Fenno, Richard F., Jr.

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Fenno, Richard F., Jr. 1926-


The contributions of Richard F. Fenno Jr. to the political science world are many and varied. His work on Congress and the actions of legislators has pioneered fields of study in political science.

After studying at Amherst and Harvard, Fenno published his doctoral dissertation as his first book in 1959. An article on the House appropriations committee (1962) and a book, The Power of the Purse: Appropriation Politics in Congress (1966), soon followed. Although outdated by changes in Congress, Fennos conceptualization of the power struggles, structures, and behavior of representatives have formed the basic vocabulary used in legislative studies.

In 1973 Fenno published Congressmen in Committees, which explores whether committees matter in Congress, and what role they play in fulfilling individual ambitions of congressmen. Fennos next work, Home Style: House Members in Their Districts (1978), studies how representatives behave while at home in their districts. In Home Style, Fenno pioneered the soaking and poking method of social science research on politicians, in which the researcher follows the subject through the field, observing and documenting behavior. These works demonstrate the researchers commitment to presenting politicians as necessary elements in the political world, whose actions are worth examination. This stance, which often separates Fenno from others in the field, has led to interesting discoveries about the nature of politicians and the political world. These works have also garnered criticism, as Fennos research required him to develop friendships with his subjects, raising doubts about his level of objectivity. Other critics have charged that Fennos observational studies are invalid, because his presence may affect the behavior of the representatives, and because those representatives that consent to be studied may not be an accurate sample of representatives as a whole. Furthermore, the very nature of participant-observer studies requires that only a small number of politicians is studied, thus decreasing the generalizability of any theory arising from the work. Fenno has responded to these criticisms by defending his work as purely exploratory in nature.

After Home Style, Fenno turned his eye to the Senate, publishing, among other works, The Making of a Senator: Dan Quayle (1988) and Senators on the Campaign Trail: The Politics of Representation (1996). In Senators, Fenno outlines representation in terms of durable connections or relationships that senators build with their constituents over time. Returning to the study of the House of Representatives, Fenno published Congress at the Grassroots: Representational Change in the South, 19701998 (2000), which revisited areas explored in Home Style, and Going Home: Black Representatives and Their Constituents (2003).

Fenno has been president of the American Political Science Association, is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is a distinguished professor and William R. Kenan professor of political science at the University of Rochester, where he has taught since 1957.

SEE ALSO American Political Science Association; Representation


Kuklinski, James H. 1979. Representative-Constituency Linkages: A Review Article. Legislative Studies Quarterly 4 (1): 121140.

Polsby, Nelson W. 1984. Contributions of President Richard F. Fenno Jr. PS: Political Science and Politics 17 (4): 778781.

Mirya Rose Holman