Political science

Last updated on 25 June 2017

Political science is a social science which deals with systems of governance, and the analysis of political activities, political thoughts and political behaviour.[1] It deals extensively with the theory and practice of politics which is commonly thought of as determining of the distribution of power and resources. Political scientists "see themselves engaged in revealing the relationships underlying political events and conditions, and from these revelations they attempt to construct general principles about the way the world of politics works."[2]

Political science comprises numerous subfields, including comparative politics, political economy, international relations, political theory, public administration, public policy and political methodology. Furthermore, political science is related to, and draws upon, the fields of economics, law, sociology, history, philosophy, geography, psychology, and anthropology.

Comparative politics is the science of comparison and teaching of different types of constitutions, political actors, legislature and associated fields, all of them from an intrastate perspective. International relations deals with the interaction between nation-states as well as intergovernmental and transnational organizations. Political theory is more concerned with contributions of various classical and contemporary thinkers and philosophers.

Political science is methodologically diverse and appropriates many methods originating in social research. Approaches include positivism, interpretivism, rational choice theory, behaviouralism, structuralism, post-structuralism, realism, institutionalism, and pluralism. Political science, as one of the social sciences, uses methods and techniques that relate to the kinds of inquiries sought: primary sources such as historical documents and official records, secondary sources such as scholarly journal articles, survey research, statistical analysis, case studies, experimental research and model building.


Political scientists study matters concerning the allocation and transfer of power in decision making, the roles and systems of governance including governments and international organizations, political behaviour and public policies. They measure the success of governance and specific policies by examining many factors, including stability, justice, material wealth, peace and public health. Some political scientists seek to advance positive (attempt to describe how things are, as opposed to how they should be) theses by analysing politics. Others advance normative theses, by making specific policy recommendations.

Political scientists provide the frameworks from which journalists, special interest groups, politicians, and the electorate analyse issues. According to Chaturvedy, "...Political scientists may serve as advisers to specific politicians, or even run for office as politicians themselves. Political scientists can be found working in governments, in political parties or as civil servants. They may be involved with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or political movements. In a variety of capacities, people educated and trained in political science can add value and expertise to corporations. Private enterprises such as think tanks, research institutes, polling and public relations firms often employ political scientists." [3] In the United States, political scientists known as "Americanists" look at a variety of data including constitutional development, elections, public opinion and public policy such as Social Security reform, foreign policy, US Congressional committees, and the US Supreme Court — to name only a few issues.

Political science, possibly like the social sciences as a whole, "as a discipline lives on the fault line between the 'two cultures' in the academy, the sciences and the humanities."[4] Thus, in some American colleges where there is no separate School or College of Arts and Sciences per se, political science may be a separate department housed as part of a division or school of Humanities or Liberal Arts.[5] Whereas classical political philosophy is primarily defined by a concern for Hellenic and Enlightenment thought, political scientists are also marked by a great concern for "modernity" and the contemporary nation state, along with the study of classical thought, and as such share a greater deal of terminology with sociologists (e.g. structure and agency).

Most United States colleges and universities offer B.A. programs in political science. M.A. or M.A.T. and Ph.D. or Ed.D. programs are common at larger universities. The term political science is more popular in North America than elsewhere; other institutions, especially those outside the United States, see political science as part of a broader discipline of political studies, politics, or government. While political science implies use of the scientific method, political studies implies a broader approach, although the naming of degree courses does not necessarily reflect their content.[6] Separate degree granting programs in international relations and public policy are not uncommon at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Master's level programs in political science are common when political scientists engage in public administration.[7]

The national honor society for college and university students of government and politics in the United States is Pi Sigma Alpha.


As a social science, contemporary political science started to take shape in the latter half of the 19th century. At that time it began to separate itself from political philosophy, which traces its roots back to the works of Chanakya, Aristotle and Plato which were written nearly 2,500 years ago.

Seeing in the work of Chinese "Legalist" Shen Buhai the "seeds of the civil service examination", Sinologist Herrlee G. Creel considered him possibly the first political scientist - with exaggeration.[8]

Modern political science

Modern political science was founded by Niccolò Machiavelli. Because political science is essentially a study of human behaviour, in all aspects of politics, observations in controlled environments are often challenging to reproduce or duplicate, though experimental methods are increasingly common (see experimental political science).[9] Citing this difficulty, former American Political Science Association President Lawrence Lowell once said "We are limited by the impossibility of experiment. Politics is an observational, not an experimental science."[10] Because of this, political scientists have historically observed political elites, institutions, and individual or group behaviour in order to identify patterns, draw generalizations, and build theories of politics.

Like all social sciences, political science faces the difficulty of observing human actors that can only be partially observed and who have the capacity for making conscious choices unlike other subjects such as non-human organisms in biology or inanimate objects as in physics. Despite the complexities, contemporary political science has progressed by adopting a variety of methods and theoretical approaches to understanding politics and methodological pluralism is a defining feature of contemporary political science.

The advent of political science as a university discipline was marked by the creation of university departments and chairs with the title of political science arising in the late 19th century. In fact, the designation "political scientist" is typically for those with a doctorate in the field, but can also apply to those with a master's in the subject.[11] Integrating political studies of the past into a unified discipline is ongoing, and the history of political science has provided a rich field for the growth of both normative and positive political science, with each part of the discipline sharing some historical predecessors. The American Political Science Association was founded in 1903 and the American Political Science Review was founded in 1906 in an effort to distinguish the study of politics from economics and other social phenomena.

Behavioural revolution and new institutionalism

In the 1950s and the 1960s, a behavioural revolution stressing the systematic and rigorously scientific study of individual and group behaviour swept the discipline. A focus on studying political behaviour, rather than institutions or interpretation of legal texts, characterized early behavioural political science, including work by Robert Dahl, Philip Converse, and in the collaboration between sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld and public opinion scholar Bernard Berelson.

The late 1960s and early 1970s witnessed a take off in the use of deductive, game theoretic formal modelling techniques aimed at generating a more analytical corpus of knowledge in the discipline. This period saw a surge of research that borrowed theory and methods from economics to study political institutions, such as the United States Congress, as well as political behaviour, such as voting. William H. Riker and his colleagues and students at the University of Rochester were the main proponents of this shift.

Despite considerable research progress in the discipline based on all the kinds of scholarship discussed above, it has been observed that progress toward systematic theory has been modest and uneven.[12]

Anticipating of crises

The theory of political transitions,[13] and the methods of their analysis and anticipating of crises,[14] form an important part of political science. Several general indicators of crises and methods were proposed for anticipating critical transitions.[15] Among them, a statistical indicator of crisis, simultaneous increase of variance and correlations in large groups, was proposed for crises anticipation and successfully used in various areas.[16] Its applicability for early diagnosis of political crises was demonstrated by the analysis of the prolonged stress period preceding the 2014 Ukrainian economic and political crisis. There was a simultaneous increase in the total correlation between the 19 major public fears in the Ukrainian society (by about 64%) and also in their statistical dispersion (by 29%) during the pre-crisis years.[17] A feature shared by certain major revolutions is that they were not predicted. The theory of apparent inevitability of crises and revolutions was also developed.[18]

Political science in the Soviet Union

In the Soviet Union, political studies were carried out under the guise of some other disciplines like theory of state and law, area studies, international relations, studies of labor movement, "critique of bourgeois theories", etc. Soviet scholars were represented at the International Political Science Association (IPSA) since 1955 (since 1960 by the Soviet Association of Political and State Studies).

In 1979, the 11th World Congress of IPSA took place in Moscow. Until the late years of the Soviet Union, political science as a field was subjected to tight control of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and was thus subjected to distrust. Anti-communists accused political scientists of being "false" scientists and of having served the old regime.[19]

After the fall of the Soviet Union, two of the major institutions dealing with political science, the Institute of Contemporary Social Theories and the Institute of International Affairs, were disbanded, and most of their members were left without jobs. These institutes were victims of the first wave of anticommunist opinion and ideological attacks. Today, the Russian Political Science Association unites professional political scientists from all around Russia.

Recent developments

In 2000, the Perestroika Movement in political science was introduced as a reaction against what supporters of the movement called the mathematicization of political science. Those who identified with the movement argued for a plurality of methodologies and approaches in political science and for more relevance of the discipline to those outside of it.[20]

Evolutionary psychology theories argue that humans have evolved a highly developed set of psychological mechanisms for dealing with politics. However, these mechanisms evolved for dealing with the small group politics that characterized the ancestral environment and not the much larger political structures in today's world. This is argued to explain many important features and systematic cognitive biases of current politics.[21]

Cognate fields

Most political scientists work broadly in one or more of the following five areas:

Some political science departments also classify methodology as well as scholarship on the domestic politics of a particular country as distinct fields. In the United States, American politics is often treated as a separate subfield.

In contrast to this traditional classification, some academic departments organize scholarship into thematic categories, including political philosophy, political behaviour (including public opinion, collective action, and identity), and political institutions (including legislatures and international organizations). Political science conferences and journals often emphasize scholarship in more specific categories. The American Political Science Association, for example, has 42 organized sections that address various methods and topics of political inquiry.[22]


Political science as a separate field is a rather late arrival in terms of social sciences. However, the term "political science" was not always distinguished from political philosophy, and the modern discipline has a clear set of antecedents including also moral philosophy, political economy, political theology, history, and other fields concerned with normative determinations of what ought to be and with deducing the characteristics and functions of the ideal state.

See also


  1. ^ Oxford Dictionary: political science
  2. ^ Political Science. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (22 February 1999). Retrieved on 27 May 2014.
  3. ^ Chaturvedy, J. C. Political Governance: Political theory. Isha Books. p. 4. Retrieved 28 October 2014.
  4. ^ Stoner, J. R. (22 February 2008). "Political Science and Political Education". Paper presented at the annual meeting of the APSA Teaching and Learning Conference (APSA), San José Marriott, San José, California. Archived from the original on 30 November 2009. Retrieved 19 October 2011. ... although one might allege the same for social science as a whole, political scientists receive funding from and play an active role in both the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities [in the United States]. <http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p245585_index.html>.
  5. ^ See, e.g., the department of Political Science at Marist College, part of a Division of Humanities before that division became the School of Liberal Arts (c. 2000).
  6. ^ Politics is the term used to refer to this field by Brandeis University; Cornell College; University of California, Santa Cruz; Hendrix College; Lake Forest College; Monash University; Mount Holyoke College; New York University; Occidental College; Princeton University; Ursinus College; and Washington and Lee University. Government is the term used for this field by Bowdoin College; Colby College; Cornell University; Dartmouth College; Georgetown University; Harvard University; Smith College; Wesleyan University; the College of William and Mary; the University of Sydney; the University of Texas at Austin; the University of Ulster; the University of Essex; Victoria University of Wellington, which has both a "School of Government" and a separate "Political Science and International Relations Programme"; and the London School of Economics and Political Science. Politics and government is the term used by the University of Puget Sound. Government and politics is used by the University of Maryland, College Park.
  7. ^ Vernardakis, George (1998). Graduate education in government. University Press of America. p. 77. ISBN 0-7618-1171-0. ...existing practices at Harvard University, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Michigan.
  8. ^ Creel, What Is Taoism?, 94
  9. ^ Druckman, James; Green, Donald; Kuklinski, James; et al., eds. (2011). Cambridge Handbook of Experimental Political Science. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-17455-8.
  10. ^ Lowell, A. Lawrence. 1910. "The Physiology of Politics." American Political Science Review 4: 1-15.
  11. ^ Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. "How to Become a Political Scientist". Retrieved 13 September 2016.
  12. ^ Kim Quaile Hill, "In Search of General Theory," Journal of Politics 74(October, 2012), 917-931.
  13. ^ Acemoglu D., Robinson J.A. "A theory of political transitions." American Economic Review. 2001 Sep 1:938-963.
  14. ^ McClelland C.A. "The Anticipation of International Crises: Prospects for Theory and Research." International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 21, No. 1, Special Issue on International Crisis:Progress and Prospects for Applied Forecasting and Management (Mar., 1977), pp. 15-38
  15. ^ Scheffer M., Carpenter S.R., Lenton T.M., Bascompte J., Brock W., Dakos V., Van De Koppel J., Van De Leemput I.A., Levin S.A., Van Nes E.H., Pascual M. "Anticipating critical transitions." Science. 2012 Oct 19;338(6105):344-348.
  16. ^ Gorban, A.N.; Smirnova, E.V.; Tyukina, T. A. (August 2010). "Correlations, risk and crisis: From physiology to finance". Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications. 389 (16): 3193–3217. doi:10.1016/j.physa.2010.03.035.
  17. ^ Rybnikov, S.R.; Rybnikova, N.A.; Portnov, B.A. (March 2017). "Public fears in Ukrainian society: Are crises predictable?". Psychology & Developing Societies. 29 (1): 98–123. doi:10.1177/0971333616689398.
  18. ^ Kuran T. "Sparks and prairie fires: A theory of unanticipated political revolution." Public Choice, Vol. 61, No. 1 (Apr., 1989), pp. 41-74
  19. ^ Political Science in Russia: Institutionalization of the Discipline and Development of the Professional Community
  20. ^ Perestroika!: The Raucous Rebellion in Political Science. Yale University Press. ISBN 0300130201.
  21. ^ Michael Bang Petersen. "The evolutionary psychology of mass politics". In Roberts, S. C. (2011). Roberts, S. Craig, ed. "Applied Evolutionary Psychology". Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199586073. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199586073.001.0001.
  22. ^ APSA Organized Sections | APSA(subscription required)

Further reading

  • The Evolution of Political Science (November 2006). APSR Centennial Volume of American Political Science Review. Apsanet.org. 4 February 2009.
  • European Political Processes: Essays and Readings (1968). [Compiled and] ed., with original essays, by Henry S. Albinski [and] Lawrence K. Pettit. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. vii, 448 p.
  • Goodin, R. E.; Klingemann, Hans-Dieter (1996). A New Handbook of Political Science. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-829471-9.
  • Grinin, L., Korotayev, A. and Tausch A. (2016) Economic Cycles, Crises, and the Global Periphery. Springer International Publishing, Heidelberg, New York, Dordrecht, London, ISBN 978-3-319-17780-9;
  • Klingemann, Hans-Dieter, ed. (2007) The State of Political Science in Western Europe. Opladen: Barbara Budrich Publishers. ISBN 978-3-86649-045-1.
  • Schramm, S. F.; Caterino, B., eds. (2006). Making Political Science Matter: Debating Knowledge, Research, and Method. New York and London: New York University Press. Making Political Science Matter. Google Books. 4 February 2009.
  • Roskin, M.; Cord, R. L.; Medeiros, J. A.; Jones, W. S. (2007). Political Science: An Introduction. 10th ed. New York: Pearson Prentice Hall. ISBN 978-0-13-242575-9 (10). ISBN 978-0-13-242575-9 (13).
  • Tausch, A.; Prager, F. (1993). Towards a Socio-Liberal Theory of World Development. Basingstoke: Macmillan; New York: St. Martin's Press and Springer Publishers.
  • Tausch, Arno (2015). The political algebra of global value change. General models and implications for the Muslim world. With Almas Heshmati and Hichem Karoui. (1st ed.). Nova Science Publishers, New York. ISBN 978-1-62948-899-8.
  • Oxford Handbooks of Political Science
  • Noel, Hans (2010) "Ten Things Political Scientists Know that You Don’t" The Forum: Vol. 8: Iss. 3, Article 12.
  • Zippelius, Reinhold (2003). Geschichte der Staatsideen (=History of political Ideas), 10th ed. Munich: C.H. Beck. ISBN 3-406-49494-3.
  • Zippelius, Reinhold (2010). Allgemeine Staatslehre, Politikwissenschaft (=Political Science),16th ed. Munich: C.H. Beck. ISBN 978-3-406-60342-6.

External links

Library Guides to Political Science

Content from Wikipedia