carolina Teaching Scholarship Grants Program Area, Field, or Subject: Art; Dance; Economics; Education; Education, Early childhood; Education, Elementary; Education, Music; Education, Secondary; Education, Special; Geography; History; Linguistics; Mathematics and mathematical sciences; Music; Political science; Science Level of Education for which Award is Granted: Graduate, Professional, Undergraduate Number Awarded: Varies each year. Funds Available: The stipend is $1,000 per fiscal year. This is a scholarship/loan program. Recipients must sign a commitment to teach in South Carolina public schools for at least 1 year following completion of the scholarship grant year and agree to refund the scholarship amount if the 1-year teaching commitment is not honored. Duration: 1 year; may be renewed if recipients maintain a GPA of 3.0 or higher. They may receive up to 3 grants in a 5-year period.
Eligibility Requirements: This program is open to residents of South Carolina who have a professional teaching certificate and are under contract as a teacher in a public school in the state. Applicants must be 1) accepted as a degree-seeking graduate student in the teaching field at the master's level and enrolled at an eligible institution in the state; or 2) enrolled for graduate or undergraduate courses in their current teaching field or in a teaching field in which they wish to add on certification. Proposed fields of study must relate to core content areas of English, reading or language arts, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts (advanced fine arts, art, dance, drama, music, and speech), history, or geography; early childhood, elementary education, middle level education, secondary education, and special education also qualify. Priority is given to classroom teachers (not administrators, counselors, media specialists, or other support personnel) whose teaching specialties are critical need subject areas. Continuing graduate students must have a GPA of 3.0 or higher. U.S. citizenship or permanent resident status is required. Deadline for Receipt: December of each year for second summer session and fall semester; June of each year for spring semester and first summer session. Additional Information: This program was established in 2001.


Attn: TFBPW Foundation
803 Forest Ridge Drive, Suite 207
Bedford, TX 76022 Tel: (817)283-0862
Fax: (817)283-0872
E-mail: [email protected]
Web Site: http://www.bpwtx.org/foundation.asp
To provide financial assistance to women in Texas who are preparing to enter selected professions.
Title of Award: Hermine Dalkowitz Tobolowsky Scholarship Area, Field, or Subject: History; Law; Political science; Public administration; Women's studies Level of Education for which Award is Granted: Graduate, Undergraduate Number Awarded: 1 or more each year. Funds Available: A stipend is awarded (amount not specified). Duration: 1 year.
Eligibility Requirements: This program is open to women in Texas who are interested in attending school to prepare for a career in law, public service, government, political science, or women's history. Applicants must have completed at least 2 semesters of study at an accredited college or university in Texas, have a GPA of 3.0 or higher, and be U.S. citizens. Selection is based on academic achievement and financial need. Deadline for Receipt: April of each year. Additional Information: This program was established in 1995.


Attn: Executive Secretary
712 Jackson Place, N.W.
Washington, DC 20006
Tel: (202)395-4831
Fax: (202)395-6995
E-mail: [email protected]
Web Site: http://www.truman.gov
To provide grants-for-service for graduate school to current college juniors who are interested in preparing for a career in public service.
Title of Award: Harry S. Truman Scholarship Program Area, Field, or Subject: Agricultural sciences; Biological and clinical sciences; Economics; Education; Engineering; Environmental conservation; Environmental science; History; International affairs and relations; Law; Physical sciences; Political science; Public administration; Public health; Public service; Social sciences; Technology Level of Education for which Award is Granted: Four Year College, Graduate Number Awarded: 70 to 75 each year: a) 1 "state" scholarship is available to a qualified resident nominee in each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Islands (Guam, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands); and b) up to 25 at-large scholars. Funds Available: The program provides up to $30,000, including up to $15,000 for the first year of graduate study and up to $15,000 for the final year of graduate study. Duration: Support is provided for the first and last year of graduate study.
Eligibility Requirements: Students must be nominated to be considered for this program. Nominees must be full-time students with junior standing at a 4-year institution, committed to a career in government or public service, in the upper quarter of their class, and U.S. citizens or nationals. Each participating institution may nominate up to 4 candidates (and up to 3 additional students who completed their first 2 years at a community college); community colleges and other 2-year institutions may nominate former students who are enrolled as full-time students with junior-level academic standing at accredited 4-year institutions. Selection is based on extent and quality of community service and government involvement, academic performance, leadership record, suitability of the nominee's proposed program of study for a career in public service, and writing and analytical skills. Priority is given to candidates who plan to enroll in a graduate program that specifically trains them for a career in public service, including government at any level, uniformed services, public interest organizations, nongovernmental research and/or educational organizations, public and private schools, and public service oriented nonprofit organizations. The fields of study may include agriculture, biology, engineering, environmental management, physical and social sciences, and technology policy, as well as such traditional fields as economics, education, government, history, international relations, law, nonprofit management, political science, public administration, public health, and public policy. Interviews are required. Deadline for Receipt: February of each year. Additional Information: Recipients may attend graduate school in the United States or in foreign countries. Scholars are required to work in public service for 3 of the 7 years following completion of a graduate degree program funded by this program. Scholars who do not meet this service requirement, or who fail to provide timely proof to the foundation of such employment, will be required to repay funds received, along with interest.


130 South Scott Avenue
Tucson, AZ 85701-1922
Tel: (520)670-5529
Fax: (520)670-5530
Web Site: http://www.udall.gov/scholarship
To provide financial assistance to 1) college sophomores and juniors who intend to prepare for a career in environmental public policy and 2) Native American and Alaska Native students who intend to prepare for a career in health care or tribal public policy.
Title of Award: Morris K. Udall Scholarships Area, Field, or Subject: Business administration; Economics; Education; Environmental conservation; Environmental science; Health care services; Native American studies; Natural resources; Political science; Public administration; Public health; Urban affairs/design/planning Level of Education for which Award is Granted: Undergraduate Number Awarded: Approximately 80 scholarships and 50 honorable mentions are awarded each year. Funds Available: The maximum stipend for scholarship winners is $5,000 per year. Funds are to be used for tuition, fees, books, and room and board. Honorable mention stipends are $350. Duration: 1 year; recipients nominated as sophomores may be renominated in their junior year.
Eligibility Requirements: Each 2-year and 4-year college and university in the United States and its possessions may nominate up to 6 sophomores or juniors from either or both categories of this program: 1) students who intend to prepare for a career in environmental public policy, and 2) Native American and Alaska Native students who intend to prepare for a career in health care or tribal public policy. For the first category, the program seeks future leaders across a wide spectrum of environmental fields, such as policy, engineering, science, education, urban planning and renewal, business, health, justice, and economics. For the second category, the program seeks future Native American and Alaska Native leaders in public and community health care, tribal government, and public policy affecting Native American communities, including land and resource management, economic development, and education. Nominees must be U.S. citizens, nationals, or permanent residents with a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Along with their application, they must submit an 800-word essay discussing a significant public speech, legislative act, or public policy statement by former Congressman Morris K. Udall and its impact on their field of study, interests, and career goals. Selection is based on demonstrated commitment to 1) environmental issues through substantial commitment to and participation in 1 or more of the following: campus activities, research, community service, or public service; or 2) tribal public policy or Native American health through substantial contributions to and participation in 1 or more of the following: campus activities, tribal involvement, community or public service, or research; a course of study and proposed career likely to lead to position where nominee can make significant contributions to the shaping of environmental, tribal public policy, or Native American health care issues, whether through scientific advances, public or political service, or community action; and leadership, character, desire to make a difference, and general well-roundedness. Deadline for Receipt: Faculty representatives must submit their nominations by early March of each year.


6245 Bristol Parkway, Suite 224
Culver City, CA 90230
Tel: (323)671-0394
Fax: (323)778-2613
E-mail: [email protected]
Web Site: http://4watts.tripod.com/id5.html
To provide financial assistance to upper-division college students interested in health, civil rights, or administration.
Title of Award: Royce R. Watts Sr. Scholarship Area, Field, or Subject: Business administration; Civil rights; Health care services; Human rights; Medicine; Public administration Level of Education for which Award is Granted: Four Year College Number Awarded: 1 each year. Funds Available: A stipend is awarded (amount not specified). Duration: 1 year.
Eligibility Requirements: This program is open to U.S. citizens of African American descent who are enrolled full time as a college or university junior. Applicants must have an interest in health and pre-medicine, community activities and civil rights, or administration. They must have a GPA of 3.0 or higher, be between 17 and 24 years of age, and be able to demonstrate that they intend to continue their education for at least 2 years. Along with their application, they must submit 1) a 1-paragraph statement on why they should be awarded a Watts Foundation scholarship, and 2) a 1- to 2-page essay on a specific type of cancer, based either on how it has impacted their life or on researched information. Deadline for Receipt: May of each year. Additional Information: Royce R. Watts, Sr. established the Watts Charity Association after he learned he had cancer in 2001.

Political Process

views updated Jun 08 2018

Political Process

The process approach

The actors

Purposes of the actors

Using power

Developing power

The art–science relationship


“Political process” refers to the activities of people in various groups as they struggle for—and use—power to achieve personal and group purposes. Its most carefully studied forms have been the efforts of conflicting political parties, factions, cliques, and leaders to attain formal positions of legitimate authority in the central organs of public government—unitary and federal, national and local. The process also operates in the endless conflicts between nations and between international blocs. It may be found in the internal governance of corporations, government agencies, trade unions, churches, and universities (Merriam 1944). In all these forms of the political process, actual power may be far different from formal authority. Any power wielder’s objectives, whether manifest or or latent, may fall anywhere on the broad spectrum between good and evil. The means may include not only violence, bribery, and character assassination but also persuasion, mutual understanding, reciprocal adjustment, and the slow building of consensus as well.

The political process is probably a more difficult object of study than most other aspects of human behavior. One difficulty, as with many forms of social action, is the tremendous number of variables that interact simultaneously in many subtle ways. This produces an “organized complexity,” something much more difficult to understand than the “disorganized complexity” of random phenomena and random variations, which is susceptible to statistical analysis based on probability theory (Rockefeller Foundation 1959, pp. 7–15). With political events, moreover, the distortion and suppression of important information—whether through ignorance, bluff and maneuver, taboos, or self-censorship—are inevitable aspects of the process itself. Indeed, participation in the political process is frequently characterized by the vigorous denial of participation. The posture of being nonpolitical, nonpartisan, bipartisan, or “above politics” is a popular style of playing politics.

To some extent these difficulties have been counterbalanced by progress in formulating basic concepts, developing currently useful generalizations, and linking concepts and generalizations to observed data, both qualitative and quantitative. Some of the elements in this forward progress may be reviewed in terms of (1) the process approach to politics; (2) the actors in the political process; (3) their purposes; (4) their methods of utilizing power; (5) their development of power; and (6) the art-science relation in the political process.

The process approach

The process approach is far broader than politics. Indeed, the process concept has been a major unifying influence in modern thought and science. Although its roots go back to Heraclitus and Hegel, among many others, it has been set forth in both general and explicit terms by twentieth-century sociologists, such as Ross (1897–1904) and Cooley (1918), and philosophers, such as Dewey (1925), Whitehead (1929), and Bentley (see Dewey & Bentley 1949). By the process approach, the world or any part of it is seen as an ongoing stream of events in time, as becoming, rather than merely being. “Facts do not remain stationary. … The value of every fact depends on its position in the whole world-process, is bound up in its multitudinous relations” (Follett 1924, pp. 9, 12). Facts and process are separated into discrete elements only by human analysis, which is itself a continuing process of interrelating between knowers and the known. Change—whether slow or rapid, hidden or open—is continuous. It is also complex. Single causation is impossible; multiple causation and multiple effects are inevitable. Structures are not ruled out by this approach; they are included as the more stable aspects of action and interrelationship. “To designate the slower and the regular rhythmic events structure, and more rapid and irregular ones process, is sound practical sense. It expresses the function of one in respect to the other” (Dewey [1925] 1958, p. 62).

More concretely, although often less explicitly, the process approach has entered each of the natural and social sciences. In his efforts to understand the ongoing flow of events, man tries to slice up his universe into various specific processes: physical, chemical, physiological, psychological, sociological, political, economic, administrative, and many others. Each of these represents a different aspect of or a different way of thinking about the same ongoing stream of action and becoming. The process approach to politics developed as a reaction against viewing politics in the terms of presumably static and depersonalized structures, such as “the state,” individual nations, branches of governments, and political parties. As Easton has pointed out (1953, pp. 160–170), the first steps toward a process approach were taken by those who, like Bagehot (1865–1867), Wilson (1885), and Bryce (1888) examined the genuine loci of power, as distinguished from mere formal authority, in governments and parties. The next step, as illustrated by the work of Bentley (1908) and his many followers, was to look outside government and view the political process “principally as the interaction among governmental institutions and social groups” (Easton 1953, p. 172). This has led to a pluralistic concern with the activities of many kinds of organized groups inside and outside of government, but with much more attention than Bentley was willing to give to individuals, common interests, and normative values.

Within any area of inquiry, in turn, theorists and researchers slice up activity into many subprocesses and types. Thus, the political process has been persistently studied in terms of the electoral, legislative, judicial, executive, and international processes, with occasional attention to the more violent processes of revolution and war. The deeper any such study goes, the more it involves attention to still-more-specific processes, such as decision making, planning, budgeting, conflict resolution, socialization, communication and information processing, adaptation and learning, organization and reorganization, growth and decay. The list is endless—particularly since each is, in turn, often subdivided still further.

As the theorist or researcher penetrates any of these many aspects of the political process, he soon finds that what he is dealing with is “only the political aspect of the social process in its entirety” (Lasswell & Kaplan 1950, p. xvii). Political decision making involves processes of problem posing and problem solving that are also studied by psychologists, social psychologists, economists, logicians, and mathematicians [seeDecision making].

The process approach has thus led specialists from these fields to apply their skills to political decision making. Similarly, it has led political scientists into one or another of these fields, either to appropriate ideas for quick application to political decision making or, more boldly, to formulate concepts or theories that cannot be obtained prefabricated from those less familiar with political data. Indeed, any political process is closely interrelated with other social processes. An integrated view of these interrelations would require something more than isolated ventures across disciplinary boundaries, namely, a comprehensive view of the “social process in its entirety.” This may be done through social systems models dealing with the full range of systems from the nation-state down to formal organizations and small groups (Kuhn 1963; Miller 1965; Gross 1966). Such models provide the analytical tools for describing and explaining the changing structure and performance of concrete systems in specific environments composed of other systems. Unless great care is taken, however, such a view may be so abstract as to lose contact with the major realities of political action (as in Parsons & Shils 1951). This contact may be partially regained by focusing on the “political system” (as suggested in Easton 1953; 1965a; 1965b; and attempted in Almond & Coleman 1960). Here the risk becomes one of losing contact with the political processes in non-government organizations. This contact may be preserved by viewing the political system as a subsystem involved in continuous transactions with other crisscrossing subsystems [seeSystems analysis].

The actors

Although everyone plays some small part in the political process, the majority of people are relatively passive. It is the activist minority of elites, leaders, rulers, or managers who play the major roles, exercise the greater power, receive the greater rewards and recriminations, and become the heroes and villains of history. In many societies these activist roles have been reserved mainly for men who have been born into the proper families, castes, or classes, have been blessed with inherited wealth, or have demonstrated successful achievement in battle, business, or trial by competitive test. In all societies many are relegated to subordinate roles by discrimination based on sex, religion, ethnic origin, race, color, or caste. And many others, not barred by such obstacles, may be effectively restricted by poverty, disease, oppression, inadequate education, and an atmosphere of hopelessness.

Yet, the passive masses are always part of the act. Their style of “followship” affects the pattern of leadership. Their interests and norms, even when unorganized, provide the potentials for future organization (Truman 1951, pp. 34–35, 51–52). They may even determine where and how the leaders end up—as suggested by the age-old description of the ruler as a man riding a tiger. From them may come builders of new organizations, challengers of old regimes, and successors to oldtime leaders. Moreover, there is rarely a sharp and single dividing line between the major and minor actors. Hierarchical relations in societies and large organizations provide finely graded scales of formal authority and crisscrossing spheres of legitimate influence. In industrialized and industrializing societies, with increasing differentiation between and within organizations, the number of such spheres grows apace. All of them may be sources of the indirect and reciprocal influences that lead toward pluralistic dispersions of power (Dahl 1961, pp. 89–103).

The identity of all major actors is never readily apparent. Behind the “great man” there often stands the éminence grise and the anonymous assistants; behind the directorate, the “kitchen cabinet”; behind the patriarch, the influential wife, mother, or mistress; behind the “boss,” the sprawling bureaucracy, and behind it, a network of alliances with supporting groups and individuals. The illusion of the central omnipotence of a single person or group is often fostered, both by top leaders seeking to expand their power by exaggerating it and by behind-the-scenes operators seeking to protect their power by hiding it. In the electoral process the people most active in picking candidates and supporting their campaigns are seldom as visible as the candidates or the electors. In the daily business of government and nongovernment operations, the major contenders in the power struggle are usually known only to the contestants themselves and a handful of close observers.

The social roles of the major actors are always complex. In part they are formally determined by constitutions, laws, charters, regulations, and customs. In part they are, also, the product of informal arrangements and understandings. On the one hand, they embody the expectations of others. On the other hand, they are shaped by the personality and capacities of the incumbents themselves. In some respects the role determines the actor’s major movements. In some it leaves him free to depart from the script, to extemporize, or to prepare his own lines in advance. In some it saddles him with conflicting and partly irreconcilable requirements. These role conflicts are magnified when people play different roles in different organizations or, as frequently happens at higher levels of authority, “wear many hats” in the same organization.

All the actors in the political process are involved in conflicts with opposing groups and individuals. At the lower and middle ranks of single organizations these conflicts may center largely on the “internal politics” of budgets, reorganization, jobs to be filled, and tasks to be grabbed or evaded. At the higher levels they tend to reflect divergent interests in the environment and the divergent pressures of suppliers, and clients, associates and adversaries, controllers and controllees. In “public politics” the executive, legislative, and judicial organizations of government are even more intimately embroiled in structuring or resolving the major conflicts of the community or nation.

Purposes of the actors

A major objective of all actors in the political process is the use and development of power or influence—that is, the capacity to influence events. The extent of their power distinguishes the major from the minor actors.

Because of its importance, the role of power in the political process may easily be exaggerated. It makes sense to regard politics as a “power struggle.” But viewing it as a struggle for nothing but power means disregarding other objectives and misunderstanding the nature of power itself. The modern tendency is to view power as one objective within a complex network of purposes. Power’s critical importance derives from its essential contribution toward achieving other purposes. Without power no leader or administrator can serve his own interests, the interests of a small minority, or the interests of a great majority.

Power, however, is rarely an undifferentiated form of currency. It is usually the more specialized capacity to influence certain events under certain conditions. The extent of power can be appraised only in terms of the achievement—actual or potential—of specific objectives. The sources and forms of power are adapted to and constrained by the objectives sought. An association of doctors, with considerable influence on health matters, will not exert much influence on foreign policy. The power to install a person in office or remove him from it is not equivalent to the power to control his decisions in office. A president usually finds that the power to do one thing may interfere with the power to do another: “The move that gains him ground on some particular may scar his general Washington reputation” (Neustadt 1960, p. 192).

The purposes served by power may be viewed both in terms of group and of individual interests. In organized groups people work together to provide outputs that satisfy various interests of members and outsiders. To do this, they try to obtain certain resources from the environment and–with some degree of economizing on resources perceived as scarce—engage in activities that produce the services or goods needed to satisfy interests. They seek to use some resources to strengthen the capacity of the organization itself. They try to do all these things rationally and in accordance with acceptable codes of behavior (Gross 1964, part 5). Their successes and failures in trying to achieve these various objectives are the best measures of their power. The difficulty in making such measurements derives in part from the great complexity —and in some cases the impossibility—of appraising these various dimensions of performance. The greatest difficulty lies in appraising the satisfaction of human interests. It is easier to identify the parties at interest—the “interesteds”—than to analyze their interests. It is easier to identify their interests than to appraise the fluid and evanescent combinations of satisfaction and frustration.

Power is also an instrument for the satisfaction of individual interests. People need power to provide for their basic physiological needs and to help assure their security and survival. They seek power as a means of winning acceptance by others and becoming part of a group or community. Power is needed to satisfy the “desire for a stable, firmly based … evaluation of themselves, for self-respect, or self-esteem, and for the esteem of others” (Maslow 1954, p. 90). It is a means toward greater autonomy, creativity, and self-fulfillment. Power may also be used for self-aggrandizement at the expense of others and as a way of venting aggressions upon those too weak to resist. It may be sought as a path to higher status without reference to performance. These are the kinds of things referred to by the idea of power sought “for its own sake.” On the other hand, power may also be sought by individuals and groups sincerely interested in serving interests beyond their own. Without the use of power, altruism and idealism become exercises in pathos and futility. Only through the efforts of enough people struggling for more power has it been possible to achieve those dispersions of power that make an organization, a polity, or a society more democratic. Only through the struggle for power may significant steps be taken toward serving the higher interests of human beings and the common interests of humanity. Neustadt (1960) has pointed out that presidents of the United States can provide adequate national leadership only through conscious and expert efforts to build presidential power. A similar comment may be made concerning administrators in any organization and leaders in any nation.

Using power

Power in use invariably involves a mixture of many different forms—sometimes mutually reinforcing—of persuasion and pressure (Gross 1964, pp. 781–794).


Persuasion takes place when A influences B to adopt a course of action without A’s promising or threatening any reward or punishment. It may take the form of example, expectation, proposals, information, education, or propaganda.

Many actors in the political process influence others by the sheer power of example. Where leaders go, others may follow on the basis of loyalty, devotion, or mere imitativeness. People and groups may also be influenced by mere expectations—particularly when their expectations of the power wielders conform to established customs or codes. Expectations, even when unspoken, tend to communicate themselves in effective ways; when communicated more openly, they become proposals and advice. These, too, may be extremely influential—particularly when there is confidence in the wisdom or disinterestedness of the proposers or advisers. Even without specific proposals or advice, great influence may be exercised merely by providing—or withholding—certain types of information.

When the premises on which people act are known, the mere structuring of the information at their disposal may shape their future behavior (March & Simon 1958, pp. 162–169). But education is a long-range and indirect means of influencing behavior, and although it has great potentialities for the development of learning abilities and adaptability, it is often used more vigorously to promote conformity [seeSocialization]. In some countries it has been “the most powerful means of social control to which individuals must submit” (Crozier [1963] 1964, p. 238). Propaganda is a more immediate form of persuasion, in which powerful symbols are used to appeal to people’s interests through their emotions and feelings. Propaganda “can strengthen predispositions and, in particular, give them specific direction; and it can contribute to weakening them if this process is supported by direct experience, or by nonpropaganda symbols” (Lasswell & Kaplan 1950, pp. 113-114). It is particularly powerful when supported by other forms of persuasion and by various forms of pressure—that is, by the “propaganda of the deed.” Sustained propaganda and demonstration by the mass media of communication can have profound “characterological effects” on the values and attitudes of many people (Pool 1963). [SeePropaganda.]


Pressure is applied by A upon B whenever A tries to make a course of action more desirable by promising or threatening contingent rewards or punishments. It may take the form of force, commands, manipulation, or bargaining.

Force is the most extreme form of power—one that has made the very term “power” obnoxious to many. Its application through imprisonment, torture, or destruction of life and resources will reduce or eliminate the recipient’s capacity to act in an undesirable way. Even its threat may serve as an important deterrent. In the international arena nations have traditionally used military power in the pursuit of both offensive and defensive ends. Within nations, governmental monopoly of the legitimate use of organized violence provides the ultimate sanctions behind the enforcement of law and order. Beyond this, physical force is usually used as a method of influence only by revolutionary or separatist groups, criminals, the parents of young children, and in some old-fashioned schools, teachers.

Physical force is a blunt instrument which, even when used as a last resort, may have little positive value. It may unleash counterforces capable of undoing what has been done, if not of seriously damaging its users. Besides, more flexible and reliable modes of pressure are available. Rewards, in the form of monetary payments, new positions, higher status, support, favorable votes, cooperation, approval, or the withdrawal of any anticipated punishment, may be bestowed or promised. Punishment, in the form of fines, firing, reduction in status, unfavorable votes, noncooperation, rejection, disapproval, or withdrawal of any anticipated reward, may be given or threatened. It is such incentives and sanctions that provide the backing for command—that is, for the use of power through orders, directions, regulations, or instructions.

Command also suffers from many limitations. It can be used only by those whose authority to give orders is accepted. It may undermine the initiative and self-respect of those receiving the orders. “Because command is a more ostensible, direct, person-to-person relationship, perhaps it can offend status, self-respect, and dignity of individuals more than does manipulation of operating penalties. Manipulation of the field seems to be more suitable for creating ‘permissive’ situations, i.e., situations in which a particular response is attained although the individual can choose among a variety of rewards and penalties” (Dahl & Lindblom 1953, p. 121). In manipulation, rewards and punishments are used without an open statement concerning the kinds of action desired.

Bargaining is a still more fluid—and far more pervasive—form of using pressure. In bargaining, all sides exercise power upon each other through reciprocal promises or threats. The objectives, the rewards, and the punishments are all subject to negotiation. Indeed, force, command, and manipulation tend to become enveloped in the broader and more subtle processes of bargaining. The great contribution of these cruder methods of power is not in supplanting bargaining but in strengthening the hands of the actors at the bargaining table. [SeeNegotiation.]

Overcoming resistance

No matter what the combination of persuasion and pressure, the users of power always encounter inertia or resistance. “Yet, when the order is given, obedience is reluctant, partial; resistance widens; and as penalties are made heavier, opposition becomes stronger. … Naked hands and empty pockets may obstruct and antagonize the action of authority and with means which can scarcely be successfully opposed without destroying the basis of human association itself” (Merriam 1934, pp. 156–157, 183). Other forms of power are met by other forms of resistance. For example, expectation and proposals may be countered by indifference; information by inattention or misinterpretation; propaganda by cynicism. The more effective any form of influence is, the more it may encourage, under certain circumstances, the organizers of countervailing power.

In using power, therefore, the actors in the political process develop strategies and tactics for dealing with inertia and resistance. Head-on resistance can often be avoided by the “strategy of the indirect approach,” that is, by flexible shifting from points of greater to points of lesser resistance (Liddell Hart 1929). Action campaigns may be carefully timed and designed. This often means taking the initiative, remaining on the offensive, avoiding overdefensive positions, and, where necessary, making sudden changes or retreats. It often requires a quick response to the challenge of an unexpected crisis or even the purposeful creation of crisis conditions. “Crisis may make it possible to take required actions against powerful groups which are normally well entrenched and invulnerable … [and] may stimulate action and hence learning on a problem on which insight has been low and for that very reason has not been tackled as long as it was in a quiescent state” (Hirschman 1963, p. 261). Above all, the various forms of persuasion and pressure must be continuously alternated and intermingled—with bargaining backed up by potential force; propaganda, by example; and manipulation, by information or by the iron fist suitably encased in the velvet glove.

No matter how excellent the leadership, the fully successful use of power is extremely rare. Unseen or unpredicted influences usually bear upon a situation. Desired consequences are often accompanied by unforeseen or unforeseeable ones, either immediate or subsequent. On the other hand, what appears to be total failure will usually be counterbalanced by mitigating circumstances and favorable, albeit unforeseen, aftereffects. Many sharp conflicts lead only to deadlock or—when either side fears the outcome—avoidance. Some conflicts may be resolved by an integration of opposing interests, that is, a creative readjustment of interests so that all contenders may gain and none lose (Follett 1926–1930, pp. 31–36). Most power struggles seem to end in mutual concessions. From this point of view the political process may be characterized as a stream of successive compromises punctuated by frequent episodes of deadlock and avoidance and by occasional victories, defeats, and integrations. Under such circumstances, the measurement of actual or potential power is indeed a baffling task. [SeePower.]

Developing power

The actual use of power requires the development of a “power base,” which in turn usually requires the actual use of power. Indeed, any use of power may help strengthen the power base, just as a muscle may be strengthened by exercise. But the constant use of power to achieve substantive objectives will, by itself, usually lead to the depletion of power. The actors in the political process must conserve their power for the occasions on which it is most needed. Over the long run, depletion is inevitable unless some power is diverted from other purposes and invested in the maintenance or strengthening of the power base itself.

Formal authority

Formal authority, or the legitimate right to engage in certain actions, is one of the most obvious sources of power. It is conferred upon individuals, groups, or organizations by constitutions, charters, statutes, regulations, delegations, or official decisions. It becomes entrenched and protected by habit, custom, tradition, and the ritual or ceremonial “trappings” of authority (Merriam 1934, pp. 102–132) It is often derived from a person’s lineage, wealth, professional status, knowledge, abilities, or sheer energy. Whether at the level of a nation-state (where it is called sovereignty) or of a single organization, it becomes meaningful only if accepted by those subject to the influence of the authority holders (Michels 1930; Barnard 1938, pp. 161–165).

To strengthen their power base, the actors in the political process usually spend considerable time in efforts to win or expand authority. Indeed, the terms “struggle for power” and “seizure of power” often refer specifically to a struggle for or seizure of positions of formal authority. This struggle involves the creation of new positions, the adjustment of old ones, and the installation of people in positions by appointment, election, or military force. It involves the interpretation (or even the change) of customs (Merriam 1945, pp. 74–76) and the use of conspicuous symbolism, in the form of flags, uniforms, buildings, office furnishings, titles, insignias, degrees, or ceremonies (Merriam 1945, pp. 81–93; Barnard [1935–1946] 1956, pp. 207–244). At times it involves “usurping authority” by engaging in unauthorized acts and subsequently seeking legitimation.


Wealth is another source of power. Almost any form of wealth—natural resources, man-made goods, or monetary claims against resources—may be used as a reward. Some forms of wealth, such as the media of communication, are effective instruments of persuasion. Others, such as armaments, are widely used by nations as instruments of pressure. Money is an all-around instrument for mobilizing other sources of power. Indeed, in many societies the wealthy person or organization acquires a certain aura of authority on the basis of wealth alone. Ownership is not essential. It is control of wealth that is important. This may be ‘exercised by the managers of corporations, as distinguished from stockholders, and by the top officials of government agencies and private associations.

Human resources

People—or human resources —are a still more fundamental source of power. It is people who convert physical resources to wealth by developing them and finding them useful. Both authority and organization are rooted in the interrelations of people. The sheer quantity of people is an important factor. The huge population of China constitutes a tremendous power potential; the small population of Cyprus, a great constraint. The economic power of producers often depends on the availability of mass markets. The power of political parties and factions is affected by the number of their supporters; that of trade unions and other associations by the number of members. Where democratic values and customs obtain (and particularly where conflicts are settled by voting), the number of people committed to or supporting a given course of action is a significant factor.

Yet, in any society or situation the quality of people is also important. In the modern world “quality” refers to much more than the aristocratic birth symbolized by the old phrase “people of quality.” It refers to a person’s potential for performance, a potential based on education, knowledge, intelligence, skill, interests, age, health, and energy level. Science and technology are of steadily increasing significance in the power base of any nation or organization. Although they are sometimes discussed as if they were abstract, disembodied forces, science and technology are meaningful only insofar as they are embodied in the capacities of specific scientists and technologists, capable of drawing upon or adding to the stock of human knowledge and know-how. Of still greater significance are the qualities of leadership exercised by the major actors in the political process. It is this critical minority of people who exploit or bring to fruition the power potential in larger numbers of people.


Organization is an indispensable source of power. Individuals themselves have only limited influence upon others, but by joining together in some sort of organization, they can develop the power to do things that could not be done at all, or at least not as well, alone. Through the specialization of labor and the cooperation between its component parts, an organization can exploit the special capacities of better-qualified people. It can bring people, resources, and authority positions together in a far-flung and flexible system of power. Accordingly, the major actors in the political process invest considerable time and other resources in maintaining, expanding, and reorganizing existing organizations or in building new ones. Those who free themselves from this task can do so only because others in the organization devote themselves to it.

Since no human organization is a closed system, the power developed through internal relationships must usually be sustained—and can invariably be extended—by various coalitions with external organizations arid individuals. Supply lines must be protected, clients pacified, controllers mollified, controllees kept in line, associates given assistance and—to the extent feasible— adversaries split or outwitted. This involves the organization of a complex network of support, composed both of active allies and of passive collaborators. This network may include a large variety of shifting and overlapping coalitions, or it may be crystallized into one pattern of alliances. In many situations considerable effort is spent on building unorganized opinions and attitudes into the support network. One of the most important functions of political campaign organizations is to win or maintain the support of unorganized individuals.

The art–science relationship

The most successful actors in the political process, it has often been said, are those who master the “art of the possible.” This phrase emphasizes the fact that the users and developers of power usually must be prepared to compromise on certain principles. Otherwise, the desirable may be impossible.

The possible, however, covers a broad spectrum, from the inevitable to the improbable. Some actors in the political process concentrate only upon the most feasible of objectives and the lowest of aspirations. Here the major skill lies in taking credit for events that would probably have happened anyway, as in “epiphenomenal planning” (Wiles 1962, pp. 72–74). Much greater artistry is involved in overcoming inertia and resistance that seem invincible. The masters of the political process are those who from time to time transcend the limits of immediate feasibility and shape sequences of events previously regarded as highly improbable. To satisfy higher aspiration levels, politics must become the “art of the improbable.”

At any level of aspiration, however, the actors in the political process face indeterminate situations. Except for certain highly routinized behaviors, they can never be sure what will happen if they do not act or what will be the effects of alternative courses of action. They must make their decisions in the face of risk and uncertainty. This calls for considerable artistry in developing a power base, in using power in the form most suitable to their purposes, and in adapting purposes to the exigencies of power development and use.

Although ancient, the political art is not static. It changes with and adapts to changing cultures, life styles, forms of organization, and scientific and technological advances. It has unquestionably been affected in many ways by the slow accumulation of scientific knowledge and theory on the political process. For one thing, under the influence of modern technique it has become highly differentiated. The art of budgetary politics is not the same as the art of using mass media of communication or public opinion polls. It is now appropriate to talk about “the arts,” rather than “the art,” of the improbable and the possible.

Moreover, the expansion of scientific knowledge of the political process places a higher premium on these arts. It is not knowledge by itself but rather its skillful use that replaces hunch with fact, intuition with principle, and fuzziness with an operational definition (Polanyi 1958). Such use requires greater judgment in evaluating and coordinating the contributions of expert advisers. It calls for greater wisdom in selecting those types of knowledge and techniques that are most relevant to any particular problem. It demands more training and sustained learning. Although scientific inquiry, in turn, may even focus upon the acquisition and growth of these arts, it cannot hope to replace them. The most it can do is provide a stronger foundation for the art-science relationship in the political process.

Bertram M. Gross

[Other relevant material may be found inGovernment; Political behavior; Political science.]


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Political Science

views updated May 08 2018


POLITICAL SCIENCE. In 1968, the eminent political scientist David Easton wrote: "Political Science in mid-twentieth century is a discipline in search of its identity. Through the efforts to solve this identity crisis it has begun to show evidence of emerging as an autonomous and independent discipline with a systematic structure of its own." However, the search for identity has been characteristic of political science from its inception on the American scene. Initially, the discipline was confronted with the task of demarcating its intellectual boundaries and severing its organizational ties from other academic fields, particularly history. Subsequently, debate arose over goals, methods, and appropriate subject matter as political scientists tried to resolve the often conflicting objectives of its four main scholarly traditions: (1) legalism, or constitutionalism; (2) activism and reform; (3) philosophy, or the history of political ideas; and (4) science. By the late twentieth century, the discipline had evolved through four periods outlined by Albert Somit and Joseph Tanenhaus in their informative work The Development of American Political Science: From Burgess to Behavioralism (1967). The four periods are the formative (1880–1903), the emergent (1903–1921), the middle years (1921–1945), and disciplinary maturity (1945–1990).

The Formative Period, 1880–1903

Before 1880, the teaching of political science was almost nonexistent. Francis Lieber, generally considered the first American political scientist, held a chair of history and political economy at South Carolina College (being the second incumbent) in 1835–1856. In 1858, he became professor of political science at Columbia College. Johns Hopkins University inaugurated the study of history and politics in 1876; but not until 1880, when John W. Burgess established the School of Political Science at Columbia University, did political science achieve an independent status with an explicit set of goals for learning, teaching, and research. Burgess, like Lieber, had been trained in Germany and sought to implement the rigor of his graduate training and the advances of German Staatswissenschaft ("political science") in the United States. Under his leadership, the Columbia school became the formative institution of the discipline, emphasizing graduate education that drew on an undifferentiated mix of political

science, history, economics, geography, and sociology to develop theories.

The discipline grew rapidly in the formative years 1880–1903. Burgess, Theodore Woolsey, Woodrow Wilson, Frank J. Good now, and Herbert Baxter Adams brought fame and direction to the field with their pioneering works. Columbia began publication of the Political Science Quarterly in 1886; Johns Hopkins published the Johns Hopkins Studies in Historical and Political Science (1882). New departments were formed and the first American Ph.D.s were awarded.

As with any new discipline, a lively debate ensued about the intellectual boundaries of political science, particularly as those boundaries related to history. There were those who envisioned the distinction in the words of Edward A. Freeman: "History is past politics and politics present history." Others eschewed the connection with history, arguing that law, economics, and sociology were more relevant to the discipline. Methods of study were also debated. Early advocates of a scientific approach argued with scholars who contended that the subject matter did not lend itself to the methods of the natural sciences. During this period, political scientists combined a strict research orientation with willingness to take an active part in public affairs. They dealt with current political issues in their scholarship, and took on the function of educating college students for citizenship and public affairs.

The Emergent Period, 1903–1921

With the establishment of the American Political Science Association (APSA) in 1903, political science asserted its independence as a discipline. More important, the formation of an association provided a vehicle through which to pursue recognized common interests effectively. Annual conventions fostered a lively exchange of ideas and continued organizational development. In 1906, the association launched the American Political Science Review, which soon became the leading professional journal in the discipline, containing notes about personnel in the profession as well as scholarly articles; in 1912, it had 287 subscribers, and by 1932, it had 580.

Growth continued at a rapid pace throughout the period. The association's membership rose from 200 to 1,500. In a canvass of university programs prior to 1914, it was determined that 38 institutions had separate political science departments and that an additional 225 had departments that combined political science with other disciplines, most frequently with history or history and economics. It is estimated that the annual output of Ph.D.s rose from between six and ten to between eighteen and twenty. The increase in domestically trained Ph.D.s Americanized the profession, whereas previously the majority of new professionals had earned their degrees at German and French institutions. Concomitantly, undergraduate instruction came to focus more on American government and less on comparative and European government and politics. Original research and reviews in the journals emphasized American materials.

While taking steps toward securing their discipline, political scientists were not reflective respecting the intellectual content of their field. Political scientists mostly studied political structures and processes using available official sources and records; their analyses were routine descriptions. The forward-looking and iconoclastic Arthur F. Bentley complained in his Process of Government (1908; p. 162) that "We have a dead political science." He, along with Henry Jones Ford and Jesse Macy, agitated for an empirical study of contemporary political events instead of mere perusal of dry historical documents.

The Middle Years, 1921–1945

The intellectual complacency of the second era was interrupted in 1921 with the publication of Charles E. Merriam's "The Present State of the Study of Politics" in the American Political Science Review. Impressed with statistics and the rigor of psychology, Merriam called for "a new science of politics" characterized by the formulation of testable hypotheses (provable by means of precise evidence) to complement the dominant historical-comparative and legalistic approaches. The discipline, according to Thomas Reid, should become more "policyoriented." Merriam was joined in his effort by William B.

Munro and G. E. G. Catlin—the three being considered the era's leading proponents of the "new science" movement. Merriam's work led to the formation of the APSA's Committee on Political Research, and to three national conferences on the science of politics. With Wesley C. Mitchell, Merriam was instrumental in creating the Social Science Research Council in 1923.

William Yandell Elliott, Edward S. Corwin, and Charles A. Beard, all opponents of "scientism," quickly moved to challenge its advocates. They questioned the existence of rigorous determinist laws and the possibility of scientific objectivity in the study of politics. They were concerned with the propriety of the participation of "scientists" in citizenship education and public affairs, endeavors that made objectivity difficult. The "scientists" responded by urging, in principle, that research become more important than civic education. However, the Great Depression and World War II made it difficult to contest the significance of civic responsibility. Thus, when the APSA president William Anderson pronounced in 1943 that the preservation of democracy and "direct service to government" were the foremost obligations of political science, he was representing the prevailing view of American political scientists.

The discipline continued to grow. The APSA doubled its membership. The number of Ph.D.s awarded annually increased from thirty-five in 1925 to eighty in 1940; the number of universities granting degrees expanded. On the basis of efforts made in 1925 and 1934 to rate the quality of the various departments, California, Chicago, Columbia, Harvard, Illinois, Michigan, Princeton, and Wisconsin ranked as the leaders.

Disciplinary Maturity, 1945–1990

The postwar world stage changed the priorities for the nation. The stark realities of the military and ideological struggle of American capitalism and democracy versus Soviet communism shaped the environment in which political scientists worked. Political science retained its fascination with American democracy and continued to be characterized by disciplinary disunity, which gave it strength through diversity and debate. Four major developments are evident during the Cold War period. Most obvious is the steadily increasing emphasis on mathematical models, making it difficult for nonspecialists to read political science journals by the late twentieth century. Second is the development of the "behaviorist" method in the 1950s and 1960s. Third is behaviorism's eclipse by "positive political theory" in the 1970s and 1980s. Fourth is the development of the field of comparative politics and area studies. Gradual evolution is evident in the subfields structuring the discipline, with "political philosophy and psychology," "government of the U.S. and dependencies," "American state and local government," "foreign and comparative government," "international organization, politics, and law," and "U.S. public administration," shaping political science in 1950; and with "political theory," "American government," "comparative politics," "international relations," and "public policy" shaping it in 1990. An increased interest in issues of gender and race relations added ethnic studies and the feminist perspective into professional studies and undergraduate curricula.

The development of political science between 1945 and the late 1960s was dramatic, although this growth subsequently leveled off. The APSA more than tripled in size as a membership of 4,000 in 1946 grew to 14,000 in 1966; in 1974 the APSA had 12,250 members, in 1990 it had 10,975 members, and by 2002 it had 13,715. More than 500 independent political science departments were in existence; all major U.S. universities had developed competitive political science programs. By the mid-1970s, more than 300 Ph.D.s were awarded annually over seventy-five departments offering doctoral programs. There were at least twelve major professional journals. The careers of Henry A. Kissinger (secretary of state in 1973–1977) and Joseph S. Nye Jr. (deputy undersecretary of state, 1977–1979, and later dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government) demonstrate that a career as a political scientist could serve as a vehicle for prominent public office, and vice versa.


Behaviorism is best viewed as a broad-based effort to impose standards of scientific rigor, relying on empirical evidence, on theory building, in contrast to the legalistic case-study approach in vogue in the 1940s and 1950s. Harold Lasswell, Gabriel Almond, David Truman, Robert Dahl, Herbert Simon, and David Easton, the movement's leading figures, each contributed his unique view of how this goal could be achieved. The Political System (1953) by Easton and Political Behavior (1956) by Heinz Eulau and others exemplified the movement's new approach to a theory-guided empirical science of politics. Data gathered from public-opinion polls, initiated in 1935, and from social surveys were central to the movement. In 1946, the University of Michigan established a leading research program, the Survey Research Center, which undertook field studies of voting behavior and amassed data. It also created in 1962 the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), which was designed to share precious data among its twenty-one-member community. By the 1980s, this consortium incorporated more than 270 colleges and universities, both in the United States and abroad. Statistics, as presented to political scientists in V. O. Key Jr.'s A Primer of Statistics for Political Scientists (1954), became an indispensable tool for analysis. Quantitative analysis became integral to graduate curriculum in political science, over time replacing the long-standing requirement of knowledge of two foreign languages.

The behavioral movement was informed by the logical positivist philosophy of Karl R. Popper, Hans Reichenbach, and Bertrand Russell, who emphasized cumulative scientific knowledge based on empirical testing of

hypotheses. Although the method still exists in political science, it dissipated as a distinct intellectual movement in the early 1970s as Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) signaled a defeat for logical positivism by questioning its assumption of cumulative, fact-based scientific knowledge. As well, the social unrest over the war in Vietnam raised consciousness among political scientists that behaviorism could be perceived as amoral and irrelevant to the normative concerns governing human lives.

Positive Political Theory

From their initial enunciation in the 1950s, behaviorism and positive political theory, or rational choice theory, as it is also referred to, shared practitioners and research goals. Both drew strength from broad interdisciplinary support, which ranged throughout the social sciences for behavioralism and was found in economics, psychology, sociology, philosophy, mathematics, and public policy, as well as in political science, in the case of rational choice theory. Both emphasized general theory based on empirical tests. However, the two movements deviated in their precise method: behaviorism used data concerning human behavior to build and test theory; rational choice theory made deductive models of human interactions based on the assumption that individuals are self-interested rational actors.

Positive political theory was pioneered by William H. Riker, who built the powerful political science department at the University of Rochester and served as its chair from 1963 to 1977. Riker was not alone in his initiative to formulate a science of politics based on deductive models of rational self-interested action subject to empirical tests. He built his theory using John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern's game theory, Duncan Black and Kenneth J. Arrow's mathematical analyses of voting, and Anthony Downs's economic theory of democracy. He also benefited from the work of other early advocates of the rational choice approach—Vincent Ostrom, James M. Buchanan, Gordon Tullock, and Mancur Olson, who together formed the Public Choice Society in 1967 and immediately thereafter established the journal Public Choice. These scholars turned the conventional study of politics upside down by considering politicians to be self-interested actors seeking to win office as opposed to officials serving the public. From its humble origins, rational choice theory became established as a disciplinary standard not just across the United States, but also worldwide by 1990. By 1987, 35 percent of the articles published in the American Political Science Review adopted the rational choice approach. The method's stellar success was due to its attraction of adherents, its interdisciplinary dynamism, its promise to deliver scientific results, its overlapping boundaries with the public policy, and its assumption of individualism shared with American philosophy of capitalist democracy.

Area Studies

While both behaviorism and positive political theory exemplify the commitment to scientific rigor hoped for by Charles Merriam, the Cold War development of area studies had a less direct relationship to its predecessors. Prior to World War II, Americans had been inwardly focused; during this earlier era, "comparative politics" signified contrasting European parliamentary-style democracy with the American presidential model. However, with the rise of Adolf Hitler's Germany and Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union in the 1930s and 1940s, it became evident that democracy needed to be assessed in comparison to fascism and totalitarianism. As the world broke into the two camps of Eastern communism and Western democracy in the 1950s and 1960s, and American political leaders required detailed knowledge of Eastern bloc nations and of Southeast Asia, political science departments and specialized institutes responded to this need. These undertakings were generously funded by the National Defense Education Act (NDEA); from 1958 to 1973 the NDEA Title IV provided $68.5 million to the approximately 100 language and area centers. By 1973, these centers had produced 35,500 B.A.s, 14,700 M.A.s, and over 5,000 Ph.D.s.

Area studies focused on questions of modernization and industrialization and strove to understand the differing developmental logic of non-Western cultures; they embraced diverse methods for understanding native languages and native cultures and remained skeptical of approaches to comparative politics adopting universalizing assumptions. Lucian W. Pye, Robert E. Ward, and Samuel P. Huntington championed the approach, with Huntington's Clash of Civilizations (1996) epitomizing the perspective afforded by the field.

Political Theory

During the Cold War period, the study of political theory continued to include the great books of Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Karl Marx, but it was reshaped by the influx of European émigrés. Leo Strauss, Herbert Marcuse, Hannah Arendt, and Theodore Adorno stirred the imagination of American theorists through their perspectives developed under the duress of the Nazi occupation of much of Europe. Political theory, with its emphasis on timeless works and its input from European theorists, became international in scope during the Cold War period. Thus, European scholars such as Jürgen Habermas and J. G. A. Pocock were as germane to scholarly discussions as were the American theorists John Rawls and Robert Nozick. Emigrant scholars published in Social Research, and newfound interest in political theory among indigenous scholars was reflected in the more recently established journals Philosophy and Public Affairs (1971) and Political Theory (1973). Whereas much American political science saw the world from the perspective of the United States, political theory retained a critical edge: it was skeptical of social science methods boasting of objectivity, and of what might be regarded as a collusion between American political science and American democracy and capitalism.

General Political Science

Independently from well-defined movements, the mainstay of political science, American political institutions, political behavior, comparative politics, and international relations were pursued throughout this period by numerous methods. For example, a 1987 study found that the 262 political scientists contributing to legislative research adopted the following approaches in significant proportions: behavioral analysis; case studies; "new institutionalist"; organizational theory; historiography; positive political theory; democratic theory; and other approaches, including policy studies. Not necessarily representing a single school, prominent political scientists central to the field included Richard F. Fenno Jr., Nelson Polsby, Warren E. Miller, Harold Guetzkow, Donald R. Mathews, Samuel J. Eldersveld, Dwaine Marvick, Philip E. Converse, Donald E. Stokes, and Joseph LaPalombara.

Since 1990

In the 1990s, disciplinary divisions existed over the efficacy and merits of the rational choice approach to politics, with many American political science departments divided into camps for and against. In leading centers for rational choice, including Rochester, Carnegie Mellon, California Institute of Technology, and George Washington, as many as half of the faculty adopted this method of study. Disciplinary controversy culminated in the publication of Donald P. Green and Ian Shapiro's Pathologies of Rational Choice Theory (1994), and the responding issue of Critical Review (winter-spring 1995). Whereas the future of this disciplinary strife remains unclear, it is clear that the rational choice theory has an ascendant position across the social sciences and in the spheres of business, law, and public policy.

American political science continues to question its identity, and to reflect on appropriate research methodology; methodological pluralism continues to reign. The field's continued self-examination reflects three independent axes. One embodies the two extremes of particular and localized studies versus universalizing analyses; a second is defined by the extremes of considering either groups or individuals as the key to analysis; and a third is represented by the belief that a normative stance is unavoidable at one extreme, and by a firm commitment to the possibility of objectivity at the other extreme. In the midst of the numerous topics and methods structuring political science, one certainty is that it is no longer possible for a single individual to master the entire field.


Almond, Gabriel A. A Discipline Divided: Schools and Sects in Political Science. Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1990.

Amadae, S. M., and Bruce Bueno de Mesquita. "The Rochester School: The Origins of Positive Political Theory." Annual Review of Political Science 2 (1999): 269–295.

Collini, Stefan, Donald Winch, and John Burrow. That Noble Science of Politics: A Study in Nineteenth-Century Intellectual History. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

Crick, Bernard. The American Science of Politics: Its Origins and Conditions. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1959.

Crotty, William, ed. Political Science: Looking to the Future. 4 vols. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1991.

Farr, James, and Raymond Seidelman, eds. Discipline and History: Political Science in the United States. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993.

Finifter, Ada W. Political Science: The State of the Discipline. Washington, D.C.: American Political Science Association, 1983.

———. Political Science: The State of the Discipline II. Washington, D.C.: American Political Science Association, 1993.

Pye, Lucian W., ed. Political Science and Area Studies: Rivals or Partners? Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1975.

Ricci, David. The Tragedy of Political Science: Politics, Scholarship, and Democracy. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1984.

Seidelman, Raymond, and Edward J. Harpham. Disenchanted Realists: Political Science and the American Crisis, 1884–1984. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1985.

Somit, Albert, and Joseph Tanenhaus. The Development of American Political Science: From Burgess to Behavioralism. Enlarged ed. New York: Irvington Publishers, 1982.

S. M.Amadae

See alsoBehaviorism ; Economics ; Philosophy ; Political Theory ; Statistics .

Political Science

views updated May 23 2018


Broadly speaking, political science is the academic study of politics, power, government, and the activity of governments. Political scientists seek to understand the forces acting on government, the forces acting within government, and the impact of government activity on the environment in which it exists. Although the field has existed since the late nineteenth century, it has only been considered a social science, like economics and sociology, since the 1950s. The broadest subfields in the discipline include international relations, comparative politics, and American politics. Within these areas, researchers typically examine political institutions or political behavior, but the divisions between these previously distinctive areas is becoming increasingly blurred.

Early History

Political scientists began conducting research on LGBT topics in the early 1970s, but few LGBT-related works were published prior to the 1990s. The scope of this work is quite broad, covering the development of sexual identity, public opinion, voting behavior and party politics, political representation, political institutions, and public policy. Research in this area employs a range of methodological techniques, including postmodern deconstruction, qualitative historical case studies, and statistical analysis of quantitative data.

The first known presentation of political science research on LGBT issues occurred in 1972, when Keven J. Burke and Murray S. Edelman presented an ethnographic study of gay consciousness-raising groups at the annual meeting of the largest political science association, the American Political Science Association (APSA). At the 1973 annual meeting of the APSA, Kenneth Sherrill presented the first quantitative study of the LGB movement when he presented his survey research results on the opinions of LGB movement activists and leaders. Later in the 1970s and 1980s, a small number of political scientists, including Sherrill, Mark Blasius, Shane Phelan, and Robert Bailey, began conducting research on LGBT politics and sexual identity, often drawing from research in the fields of history, psychology, and sociology. Several conference presentations resulted from this early research, but few political scientists took notice because no refereed political science journals were publishing work on this topic. And although other social science organizations were grappling with LGBT issues in the 1970s, political scientists paid little attention until the 1980s.

Two of the earliest major works on LGBT politics in the United States were Toby Marotta's The Politics of Homosexuality (1981) and Dennis Altman's The Homosexualization of America (1982). Marotta's book was based on his Harvard Ph.D. dissertation examining the growth of a gay and lesbian political movement. Altman, an Australian political scientist, examined the intersection of LGBT politics and culture through a historical treatment. Another landmark study published about the same time addressed the use of homophobic language by judges in cases involving LGBT litigants. Lawrence Goldyn (1981) found that LGBT litigants were frequently exposed to homophobic comments from judges, and that the extent to which judges engaged in this behavior varied by type of case, jurisdiction, and over time, with a decrease in homophobic language over the study period. Perhaps not surprisingly, in cases where judges engaged in this type of behavior, LGBT litigants did not fare well.

In 1987, James L. Gibson tied the study of LGBT politics directly to a broader political science literature on political tolerance with the publication of survey research on attitudes toward disliked groups, including homosexuals. The connection between AIDS and homosexuality spurred research in empirical policy studies. David C. Colby and David G. Baker (1988) published their examination of the various state policy reactions to AIDS. David C. Nice (1988) conducted a landmark empirical study of the determinants of repealing state antisodomy laws and applied mainstream theories of state policymaking and statistical methods to his analysis.

By the late 1980s and early 1990s, a considerable number of researchers were developing statistical models for explaining the relationship between a variety of individual socioeconomic characteristics and attitudes on AIDS and homosexuality. In one example, Horst Stipp and Dennis Kerr (1989) explored the influence of individual attitudes toward homosexuality on attitudes about policies addressing AIDS. They found that negative attitudes toward homosexuality significantly reduced accurate knowledge about AIDS transmission and risk factors.

Perhaps the best early theoretical work on LGBT politics from a postmodern perspective was Shane Phelan's Identity Politics: Lesbian-Feminism and the Limits of Community (1989). Although Phelan's book was also historical, it was theoretically based in postmodern arguments concerning the individual and the social construction of identity. Phelan and others, including Mark Blasius and Craig A. Rimmerman, have continued this strain of work on LGBT politics into the 2000s.

LGBT Issues within the Profession

As these early works appeared, a movement emerged within the APSA in the 1980s to establish an LGB caucus or organized section. In 1987 the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Political Science Caucus was founded as the principal association of LGB people in the APSA; it maintains the stated goal of encouraging "the presentation of research on the interaction of sexual identity, theory and political behavior." By the late 1990s the caucus had over two hundred members, regularly cosponsored multiple panels at annual APSA meetings, and published the Newsletter of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual Political Science Caucus. However, the caucus has yet to achieve its goal of establishing an organized and APSA-recognized section within the association.

After concerted pressure from the caucus over the course of 1991 and 1992, the executive council of the APSA established the Committee on the Status of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and the Transgendered in the Profession (CSLGBT). Mark Blasius was selected to lead the CSLGBT, and its initial members included Cathy J. Cohen, Shane Phelan, Sarah Slavin, and Christine Di Stefano. Since its inception, its stated goal has been to assess the status of LGBT scholars in the profession, advance research on LGBT issues, develop related curriculum materials, and ensure tolerance toward LGBT political scientists.

In August 1997 the APSA Council approved changes to A Guide to Professional Ethics in Political Science founded on the recommendations of the Committee on Professional Ethics and the CSLGBT. These changes included the revision of existing language by adding references to sexual orientation:

It is Association policy that educational institutions shall not discriminate on the basis of …sexual orientation … in any condition of employment except in cases in which federal laws allow religious preference in hiring….

In pursuit of the objective of ending discrimination, it is Association policy to support the principles of affirmative action and urge political science departments to pursue aggressively affirmative action programs and policies with regard to … minorities based on self-identified sexual orientation. (American Political Science Association 2003)

The committee conducted a survey of political scientists in September 1993 and used the results as a basis for a series of recommendations to assist in improving the status of LGBT political scientists in the profession. The survey found that a relatively hostile environment existed in some departments for LGBT political scientists, that few of those surveyed identified as LGBT, and that significant numbers of respondents suggested that academic institutional policies either discriminated against LGBT people or did not protect them against discrimination. Additionally, a fair percentage of respondents provided answers that suggested scholarship on LGBT politics should not be supported and that they did not include LGBT material in their courses. In the mid-1990s the APSA Council adopted all of the committee's recommendations as presented by Martha Ackelsberg.

The 1990s and Beyond

Coinciding with the examination of the climate for LGBT scholars and scholarly work in the 1990s was a rise in the amount of scholarship on LGBT politics. Phelan published her second work on the construction of lesbian identity, Getting Specific, in 1994, and Blasius published a similar but more general theoretical study, Gay and Lesbian Politics, that same year.

Several empirically based quantitative journal articles and book chapters on LGBT politics and AIDS also began to appear in the early 1990s. Showing their connection to the study of homosexuality and LGBT issues in psychology, some political psychologists in political science began exploring public attitudes on AIDS, homosexuality, and support for civil rights and liberties (Sniderman et al. 1991). In 1993, Robert J. Buchanan and Robert L. Ohsfeldt (1993) published a unique study on state legislator attitudes toward AIDS and homosexuality based on survey data. One interesting study of the social movement link between AIDS and LGBT activism focused on differences between LGBT activists and heterosexuals involved in the AIDS Quilt program. M. Kent Jennings and Ellen Ann Anderson (1996) used surveys of AIDS activists and found, contrary to their expectations, that heterosexuals involved in AIDS politics were more supportive of radical or confrontational tactics than were gay and lesbian activists.

But much of the most interesting work on LGBT issues and public opinion being conducted by political scientists appeared in non–political science journals in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Key examples include Richard Seltzer's 1993 empirical study of attitudes on AIDS and homosexuality over time, which appeared in the Journal of Homosexuality, and Ellen D. Riggle and Alan L. Ellis's 1994 study of political tolerance toward homosexuals that appeared in the same journal. Whether these studies were rejected at political science journals or simply submitted to journals outside the field is unclear.

In 1996 research began to appear on LGBT public policy, with a particular focus on antidiscrimination policy. Steven H. Haeberle (1996) published the first statistical analysis attempting to explain why some local governments adopt policies that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. Donald P. Haider-Markel and Kenneth J. Meier (1996) followed with a broader study that included a combined analysis of local and state policies, along with an examination of the dynamics of LGBT-related policy adoption through direct democracy initiatives at the ballot box. In addition, Kenneth D. Wald, James W. Button, and Barbara A. Rienzo (1996) conducted a similar analysis at the local level based on a survey of local government officials. These three studies have provided much of the framework for all LGBT-related policy studies that have appeared since 1996, including works on local policy, the influence of LGBT political representation on local adoption of domestic partner policies, state attempts to ban recognition of same-sex marriage, and hate crime policy adoption and implementation.

The first major study of LGB voting behavior across a variety of elections was also published in 1996 with the release of Mark Hertzog's book The Lavender Vote.Hertzog painstakingly brought together exit poll data from a variety of sources to compare the voting patterns of LGB people with heterosexuals and to examine voting change over time. His work was extended and enhanced by Robert W. Bailey (1998, 1999, 2000), who examined LGB voting and social movement development in local politics and elections, as well as LGB voting in congressional and presidential elections. Although these studies suffer from relying on the self-identification of LGB voters, they are based on the best systematic data available concerning LGB political activity in any sphere.

Systematic empirical research on LGBT interest groups also emerged in the late 1990s and early 2000s for the first time. Working within the traditional methods for examining congressional role call voting, Haider-Markel, in two 1999 studies, examined the influence of LGBT political action committee (PAC) money and LGBT interest

group lobbying on congressional voting behavior. His research suggests that LGBT groups do influence congressional voting behavior, an empirical finding that conflicts with traditional theories concerning when interest group influence is most likely to occur. Additional studies of LGBT interest groups related to policymaking at the national level included articles by Sherrill (1996), Haider-Markel (1997), and Gregory Lewis (1997), and several chapters of books by Ellen D. Riggle and Barry L. Taglock in 1999 and Craig A. Rimmerman, Kenneth D. Wald, and Clyde Wilcox (2000).

It was also in the mid-to-late 1990s that an increasing amount of research appeared using experimental designs to examine individual tolerance toward LGBT people generally and to LGBT candidates for political office specifically. Ewa A. Golebiowska (1996, 2001) used experimental studies to explore the dynamics of tolerance toward LGBT people. Golebiowska (2001, 2002), Golebiowska and Cynthia J. Thomsen (1999), and Rebekah Herrick and Sue Thomas (1999) conducted similar analyses of attitudes toward the viability of openly gay and lesbian candidates for office and the likelihood that study participants would vote for these candidates. Surprisingly, these studies concluded that little bias exists toward lesbian and gay candidates generally, but that gay male candidates who fit a stereotype of gay males, such as having effeminate mannerisms or speech, are less likely to receive support.

By the late 1990s and early 2000s, LGBT issues increasingly appeared in political science journals and books as part of broader studies on public opinion, post-materialist values in Western societies, or in combination with the systematic study of culture war issues. At the same time, Alan S. Yang (1997, 2000), Sherrill and Yang (2000), and several chapters in Rimmerman, Wald, and Wilcox (2000) and Riggle and Tadlock (1999) provided the most systematic analysis of public attitudes on homosexuality and LGBT-related policy to date, including important analysis of the change in public attitudes over time.

Historical, empirically based analysis of the LGBT movement and patterns of politics appeared around the start of the new millennium, beginning with David Rayside's On the Fringe (1998), a comparative analysis of LGBT politics in Western democracies; Cathy Cohen's study of race and AIDS in The Boundaries of Blackness (1999); Raymond A. Smith and Donald Haider-Markel's Gay and Lesbian Americans and Political Participation(2002); and Daniel R. Pinello's Gay Rights and American Law (2003), an analysis of judicial decision making in cases involving the civil rights claims of LGBT Americans. Also, theoretical research on LGBT identity-based politics and sources of power continued with the publication of several books and edited collections, including Cohen, Jones, and Tronto (1997), Blasius and Phelan (1997), Blasius (2001), and Rimmerman (2002). These studies also explored strategies for LGBT activism.

By 2003 it was quite clear that political science research on LGBT issues would continue to ask a diverse set of research questions, employ a variety of theoretical and methodological perspectives, and involve political scientists from most of the discipline's subfields. And over the years researchers have consistently increased the base of knowledge of LGBT politics and policy. Perhaps most importantly, the study of LGBT issues in political science is no longer marginalized and researchers have effectively linked theory and empirical research on LGBT issues to broader theories and literature within political science. As such, the study of LGBT politics and policy has contributed to our understanding of politics, public opinion, government, and public policy more generally.


Altman, Dennis. The Homosexualization of America. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1982.

American Political Science Association. A Guide to Professional Ethics in Political Science. 3d ed. Washington, D.C.: American Political Science Association, 2003. Available from http://www.apsanet.org/pubs/ethics.cfm

Bailey, Robert W. Out and Voting: The Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Vote in Congressional House Elections, 1990–1996. Washington, D.C.: Policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 1998.

——. Gay Politics, Urban Politics: Identity and Economics in the Urban Setting. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.

——. Out and Voting II: The Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Vote in Congressional Elections, 1990–1998. Washington, D.C.: Policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 2000.

Blasius, Mark. Gay and Lesbian Politics: Sexuality and the Emergence of a New Ethic. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994.

Blasius, Mark, ed. Sexual Identities, Queer Politics. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001.

Blasius, Mark, and Shane Phelan, eds. We Are Everywhere: An Historical Sourcebook of Lesbian and Gay Politics. New York: Routledge, 1997.

Buchanan, Robert J., and Robert L. Ohsfeldt. "The Attitudes of State Legislators and State Medicaid Policies Related to AIDS." Policy Studies Journal 21 (1993): 651–671.

Burke, Keven J., and Murray S. Edelman. "Sensitivity Groups, Consciousness-Raising Groups, and the Gay Liberation Movement." Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, 1972.

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Donald P. Haider-Markel

political science

views updated May 29 2018

political science An academic discipline which studies power and the distribution of power in different types of political systems. Political scientists inquire as to the sources of power, how it is exercised and by whom, how processes of constraint and control operate, who gains and who loses in power struggles. All of these topics raise further issues of political alignment, organization, conflict, and stability within political systems. The study of power takes various forms, from the investigation of individual political attitudes and behaviour, to the examination of state activities at a national and international level. Increasingly, from an initial narrow interest in the machinery of government, political science has broadened its terrain and now overlaps with political sociology in many of its substantive topics and theories. Dennis Kavanagh's Political Science and Political Behaviour (1983) is a good guide to the American and British literature.

In the narrow sense, the study of politics and power involves an examination of the various political institutions, such as the state, government, political parties, interest groups, and other non-government intermediary organizations active in the business of policy-making. The state, in particular, has been the subject of much attention since it dominates the political process in liberal democracies. However, taking a wider view, the operation of power is not confined exclusively to formal institutions and institutional activities. Rather, power lies also in non-decision-making processes which may lie outside the political system: for example, the power of business groups within capitalist economies is considerable. Political scientists, particularly those engaged in historical and comparative research, are also increasingly interested in the exercise of power across the world economy and in terms of international relations, rather than merely within particular nation-states.

political science

views updated May 29 2018

po·lit·i·cal sci·ence • n. the branch of knowledge that deals with systems of government; the analysis of political activity and behavior.DERIVATIVES: po·lit·i·cal sci·en·tist n.

Political Science

views updated Jun 27 2018

Political Science. See Disciplinary Views of War: Political Science and International Relations.

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