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Political science as a discipline began to develop at American universities in the late nineteenth century. A new departmental structure of American universities, a birth of the disciplinary association and the founding of specialized publications created an academic community with transferable merits. After the war, the American model started to influence the study of politics worldwide, beginning in Western Europe. Today, the discipline is rapidly advancing especially in Asia and in Latin America. The past 60 years have witnessed political science becoming a pluralist discipline with different research traditions.
- Study of Politics vs Political Science as a Discipline
- The Early Years of the Discipline of Political Science
- Political Science after the World War I
- Political Science after the World War II
- American Behavioralism
- Postbehavioral Revolution
- Fragmentation of Political Science
- Globalized Political Science
Study of Politics vs Political Science as a Discipline
Politics has been discussed, evaluated and studied since the ancient times. It has also been taught at universities for centuries. However, the academic discipline of political science dates only from the late nineteenth century. This contradiction is due to the nature of academic disciplines. Although universities have existed at least since the founding of the University of Bologna in 1088, the medieval universities did not have much in common with modern universities starting to develop in the nineteenth century. New European higher education ideologies (Humboldt in Germany, Newman in Britain, the Napoleonic reforms in France) changed universities thoroughly. At the same time, American universities adopted and transformed European ideologies into a new mold. An important American innovation was the departmental structure of universities, which was created between 1890 and 1910. At that time, it was an internationally unique system. Departments stood between individual professors and the university as a corporate body. They allowed the better recognition of disciplines and formed a group of scholars with transferable merits (Abbott, 2001: pp. 122–123).
In spite of the long heritage of political thinking in Europe, from the Sophists to Hegel and Marx, the modern political science was born in the United States. The main reason for this is the organizational and institutional change of American universities. On the other hand, university departments are not enough for a subject of teaching to be a discipline. A discipline needs a community of scholars interacting and communicating with each other across institutions. It also needs publishing outlets, journals, and disciplinary series. Also in this respect, American political scientists created conditions for the separate political science discipline in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century.
Scientific disciplines also need a favorable social environment to develop. For political science, free interaction and communication between scholars are basic conditions for research. That is why political science, more than many other disciplines, has been tied to the development of democracy (Easton et al., 1995). Without the freedom of association and speech, the study of politics has been one sided, narrow, and ideological. For this reason, authoritarian tendencies have often limited the study of politics in many countries. The United States as ‘the first modern democracy’ had an advantage over many countries also in that respect. As Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–59) wrote in his Democracy in America (1835–40), ‘a new political science is needed for a world itself quite new’ (Tocqueville, 1994: p. 12).
The Early Years of the Discipline of Political Science
The birth of political science as a discipline can be illustrated by comparing American and European trajectories in the study of politics. It is sometimes claimed that the first political science professorship was founded at the University of Uppsala in Sweden in 1622 (a professor of Discourse and Politics). However, a similar professorship had been founded at the Dutch University of Leiden already in 1613. Politics had also been taught at many German universities since the fourteenth century. It became an important subject of teaching at the Faculties of Staatswissenschaft (the sciences of the state) in the nineteenth century. Mainly for political reasons, the subject disappeared after the 1848/49 political upheavals. In the late nineteenth century, however, the teaching of politics was introduced as Allgemeine Staatslehre (the general theory of the state) at German law faculties. In that sense, the study of politics has been well rooted in European universities for centuries. However, before the World War II, it was conducted undifferentiated from neighboring fields, which later became disciplines, such as history, philosophy, and constitutional law (see the chapters in Klingemann, 2007).
At the beginning of the disciplinary development, American political science did not differ much from the study of politics in Europe. Teaching and research were based on European intellectual traditions. Francis Lieber (1798–1872), who has been called the first American political scientist (Farr, 1990), was a German, who had emigrated to the United States in 1827 after having studied in German universities (as well as being wounded at the Battle of Waterloo and participating in the Greek War of Independence in 1821). Starting his life in the United States as a swimming instructor, he became a Professor of History and Political Economy at the South Carolina College in 1835. In 1857, he moved to the Columbia College in New York, becoming a Professor of History and Political Science, the first time political science was recognized as part of an academic title. Through his career, Lieber had close relations with European scholars (being, for instance, one of Tocqueville’s sources of information on American democracy).
Furthermore, around the turn of the twentieth century, hundreds of American PhD students went to study in Europe, mainly in Germany, and introduced German scholarship and teaching methods in American academia after their return (Haddow, 1939: p. 172). One of these ‘exchange scholars’ was John W. Burgess (1844–1931), who studied in Germany and France during 1869–73 and initiated a plan for the School of Political Science at Columbia College (later University). One of Burgess’s main inspirations for the School was the Libre Ecole des Sciences Politiques, which had been founded in Paris in 1872 to train civil servants, diplomats, and journalists as well as to educate laymen in politics, economics, sociology, journalism, and law. The Columbia School was opened in 1880 and became an early center of the discipline of political science. Burgess himself became a Professor of Political Science and Comparative Constitutional Law. Because of the founding of the School, Burgess has often been taken as one of the founding fathers of political science (Somit and Tanenhaus, 1982).
The model of the Ecole Libre was imitated not only at Columbia, but in many European countries as well. Some of the new institutions which were founded included, e.g., the Facoltà di scienze politiche in Florence (1874), schools for political and social sciences at the Catholic University of Louvain and at the Free University of Brussels (1893), the London School of Economics and Political Science (1895), the Ecole des Sciences Sociales et Politiques at Lausanne (1902), the Deutsche Hochschule für Politik in Berlin (1920), and a Higher School of Political Sciences in Athens (1927) (see the chapters in Klingemann, 2007).
The early Columbia School reminded its European counterparts. The journal, Political Science Quarterly, which the Columbia School had begun to publish in 1886, manifested this well. It was a journal for political sciences, the articles were written as well by economists, historians, and public law scholars as political scientists. The focus of political science was on the study of the state. In the first issue of the journal, the managing editor Munro Smith wrote, “[t]he principal legal question of the day, in our country is: to what organ or organs of the state shall the development of law be trusted – to the judicial and legislative, or to the legislative alone? . Whether the increasing of the state be deplored or applauded, the fact remains that it is rapidly becoming, if it is not already, the central factor of social evolution” (Smith, 1886: p. 8). In the 1890s, the School developed into a Faculty with three internal groupings, ‘economics and social science’, ‘history and political science’, and ‘public law and comparative jurisprudence’. The Department of Political Science evolved only later from the last of the three groupings (Somit and Tanenhaus, 1982).
If Columbia had close relations with German scholarship and public law, another important political science institution, the Johns Hopkins University, was influenced by historical scholarship and the Anglo-Saxon tradition. Johns Hopkins began its first semester in 1876. In 1882, a Department of Historical and Political Science was founded with Herbert Baxter Adams (1850–1901) in charge of the Department. In 1883, Adams started the book series, The Johns Hopkins Studies in Historical and Political Science, which was one of the first publishing outlets in the field of political science. Although also Adams had studied in Germany he was influenced more by the British historical scholarship.
Columbia and Johns Hopkins were the two main universities usually recognized as the ‘founders’ of political science as a discipline. However, there were similar developments in Cornell, the University of Michigan and Yale. Besides, the first separate political science department was created at the University of Chicago when it opened its doors in 1892. At the same time, Chicago established the separate departments of political economy, history, sociology, and philosophy.
Although the American and European study of politics did not differ much from each other intellectually in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century, organizationally American political science began to develop rapidly. By 1914, there were 38 separate political science departments at American universities. Political science was also offered in 216 departments with other disciplines (Anderson in Haddow, 1939: p. 263). The number of independent political science departments increased and with them the number of political scientists. The American Political Science Association (APSA) was founded in 1903. In 1904, the membership of APSA was 214, by 1920 it had increased to some 1300. Separate political science departments, a disciplinary association and specialized publications in the field (the first real political science journal, the American Political Science Review, was founded in 1906) made the study of politics a discipline in the United States, while in Europe it remained part of other academic subjects without any organized interaction between the students of politics.
Political Science after the World War I
Between the World Wars I and II, the American and European study of politics began to differ from each other intellectually. Political participation, political parties and groups, became a new focus of research in the United States. The study of the functioning of mass democracy required new research methods. Historical and judicial analyses were replaced by the use of current documents and first attempts to use interviews as data and statistics as a research method appeared. Psychology was seen as an important discipline to explain citizens’ political activity. Other social sciences, especially sociology, were seen as allies instead of the old partners, history, and constitutional law. The department of political science at the University of Chicago under the leadership of Charles E. Merriam became an innovative center of the discipline focusing on New Aspects of Politics (Merriam, 1925).
Old concepts were replaced by new ones. Power gave a more dynamic view on politics than sovereignty. One of the theoretical innovations was the theory of pluralism. Although the concept had European roots, as it had been introduced earlier by such scholars as Leon Duguit in France and Harold Laski in England, in the United States it became a theory that emphasized group activity as the basis of politics. Pluralism focused on the limitations of state sovereignty and argued that the state was not the only unit in society, which commanded the allegiance of its subjects. More importantly, pluralism was used as a theoretical framework in empirical studies on political parties and pressure groups.
Empirical research also influenced a new theory of democracy, which later has been called ‘the relative theory of democracy’ (Purcell, 1973). It emerged as a response to national and international challenges. In the 1920s, American political scientists discussed the unforeseen tendencies of democracy, such as low political participation (nonvoting) and the role of special interests in politics. These tendencies did not fit well with the ideal of democracy. In the 1930s, American political scientists still faced another problem. The development of authoritarian political systems in Europe and in Asia posed a threat to American democracy struggling with economic recession. A new theory of democracy tried to solve these internal and external challenges. It was argued that nonvoting was not a problem, as it guaranteed the stability of the political system. Instead, the most important condition on democracy was a democratic culture, a common way of acting. Furthermore, a new theory praised the value of compromises in politics. Democracy was an agreement to disagree. There was no place for absolutes in politics.
The relative theory of democracy emphasized empirical research. However, it soon had to face a theoretical challenge, which was posed by European refugees, especially from Germany. Many of them represented philosophical traditions, which challenged the principles of the new American empirical research. These refugee scholars influenced theoretical discussion in American social science (e.g., Leo Strauss, Hannah Arendt, Max Horkheimer), but at the same time, they were creating a rift between the empirically minded and more theoretically oriented political scientists, leading into a division between empirical political science and normative political theory (Gunnell, 1993).
Political Science after the World War II
After the World War II, the model of empirical American political science was introduced in other parts of the world. For a number of reasons, the American influence was the biggest in Western Europe. The time was ripe for the empirical study of politics in many European countries, as many thought that a better understanding about politics could have prevented the catastrophe of the War. At the same time, UNESCO wanted to create international social science associations. Political science was one of the first of these (sociologists establishing their own international association at the same time).
The International Political Science Association (IPSA) was founded in 1949 under UNESCO’s auspices although political science as a discipline hardly existed outside North America (Coakley and Trent, 2000). IPSA was designed as an association with collective members (national political science associations). However, in addition to the American association, only the Canadian (established in 1929), the Finnish (1935), the Indian (1938), and the Japanese (1948) associations were in existence. The Chinese association (1932) had become inactive during the war. At the beginning, IPSA had to rely on individual political scientists to be able to begin its activities. In the meeting, which drafted the Constitution in 1949, it was decided that IPSA would become into legal existence, when four national associations had joined it. This happened later in 1949 after the French association had been set up and became a founding member of the IPSA together with American, Canadian, and Indian associations. Other national associations followed. The first of these were established in the United Kingdom (1950), the Netherlands (1950), Belgium (1951), and Germany (1951).
At the beginning, most European scholars were skeptical about the American model, which emphasized the scientific study of politics as an independent discipline. In the late 1940s, the general opinion in Europe was that “[p]olitical science, as a distinct branch from speculation concerning political phenomena or the history of these phenomena, is of fairly recent development, more recent, certainly, than other social sciences such as law, political economy and sociology” (Salvadori in UNESCO, 1950: p. 1). Besides, there were differences between the British, French and German traditions in the study of politics. These differences were displayed also in other countries, as the British study of politics was influential in most Commonwealth countries (including India), the French legal tradition was followed in the Mediterranean countries, and even in many Latin American countries, while the German tradition of Allgemeine Staatslehre had followers in Austria, the Netherlands, Scandinavian countries, as well as in Japan (Coakley and Trent, 2000: p. 3).
The British scholars argued that the history of political ideas must have a prominent place in political theory and one cannot understand government without knowing its historical background and growth (Robson in UNESCO, 1950: p. 306). The best example of the British skepticism toward American political science was Bernard Crick’s book The American Science of Politics (1959), which argued that the idea that politics can be understood by the method of the natural sciences is embedded in American political culture (Crick, 1959: p. v). On the other hand, French scholars thought that the term ‘political science’ is familiar mainly to scholars in the Anglo-Saxon countries. In France, one was used to understand the study of politics as part of the “political sciences”, as “practically all of the social sciences could be qualified, at least in certain aspects, as political sciences” (Kopelmanas in UNESCO, 1950: pp. 647–648). Germans were more divided in their attitude toward the scientific study of politics as an independent discipline. The lost war had discredited the German scholarship and the study of politics was highly fragmented after the war. At the same time, some returning émigré scholars introduced American political science in Germany, which made German political science responsive to the idea of the scientific study of politics.
In spite of the early skepticism about the idea of political science as an independent discipline, the separate departments of political science were founded in many West European universities between 1945 and 1960. The pace of development varied, however, as the discipline took off first in northern Europe, where the old German Allgemeine Staatslehre tradition was replaced with the American model of political science. The British and German political scientists started to adopt American theories and methods only later. Close relations with American universities and the founding of new universities in both countries helped to move the discipline closer to American political science in the 1960s.
For cultural and organizational reasons the disciplinary development in France and in southern Europe was much slower. The French political science has been a divided discipline with the majority of political science chairs at law faculties and the minority at eight Institut d’Etudes Politiques, where political science has often been understood as political sociology. Although the situation has changed, the idea of an independent political science discipline raises still opposition among some French quarters. Organizational difficulties have also hindered the development of Italian political science. In Italy, the first political science chair was established at the University of Florence as late as 1966. In Italy, political science has been part of the faculties of political sciences, where paradoxically the discipline has been a minor subject. The same organizational difficulties have been noticeable also in Portugal and Spain. Besides, because of the authoritarian political systems until the 1970s, the discipline has been able to develop in these two countries only since the 1980s (see the chapters in Klingemann, 2007).
The organizational development of the discipline has been still slower in the other parts of the world. The idea of political science as an independent discipline has been accepted in many countries only since the 1960s on (Jinadu, 1991 on Africa; Atal in Easton et al., 1995 on Asia).
The themes that had emerged during the interwar period in American political science developed further in the 1950s and 1960s. The discipline adopted a more systematic perspective on the study of politics. One of the early calls for a more scientific approach was David Easton’s book The Political System (1953) which criticized American political science about hyperfactualism (empiricism without theory). The new political science was soon labeled as behavioralism. Dwight Waldo has expressed the change in the following way:
By almost any measure the most important aspect of post–World War II political science has been the rise of ‘behavioralism’: the controversies it engendered, its success to coming to dominate much of organized political science, the changes it brought in the matters to which political scientists attend, and the manner in which they are addressed.
(Waldo, 1975: p. 58)
The heyday of behavioralism was from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s (Somit and Tanenhaus, 1982: p. 185). It was the main intellectual approach that ‘Americanized’ the study of politics in Europe and in the other parts of the world. Writing about European political science in the early 1990s, Ken Newton and Josep Vallès noted that “it is, nevertheless, true that the ‘behavioral revolution’ transformed large parts of political science in Western Europe, and its effects were so profound that some on the European side of the Atlantic claim that their traditions of political inquiry were abandoned or forgotten to such an extent that the American approach colonised the West European profession” (Newton and Vallès, 1991: pp. 234–235). Although Newton and Vallès see the colonization thesis as an exaggeration, they do not deny the American influence. This influence was also due to an increasing interest in comparative politics. American political scientists traveled around the world gathering data and trying to develop a cross-cultural theory of politics (see the chapters in Daalder, 1997).
In spite of its importance, behavioralism has not been easy to define. Most histories of political science agree that its origins are “somewhat obscure” (Waldo, 1975: p. 58) and “attempts at coming to any complete definition … are probably futile given the diversity of those who followed its banner” (Seidelman and Harpham, 1985: p. 151). However, one of the most influential definitions has been David Easton’s list of the characteristics of behavioralism: (1) search for regularities, which can be expressed in generalizations or theories with explanatory and predictive value, (2) the verification of propositions by testable data, (3) the development of research techniques which can be used for the rigorous observation and analysis of behavior, (4) the precision of data and findings with quantification and measurement when possible and relevant, (5) keeping ethical evaluation and empirical explanations analytically distinct, (6) the systematization of research with theory and empirical research as intertwined parts of a coherent body of knowledge, (7) the application of knowledge as part of the scientific enterprise, but pure science preceding the application of knowledge, and (8) the integration of political science with other social sciences to analyze the whole human situation (Easton, 1965: p. 7).
One of the main dividing lines within behavioralism has been between those who conduct empirical studies based on surveys (mainly voting studies) and those who have wanted to develop theoretical (conceptual) frameworks for political analysis, such as systems analysis (David Easton), structural functionalism (Gabriel A. Almond), or cybernetics (Karl W. Deutsch). On the other hand, the most important empirical theory that emerged as part of behavioralism was the pluralist theory of democracy. One of its main early works was Robert A. Dahl’s Who Governs? (1961). Dahl criticized the elitist conception of power (the existence of one power elite in society) and described politics as a struggle for power between many unequal elites. Different elites were making decisions in different policy areas.
In the end of the 1960s, the opponents of behavioralism launched a counterattack, which changed the contours of the discipline. Criticism arose from different sources, conservative, radical, and liberal. Conservative political philosophers were often unsatisfied with the results and ideology of empirical political science. The most outspoken critics were Leo Strauss and his followers, who accused behavioralism for relativism and for pretending to represent value free research while promoting liberal democracy (Storing, 1962). Another source was a heterogenous group of left wing academics, who founded the Caucus for a New Political Science in 1967 in response to the social upheavals of the times. Many of these scholars participated in the antiwar, civil rights, and feminist movements. The postbehavioral revolution included even liberals, often policy analysts hoping to make political science a more socially relevant discipline.
In 1969, it was David Easton again, who summarized the views of this heterogenous movement as postbehavioral revolution and identified seven of its tenets: (1) substance must precede technique, as it is better to be relevant and sometimes vague rather than nonrelevantly precise, (2) behavioral science conceals an ideology of empirical conservatism, (3) behavioral research has lost touch with reality, (4) research about and constructive development of values are part of the study of politics and one must be aware of one’s own value premises, (5) political scientists bear the responsibility of all intellectuals to protect the humane values of civilization, (6) knowledge means the responsibility to act and to engage in reshaping society, and (7) the politicization of political science is inescapable as well as desirable (Easton, 1969: p. 1052).
The postbehavioral revolution ended the hegemony of behavioralism. However, behavioralism has not disappeared, but exists along new competing research traditions. Political philosophy, policy analysis, and various critical approaches, including historical institutionalism, have become strong research areas. In addition, since the publication of Anthony Down’s The Economic Theory of Democracy (1957), rational choice theory has become a widely held paradigm in American political science. The theory has many variations, however, from the fiscal conservative public choice theories to William H. Riker’s studies on voting and group behavior and to a Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom’s Governing the Commons (1990). These developments have led to the fragmentation of political science into competing theoretical schools.
Fragmentation of Political Science
As the history of political science shows, the development of the discipline has proceeded through continual attempts to legitimize and delegitimize various research traditions. In that sense, it is no wonder that the so-called Perestroika movement emerged in 2000 to oppose the strong position of rational choice theory in American political science (Monroe, 2005). The movement criticized the elitist nature of the American Political Science Association with its white and male leadership. It also criticized the irrelevancy of the American Political Science Review, which was seen to contain mainly articles based on statistics and game theory, while ignoring articles based on other research methods. The revolt has led into a more pluralist American discipline, as the APSA has responded to criticism by renewing its decision-making procedures, encouraging qualitative research and offering new publishing outlets to its members. The change has vitalized the discipline, but at the same time it has become still more fragmented into different theoretical schools.
The American postbehavioral revolution coincided with the strengthening of the discipline in Western Europe. The European Consortium for Political Research was established in 1970 (Newton and Boncourt, 2010). This has led to an increasing cooperation between European political scientists and for further growth of the discipline. The breakdown of the European communist regimes in 1989/91 has also changed the landscape of political science (Eisfeld and Pal, 2010). Still in 1982, the editor of the International Handbook of Political Science, William G. Andrews (1982: p. 3), estimated that the American political scientists represented 75–80% of the world’s supply. Recently, however, Hans-Dieter Klingemann (2008: p. 376) has estimated that around 2005 there were some 10 000 political scientists in Europe, half of them being in the Central and Eastern Europe. That roughly equals the number of American political scientists. Besides, the growth of the political science profession has been impressive in Asia during the last 30 years. There are some 5000 political scientists in Japan and some 2500 in South Korea alone (Inoguchi, 2012: p. 17). In addition, India has a long tradition of political studies. The discipline has developed rapidly also in Latin America during the last two decades. Although there are no exact figures available, it is safe to say that the increase of the number of political scientists around the world during the past 30 years has made political science a global discipline and diminished the previous central role of American political science in the profession.
Especially many European scholars have influenced theoretical discussion in the social sciences all over the world. German critical theory (Jürgen Habermas), French philosophy and sociology (Michel Foucault), as well as British intellectual history (Quentin Skinner) have opened new perspectives also for the study of politics. There are no paradigmatic theories in contemporary political science, but many competing theories and intellectual cultures. The globalization of the discipline has increased the diversity of theoretical perspectives. Different countries have their own intellectual traditions and scholars have become aware that they have to take into account local as well as global conditions when explaining politics. A good example is a study of democracy. There is no single theory of democracy today. Instead, the theories of deliberative, participatory, delegative, cosmopolitan, and global democracy, among others, are offered as solutions to the problems of contemporary politics.
The fragmentation of the discipline is displayed by the growth of different subdisciplinary specialties. Many scholars identify themselves more as members of a specific research field than as political scientists in general. International relations and public administration have founded their own associations and journals, and especially the study of public administration has in many countries cut itself off from the rest of political science. The identity politics has also become important, especially in regard to gender and race. Feminist political theory has become one of the fastest growing fields within political science.
Globalized Political Science
This political science research paper has focused mainly on the United States and Europe. This can be justified by the fact that the birth of political science as a discipline has been closely linked to the American and European scholarship. One cannot deny the organizational and theoretical influence of American political science in other countries (Inoguchi, 2012: p. 11). Since the 1970s, also European political science has grown in importance. This is not to deny the role of political science in other parts of the world. However, political science is still an unevenly developed discipline worldwide. One of the signs of this is the existence of political science associations in the world and their membership in the International Political Science Association. Currently (2013) there are 51 collective IPSA members, 31 of them are from Europe, 2 from North America, 3 from Africa, 8 from Asia, 6 from Latin America, and 1 from Oceania. However, the change in that respect is evident in the future, as recent developments in Asia and Latin America show. Political science has become an international discipline, but it has not reached its limits yet.
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