Political science, as we know it today, is in fact a relatively young discipline. Its development as a distinct academic field of study dates back about a century. However, the foundations of political thought can be found in much earlier philosophical and literary works.
The tradition of Western political thought has its roots in ancient Greece, with thinkers such as Plato and Aristotle. Their writings on subjects such as justice, power, authority, the role of the state, citizenship and governance laid the foundations for thinking about politics. These ideas were then developed and enriched over the centuries by thinkers such as Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Marx and many others. However, it was not until the 20th century that political science emerged as an academic field in its own right, with its own institutions, academic journals and research methods. This coincided with a movement towards a more empirical and scientific approach to the study of politics, characterised by the use of quantitative methods and a particular focus on the systematisation and verification of theories.
Today, political science is a diverse discipline that encompasses a variety of sub-fields, such as political theory, comparative politics, international relations, public policy, public administration, and gender politics, to name but a few. However, despite this diversity, all political scientists share a common interest in understanding political phenomena.
Defining political science: an intellectual challenge[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
According to Harold Lasswell, in his 1936 book Politics: Who Gets What, When, How, political science is defined by who gets what, when, and how. In other words, it is the eternal struggle within society for control of scarce resources. These conflicts, between individuals and between social groups, are generated by the desire to share out the resources of an inevitably limited society. This perspective focuses on conflicts relating to the redistribution of scarce resources in a society.
Robert E. Goodin, in 'The State of the Discipline, The Discipline of the State' published in 2009, sees politics as the limited use of social power, presented as the essence of politics. The central concept here is the notion of power, a subject widely explored in the social sciences. According to Max Weber, A's power over B is A's ability to make B do something that B would not have done without A's intervention. This general definition refers to the ability to influence other individuals, groups or states by constraining their behaviour. One of the interests of this definition is to show that power is relational. According to Goodin, power can take many forms, but it is always limited, because even the most powerful cannot impose their will on the dominated by coercion. Power is therefore multidimensional, but always constrained, and the task of political science is to account for these power relations at different levels.
Goodin also proposes another definition, according to which political science is the discipline of the state. Here, the state is understood as a set of norms, institutions and power relations. In terms of norms, the history of the modern state is closely linked to liberal democracy, with specific norms such as the separation of powers, political competition, individual political participation and the political accountability of elected representatives to the electorate. The State is also a set of institutions that embody different forms of politics. The State is thus the privileged locus of power relations between individuals and between groups.
During the twentieth century, political science underwent a significant process of autonomisation, distinguishing itself from related disciplines, particularly history. Historically, political science was largely considered a sub-discipline of history, since it was largely based on the study of the history of institutions, political ideas and social movements. However, as the discipline evolved in the twentieth century, political science began to develop its own methodological approaches, theoretical frameworks and areas of application. One of the key factors in this empowerment was the development of quantitative methodologies and the application of game theory, rationality theory and other concepts from psychology and economics to the analysis of political behaviour. These methodological advances have enabled political science to move away from the narrative study methods of history, to become a more analytical and data-driven discipline. In addition, political science has gradually broadened its field of study to include a wider range of political phenomena, including the analysis of electoral behaviour, the study of decision-making processes within political institutions and the understanding of international power dynamics. Finally, the creation of independent political science departments in universities and the publication of specialist journals have strengthened the discipline's identity as a distinct area of academic research.
James Duesenberry, a renowned economist, highlights the different perspectives that economics and sociology take when studying human behaviour: 'economics only talks about how individuals make choices, sociology only talks about how they have no choices to make'.  In economics, the emphasis is on the idea that individuals are rational agents who make choices according to their preferences and the constraints imposed on them, such as income or time. This is based on the concept of economic man or "homo economicus", a hypothetical individual who always seeks to maximise his utility or well-being by making rational choices based on available information. Sociology, on the other hand, is more concerned with the social and cultural context in which individuals are placed, and how these environments shape their behaviour and life options. In other words, sociology often highlights how social structures limit or determine individual choices. For example, a person born into a certain social class may have different opportunities from someone born into another social class, which may limit their choices in terms of education, employment or even lifestyle. In this way, Duesenberry illustrates the tension between methodological individualism, which is typical of economics, and methodological holism, which is more characteristic of sociology. It is important to note that these are two complementary approaches to understanding human behaviour and societies, and that they each offer unique and valuable insights.
What Duesenberry says highlights two contrasting conceptions of the human in neoclassical sociology and economics. On the one hand, sociology tends to have a conception of the 'supersocialised' human, where the behaviour of individuals is largely determined by external social forces. In other words, in this model, the individual is largely influenced by the social structure in which he or she lives. This can include factors such as cultural norms, social roles, social expectations and social institutions. From this perspective, the individual has limited scope to act outside social expectations and constraints. On the other hand, neoclassical economics tends to have an 'under-socialised' view of man, where the individual is seen as operating relatively independently of social influences. In this model, the individual is seen primarily as a rational economic agent who seeks to maximise personal welfare by making rational choices based on available information. Social interactions are often seen as economic transactions, where individuals exchange goods and services to maximise their utility. These two contrasting conceptions of human beings highlight the tension between individualism and collectivism in the analysis of human behaviour. They also highlight the importance of considering both individual and social factors in understanding human behaviour and societies.
Marx highlights the tension between the capacity of individuals to shape their own history and the constraints imposed by existing social and historical conditions: "Men make their own history, but they do not make it arbitrarily under conditions chosen by them, but under conditions directly given to them and inherited from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs heavily on the brain of the living. And even when it seems busy transforming itself, them and things to create something quite new, it is precisely at these times of revolutionary crisis that they fearfully evoke the spirits of the past, that they borrow from them their names, their watchwords, their costumes in order to appear on the new stage of history in this respectable disguise and with this borrowed language." 
Marx recognised that individuals play an active role in creating their own history. However, he argues that this process is not arbitrary, but is strongly influenced by the given social and historical conditions inherited from the past. The second part of the quotation highlights the way in which individuals often turn to the past during periods of change and revolution. Even when they seek to create something new, they often resort to historical references, borrowing names, watchwords and costumes from the past. This, according to Marx, shows the extent to which the past weighs heavily on the present, even in moments of radical transformation. In short, Marx sees history not as a simple product of human actions, but as a complex interaction between individual agency and social and historical structures. He emphasises the way in which the past informs and limits the possibilities for change in the present.
Marx's quote illustrates the complex interaction between individual agency - that is, the capacity of individuals to act autonomously and make decisions - and the social and institutional structures in which they find themselves. These structures can include political and economic institutions, cultural norms, class structures, environmental constraints, and more. The tension Marx describes is that between freedom and determination: on the one hand, individuals are free to make decisions and act; on the other hand, the possibilities for action open to them are shaped and constrained by structures that are often beyond their control and largely the product of history. For example, an individual may choose to work hard to achieve economic success, but his or her success will also depend on structural factors such as available education and economic opportunities, social and economic background, the wider political and economic context, and other factors which are largely determined by the history and society in which he or she lives. Moreover, these structures are not only constraints, they also shape the way in which individuals perceive and interpret the world, influencing their aspirations, motivations and conception of what is possible or desirable. Marx reminds us that if individuals make history, they do so under conditions that are not of their own choosing, but inherited from the past.
From ancient origins to modern theories[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
Ancient Greece, and in particular the 5th century BC, is often regarded as the cradle of Western political thought. During this period, known as the Golden Age of Athens, many fundamental political concepts were developed and debated.
In ancient Greece, politics was a central preoccupation of philosophy. Thinkers of this period concentrated on analysing political ideas and ideals, exploring the properties of different political systems, questioning the essence of citizenship, the role and action of governments, and the intervention of the state in public affairs and foreign policy.
Two emblematic figures of this period are Plato and Aristotle. Plato, in his work The Republic, explored questions of justice, equality and the best form of government. His pupil Aristotle, in his 'Politics', examined the different forms of government, citizenship, and the nature of the political community. These writings laid the foundations of Western political thought and had a considerable influence on the subsequent development of political science.
Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher (427-347 BC), is often regarded as one of the founding fathers of political science. His famous work, "The Republic", is a major text not only for philosophy, but also for political thought. In "The Republic", Plato proposes a typology of different political systems. In particular, he distinguishes between monarchy (which he calls "royalty"), aristocracy, timocracy (government based on honour), oligarchy, democracy and tyranny. Each regime is evaluated according to its justice and efficiency. In addition to this typology, Plato also offers a vision of what he considers to be the ideal state. For him, a just society is one in which each individual fulfils the function best suited to him or her. According to his famous theory of the three classes, society should be divided into rulers (the "guardians"), auxiliaries (the "warriors") and producers (the craftsmen and farmers). Plato's contribution to political science is not limited to the Republic. In other works, such as The Laws, he continued to explore questions relating to political and social organisation. His ideas have had a profound influence on Western political thought and continue to be studied and debated by contemporary political scientists.
Aristotle (384-322 BC) is another major thinker of ancient Greece and a key contributor to political science. His Politics is a fundamental text of political thought, in which he addresses many of the issues that remain central to the discipline to this day. Unlike Plato, Aristotle adopts an empirical and inductive approach to the study of political affairs. Instead of starting with abstract ideas and deducing conclusions, Aristotle preferred observing existing societies and drawing lessons from them. He is known to have studied 158 constitutions of Greek cities to understand the nature and advantages of different political systems. In Politics, Aristotle also proposes his own typology of political regimes, which he divides into six forms: monarchy, aristocracy, polity (a mixture of aristocracy and democracy), tyranny, oligarchy and democracy. Each of these forms is analysed in terms of its advantages and disadvantages, and Aristotle argues in favour of polity as the best form of government. In addition, Aristotle is famous for his conception of politics as fundamentally linked to human well-being. According to him, the purpose of the city (polis) is to enable its citizens to lead a good life. This vision of politics has had a lasting influence on Western political thought.
During the Ancient Greek period, two major themes crystallised that continue to occupy a central place in the field of political science:
- The Institutional Forms of Politics: This question examines the different types of institutional arrangements that structure the political realm. This includes different forms of government, electoral systems, the division of powers, the relationship between government and citizens, etc. In ancient Greece, political thinkers such as Aristotle analysed a variety of city-state constitutions to understand their characteristics and workings.
- L'Evaluation of Institutional Forms: This theme is linked to the normative question of what are the best forms of government or political organisation. This often involves reflection on political and ethical values, such as justice, freedom, equality, etc. For example, Plato in his Republic proposed an ideal vision of the city-state. At the same time, Aristotle argued in favour of polity (a mixture of aristocracy and democracy) as the best form of government.
These two themes recur in debates and research in contemporary political science, albeit with new nuances and different methodological approaches.
The renewal of ideas during the Renaissance[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
The medieval period was strongly influenced by Christian thought and the theory of natural law. The latter presupposed the existence of a universal law, derived from divine transcendence, that would dictate human conduct and the principles of justice. According to this view, the state or city should structure its institutions and governance in accordance with this natural law.
However, the philosophical and intellectual changes associated with the Renaissance marked a break with this tradition. From that time onwards, political thought began to turn towards a more humanist and secular vision, centred on man rather than divinity. Political thinkers began to explore new conceptions of power, sovereignty and the state, marking a new phase in the evolution of political science.
Machiavelli (1469 - 1527) is best known for his political treatise The Prince, which explores the legitimacy of political regimes and rulers. He is often regarded as a precursor of the realist school, which gave rise to the realist theory of international relations in the 20th century. In a break with the dominant Christian thinking of the time, which saw morality as an end in itself, Machiavelli also saw morality as a means to political ends. In his view, morality could be used as an instrument to achieve certain political ends. This instrumentalist vision of morality marked a significant break with previous conceptions, and had a profound influence on subsequent political thought.
Jean Bodin (1529 - 1596) is best known as a theorist of state sovereignty. In his major work, The Six Books of the Republic, he set out the nature of the state, which he defined by the notion of sovereignty. For Bodin, sovereignty is the fundamental attribute of the State, which holds ultimate and independent power over its territory and population. This concept of sovereignty has had a profound influence on political theory and forms the basis of our modern understanding of the nation state.
The Enlightenment was a period of intellectual ferment and major contributions to political theory. Eminent philosophers and thinkers such as Hobbes, Locke, Hume and Smith laid the foundations for many of the fundamental notions in the Anglo-Saxon tradition of political science. Thomas Hobbes (1588 - 1679), in his work "Leviathan", developed a theory of absolutism and the social contract, proposing that individuals agree to cede part of their freedom to a sovereign in exchange for security. John Locke (1632 - 1704), often regarded as the father of liberalism, developed a theory of government based on the consent of the governed in his "Two Treatises of Government", and laid the foundations for the theory of natural rights. David Hume (1711 - 1776) contributed to political theory by examining the foundations of society and governance, particularly in his "Essays on Commerce". Adam Smith (1723 - 1790) is best known for his work "The Wealth of Nations", in which he formulated the theory of the market economy and the concept of the "invisible hand". Finally, Alexander Hamilton (1755 - 1804) is one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and played a key role in drafting the American Constitution and defining the American system of government. These thinkers brought diverse and complementary perspectives to bear on subjects such as the role of the state, the nature of individual rights, the organisation of the economy and the structure of government, which continue to influence contemporary political science.
Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu (1689 - 1755), generally known as Montesquieu, is one of the most influential French philosophers in the field of political science. In his work "De l'Esprit des Lois", published in 1748, he formulated essential ideas on the structuring of political power in a society. Montesquieu proposed a division of political power into three distinct branches: the legislative branch (which makes the laws), the executive branch (which executes the laws) and the judicial branch (which interprets and applies the laws). This idea, known as the theory of the separation of powers, has had a considerable impact on the design of modern political institutions, particularly in democratic systems. According to Montesquieu, the separation of powers aims to prevent the abuse of power and guarantee individual freedoms, by establishing a system of checks and balances between the various powers. The theory of the separation of powers influenced the drafting of the United States Constitution and remains a fundamental principle of constitutional law in many countries.
Late 18th - 19th century: A period of transition[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
The late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries saw the emergence of a number of important thinkers who greatly influenced social theory and political science. They developed complex theories about the structure of society, the nature of power, the relationships between individuals and groups, and other aspects of how society works.
The period from the late eighteenth to the nineteenth century saw the birth of a number of influential thinkers in the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy. These thinkers played important roles in the development of political, economic and social philosophy. Their work has influenced a variety of fields, including sociology, philosophy and political science.
- Adam Smith (1723-1790): Known as the father of modern economics, Smith laid the foundations of the market economy and the division of labour. In his book "The Wealth of Nations", he established the principle of the "invisible hand" that guides free markets.
- David Ricardo (1772-1823): Ricardo was an influential economist, best known for his theory of labour-value and his theory of comparative advantage, which is still the basis of most arguments in favour of free trade. His best-known work is "On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation".
- John Stuart Mill (1806-1873): Mill is one of the greatest thinkers of liberalism. He defended individual liberty against state interference in his work "On Liberty". He also contributed to utilitarian theory, arguing that actions should be judged according to their utility or ability to produce happiness.
- Auguste Comte (1798-1857): Considered the father of sociology, Comte introduced the concept of positivism, which advocates the use of the scientific method to understand and explain the social world.
- Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859): Tocqueville is best known for his analysis of American democracy in his book "Democracy in America". He was also a perceptive observer of the social and political trends of his time, including the rise of equality and democratic despotism.
- Herbert Spencer (1820-1903): Spencer had a significant influence advocated a social and economic laissez-faire philosophy and is known for applying Darwin's theory of evolution to human society, a concept often summarised by the phrase survival of the fittest.
- Émile Durkheim (1858-1917): Durkheim is another founding father of sociology. He emphasised the importance of social institutions and introduced concepts such as the social fact, anomie and social solidarity. His work laid the foundations for functionalist sociology.
- Karl Marx (1818-1883): Marx is one of the most influential thinkers in modern history. Together with Friedrich Engels, he developed Marxism, a critical theory of capitalism and class society. His works, including "The Communist Manifesto" and "Capital", laid the foundations of socialism and communism, and influenced a wide variety of disciplines, including political science, sociology and economics.
- Max Weber (1864-1920): Weber is regarded as one of the founders of modern sociology. His work covered a wide range of subjects, including bureaucracy, authority, religion and capitalism. His concept of "ethics of conviction" and "ethics of responsibility" is still widely used in political analysis. His book "Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Capitalism" is often cited as a seminal study of the influence of religion on economic development.
- Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923): An Italian economist and sociologist, Pareto is best known for his work on the distribution of wealth and his theory of elites. He introduced the concept of the "Pareto optimum" to economics, which states that a state is optimal if no improvement can be made without worsening an individual's situation.
- Gaetano Mosca (1858-1941): Also a theorist of elites, Mosca emphasised the idea that, in any society, an organised minority will always rule over a disorganised majority. His most famous work, "The Political Class", details this theory.
- Robert Michels (1876-1936): An Italian sociologist of German origin, Michels is known for his theory of the iron oligarchy. In his book "Political Parties", he argued that all forms of organisation, whether democratic or not, inevitably lead to oligarchy, due to the bureaucratic tendencies inherent in all organisations.
The classical period of social theory in the 19th century saw the emergence of a number of new perspectives on society and human history. Among the most influential was the historical materialism of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, which proposed a deterministic view of history based on class struggle and the development of productive forces. According to Marx and Engels, human history is essentially a history of class conflict, in which economic structures largely determine the political and ideological structures of society. From this perspective, history develops in a linear and progressive fashion, with each mode of production (slavery, feudalism, capitalism) being replaced by the next as a result of internal contradictions and class conflicts. This deterministic and progressive conception of history played a key role in the political philosophy of Marx and Engels, who saw the end of capitalism and the advent of socialism and communism as inevitable stages in human history. These ideas have had a profound and lasting influence on social and political theory, although their implications and validity continue to be debated today.
Against these deterministic and often highly theoretical views of society, a body of empirical work began to emerge in the second half of the nineteenth century. This work sought to examine social realities in a more concrete and detailed way, based on direct observation and the analysis of empirical data. This led to the emergence of new disciplines such as sociology, initiated by figures like Émile Durkheim in France, who stressed the importance of the systematic study of social facts. At the same time, in Germany, Max Weber developed a comprehensive approach to sociology, seeking to understand individual actions and social processes from the point of view of the actors themselves. This empirical work often called into question the great deterministic narratives of history and society, by showing the complexity and variability of social phenomena. They have highlighted the importance of specific historical and cultural contexts, as well as the possibility of multiple trajectories of social and political development. This marked a major break with previous approaches and laid the foundations for many contemporary branches of social science, including political science. It also paved the way for a variety of new methodologies, from ethnography to statistical analysis, which are now standard tools in social and political research.
In reaction to the deterministic trend, many researchers began to undertake detailed descriptive studies of political institutions. It was during this period that Woodrow Wilson, who was to become the 28th President of the United States, wrote "The State: Elements of Historical and Practical Politics". In this book, Wilson offered an in-depth study of political institutions, constructing a typology of political regimes based on their institutional structure and practices. This reflects an empirical and comparative approach to political science, seeking to understand political systems in terms of their specific characteristics and historical context. This approach can be seen as a modern revival of the classical typologies developed by Plato and Aristotle, but with a greater emphasis on direct observation and detailed analysis. This represented an important contribution to the development of political science as an autonomous discipline, emphasising the value of the systematic study of political institutions for understanding how political systems function.
Woodrow Wilson was not only the 28th President of the United States, but also an eminent academic and political scientist. Before entering politics, Wilson taught at Princeton University, where he was recognised for his important work in political science. One of Wilson's most notable contributions to the discipline was his institutional approach to the study of politics. He argued for particular attention to the analysis of political institutions as key elements of any political system. In addition, he emphasised the importance of practical politics, stressing the need for scholars to understand how political institutions actually work in practice, not just in theory. During his time as President during the First World War, Wilson was able to put some of his political ideas into practice. His presidency was marked by many progressive reforms, and he is best known for his role in creating the League of Nations after the First World War, an institution designed to promote peace and international cooperation.
Both Max Weber and Émile Durkheim made important contributions to sociological theory, addressing themes of modernisation, economic and social development, and democratisation. Max Weber is best known for his concept of the Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism, which argues that rationalisation, or the process of adopting rational and efficient ways of thinking and behaving, has been a key factor in the development of modern capitalism. He also explored bureaucracy and the concept of rational-legal authority, which lie at the heart of modern governance. Émile Durkheim is regarded as one of the founders of modern sociology. He is famous for his theory of social fact, which argues that social phenomena exist independently of individuals and influence their behaviour. Durkheim also explored the themes of modernisation and social change, notably through his study of suicide and religion. In short, both Weber and Durkheim contributed to our understanding of the processes of modernisation and social change, including economic and political development.
The process of modernisation, for example, remains a key subject of research and debate, particularly in relation to issues of development and democratisation. Researchers continue to examine how societies change as they become more 'modern', how these changes affect governance and politics, and how best to facilitate positive economic and political development. Similarly, social and economic development remains a major concern for political scientists. Researchers are looking at issues such as how economic growth affects social inequalities, how government policies can support development, and how social changes, such as those linked to migration or climate change, affect politics. Finally, democratisation is also an important area of study in political science. Researchers examine how and why democracies emerge, stabilise or fail, and what strategies can support the transition to democracy and its maintenance. These questions are particularly relevant in the current context, where many countries around the world are facing challenges related to democratic governance.
The scientific approach to political science has developed considerably over time. It is characterised by greater rigour in the analysis of political phenomena, a more coherent logic in the arguments presented, and a predominance of the inductive approach over prior assumptions about human nature, as was the case during the Middle Ages. This inductive approach relies on empirical observation and data analysis to formulate hypotheses and theories. Instead of starting from pre-established theories about human nature or the structure of society, researchers observe behaviour and political events, collect data and use this information to develop theories that explain the phenomena observed. This does not mean that political science is devoid of theoretical or philosophical debates. On the contrary, these debates are crucial for guiding empirical research and interpreting results. However, the emphasis on an empirical and inductive approach has helped to reinforce the scientific character of the discipline. In addition, the use of quantitative methods, such as statistics and econometric models, and the increasing accessibility of data, have also contributed to the advancement of political science as a scientific discipline. These tools enable researchers to test their hypotheses rigorously and provide empirical evidence to support their arguments.
The use of the comparative method in political science began to grow during the twentieth century. This method allows researchers to analyse and compare political systems, regimes, policies and processes in different national and international contexts. However, for much of this century, the use of this method was still in its infancy and was not always systematic. The comparative approach aims to identify similarities and differences between the cases studied in an attempt to explain why certain political phenomena occur. For example, it can help to understand why some countries succeed in establishing a stable democracy, while others do not. Over time, the comparative method has developed and become more sophisticated. It has become more systematic, particularly with the development of statistical techniques that make it possible to compare a large number of cases at the same time. Despite this evolution, it is important to note that the comparative method presents challenges. It requires in-depth knowledge of the specific contexts of each case studied, and it can be difficult to control all the variables that could influence the results. In addition, researchers must be careful not to draw too general conclusions from a limited number of cases.
Much of traditional political science has focused on the study of the formal institutions of government, such as parliaments, courts, constitutions and public administrations. These studies have often taken a descriptive, legal and formal approach, focusing on the structure, function and organisation of these institutions. However, it is important to note that the field of political science has evolved and broadened significantly in recent decades. Today, researchers in political science are not limited to the study of the formal institutions of government. They are also interested in a variety of other political phenomena, such as electoral behaviour, social movements, identity politics, global governance, comparative politics, international conflict, and much more. Moreover, the methodologies used in political science have also evolved. Instead of focusing solely on a descriptive approach, many political scientists now use more diverse research methods, including quantitative, qualitative, mixed methods and formal modelling approaches. In sum, although the study of the formal institutions of government remains an important part of political science, the field has broadened and diversified considerably, reflecting a much wider range of topics of interest and research methodologies.
Late 19th and early 20th century: An era of change[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
It was at the beginning of the twentieth century that political science became truly professional and an autonomous discipline. Several factors contributed to this development. Firstly, the founding of professional organisations, such as the American Political Science Association (APSA) in 1903, played a crucial role. These organisations helped to standardise the practice of political science, establish ethical standards for research and promote the dissemination of research work through conferences and publications. Secondly, the development of doctoral programmes in political science in universities has helped to train a new generation of professional researchers. These programmes have provided a framework for systematic training in political theory, research methods, and the various sub-fields of the discipline. Thirdly, the evolution of political science has been stimulated by the introduction of new research methods, notably quantitative approaches based on statistics. These methods have enabled researchers to examine political issues with an unprecedented degree of rigour and precision. Finally, political science has also benefited from the support of various foundations and funding agencies, which have helped to fund research and promote the development of the discipline. It is thanks to these developments that political science has become a distinct academic discipline, with its own body of knowledge, research methods and professional standards.
Political science as a distinct academic discipline took root primarily in the United States in the early 20th century. The creation in 1880 of the first doctoral school at Columbia University in New York marked the beginning of the institutionalisation of political science as an autonomous field of study in the United States. This step was crucial in establishing political science as a distinct field of academic study. The American Political Science Association (APSA) was then founded in 1903. The APSA became a key organisation for political scientists, providing a platform for the sharing and dissemination of research, as well as a space for professional development and collaboration between scholars. These steps not only set political science apart from other disciplines, but also laid the foundations for the further development of the discipline, both in terms of theoretical research and practical application. Today, political science is a dynamic and diverse field that addresses a wide range of issues related to power, governance and international relations.
According to the British historian Edward Augustus Freeman, "History is past politics, and politics is present history" This quotation highlights the close relationship between political science and history. Indeed, political science can be seen as a branch of history that focuses on the analysis of political systems, institutions and processes, while history can provide a valuable context for understanding the origins and evolution of these systems and processes. However, a key difference between the two disciplines lies in their temporal focus. While history concentrates on the study of the past, political science focuses primarily on the present and the future. It examines contemporary trends and patterns in politics and tries to make predictions or provide policy recommendations for the future. This is why it is often said that "politics is present history". Nevertheless, although the two disciplines have different temporal orientations, they are intimately linked and mutually reinforcing. A thorough understanding of history can enrich our understanding of contemporary politics, while the study of contemporary politics can help us to interpret and understand history.
The approach of political science differs from that of history in terms of generalisation. Whereas history focuses on the uniqueness of each event and its specific circumstances, political science aims to establish theories and models that can be applied to various contexts and moments. This does not mean that political science neglects the specific details or context of an event or phenomenon. On the contrary, it uses these details to identify trends, patterns or factors that can explain a variety of political phenomena. One of the main aims of political science is to create theories that can be generalised, tested and validated under different conditions. This makes it possible to understand the mechanisms underlying political phenomena and to predict how these phenomena may evolve in the future. For example, political science theories can help us understand why some countries are more democratic than others, how political institutions influence the behaviour of citizens and leaders, or what factors can lead to war or peace between nations. In this way, political science complements history by providing conceptual frameworks for understanding large-scale political processes, while benefiting from historical insights to illuminate these frameworks.
Formal, legal and descriptive approaches in political science have certain limitations:
- Description over explanation: Descriptive approaches often provide a detailed view of political events, institutions or processes, but may lack in-depth explanations of why and how these phenomena occur.
- Dependence on law and formal institutions: Legal and institutional analysis is crucial to understanding how political systems work. However, they may neglect non-institutional or non-legal influences on political behaviour, such as social norms, economic pressures, informal power dynamics, etc.
- Weak use of comparative analysis: Comparative analysis is a powerful tool for political science research because it can identify trends, patterns and factors that are constant across different political contexts. However, in the early stages of the discipline, this approach was less widely used, limiting the ability to generalise research findings.
- Lack of empirical approaches: Although political science has increasingly turned to empirical methods, they were not as widespread in the early stages of the discipline. This means that some theories or hypotheses have not been rigorously tested by empirical data, which can limit their validity and reliability.
However, political science has evolved considerably since its early days and has incorporated new methodologies, including more sophisticated empirical approaches, systematic comparative analysis and attention to non-institutional factors in political behaviour.empirical rock. Comparative analysis remains in an embryonic state, as yet underdeveloped.
According to the motto of the time: political science focuses on the contemporary period and history on the past. This motto illustrates the classic distinction between political science and history. History, in general, is concerned with an exhaustive and detailed understanding of past events, people, ideas and contexts. It seeks to describe and explain the past in all its complexity and specificity. Historians often focus on single events and specific contexts, striving to understand the past for its own sake, rather than seeking to draw generalisations or theories. Political science, on the other hand, is primarily concerned with the study of power and political systems in the present and the future. It focuses on concepts such as the state, government, politics, power, ideology and so on. Rather than focusing solely on the detailed study of specific cases, political science seeks to develop theories and models that can be generally applied to various contexts and periods. That said, it is important to note that political science and history are not mutually exclusive. Political scientists can draw valuable lessons from history to understand trends and patterns in political phenomena, while historians can use tools and concepts from political science to analyse the past. The two disciplines complement and enrich each other.
The Chicago School: Towards a behavioural approach[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
The Chicago School is famous for having advanced sociology by adopting an empirical and quantitative methodology for studying human behaviour in the urban environment. It was this tradition that inspired the behavioural revolution in political science in the 1950s and 1960s. The behavioural revolution marked a major turning point in political science. Instead of focusing primarily on the institutions and formal structures of government, researchers began to take a greater interest in the study of individual behaviour and informal political processes. They began to collect empirical data through surveys, interviews and other research methods to understand how people participate in politics, how they make political decisions, how they interact with the political system and so on. This new approach has greatly enriched our understanding of politics. It also introduced new research methods and techniques to the discipline, such as statistical analysis, the use of formal models and rational choice theories, and the adoption of more systematic comparative frameworks.
The Chicago School was a major force in promoting a new approach to political science. Charles Merriam, who played a key role in the creation of the Chicago School, argued that political science needed to move away from its traditional historical and legal orientation to focus more on the empirical analysis of political behaviour. In his 1929 manifesto, Merriam argued for a 'scientific' approach to political science that would focus on the collection and analysis of empirical data. He also argued that political scientists should adopt an interdisciplinary approach, incorporating ideas and methods from other disciplines, such as psychology, sociology and economics.
The Chicago School became known for its application of empirical and quantitative methods to the study of political behaviour. For example, its researchers used surveys and polls to study political attitudes and voting behaviour, and took a comparative approach to analysing the political systems of different countries. The influence of the Chicago School has been profound and lasting. It laid the foundations for the 'behavioural revolution' that transformed political science in the 1950s and 1960s. And although the behavioural approach has itself been criticised and modified since then, many of the principles of the Chicago School continue to influence the way political science is practised today.
Harold Lasswell, Leonard White and Quincy Wright were key figures in the Chicago School, each making a significant contribution to the behaviourist development of political science. Harold Lasswell, known for his work on models of communication, analysed the role of the media and propaganda in society, developing in particular the "Who says what, to whom, through what channel, with what effect" model. This contribution has had a significant impact on communication and political studies. Leonard White, a pioneer in the study of public administration, helped transform this field into an academic discipline in its own right, and his historical work on public administration in the United States remains an essential reference. Finally, Quincy Wright, a specialist in international relations, produced works such as "A Study of War", in which he attempted to understand scientifically the causes of war and the conditions for peace. This work influenced the way in which international relations are studied, emphasising the importance of empirical and comparative analysis. Together, these scholars shaped political science, focusing particularly on the empirical and behavioural study of political processes.
The Chicago School was particularly interested in the study of political behaviour. From this perspective, two areas of study in particular came to the fore: voting behaviour and social mobilisation in politics. The study of voting behaviour seeks to understand the factors that influence the way individuals vote in elections. This research looks at a wide range of factors, including political attitudes, party affiliations, policy preferences, the influence of the media, as well as socio-demographic factors such as age, gender, race, social class and education. The study of social mobilisation in politics focuses on the processes by which individuals and groups engage in political action. This research explores the motivations of individuals to participate in politics, the tactics and strategies used by groups to mobilise their members and support their causes, and the social and institutional structures that facilitate or hinder political mobilisation. These two areas of study have led to a better understanding of the political behaviour of individuals and groups, and have helped to shape political science as we know it today.
In 1939, Harold Lasswell co-published a study entitled "World Revolutionary Propaganda: A Chicago Study", which examined the impact of the Great Depression of 1929 on the political mobilization capabilities of the unemployed in the city of Chicago. The Great Depression, which began with the stock market crash of 1929, had a devastating economic impact in the United States and elsewhere, leading to massive unemployment and financial hardship for many people. Lasswell's study sought to understand how these difficult economic circumstances affected the ability of unemployed people to engage in political activity. The study used an innovative approach for its time, combining quantitative and qualitative methods to understand political behaviour. It also helped establish the Chicago School as an important centre for the study of political behaviour, and helped lay the foundations for the behavioural revolution in political science that followed.
The Chicago School marked an important turning point in the history of political science by introducing a more empirical and rigorous approach to the study of political behaviour. Rather than focusing solely on political institutions or major historical events, this approach emphasised the importance of individual attitudes and behaviour in the political process. By using more sophisticated and rigorous research methods, including surveys and statistical analysis, the Chicago School was able to produce more accurate and nuanced knowledge about political behaviour. This has improved understanding of a range of political phenomena, from the political mobilisation of the unemployed during the Great Depression to the dynamics of voting in modern elections. In this way, the Chicago School played a key role in the professionalisation and empowerment of political science as an academic discipline, proving that a genuine advance in political knowledge is possible through rigorous empirical study.
The post-behavioural period (1950-1960): New challenges and directions[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
The behavioural revolution of the 1950s and 1960s marked a significant change in the way political science was studied and understood. This revolution was characterised by an increased focus on the behaviour of individuals and groups in the political context, rather than on formal structures and institutions. Political scientists began to use empirical methods to study how individuals perceive, interpret and respond to political stimuli. This included opinion surveys, media content analysis, and studies of voting behaviour, among others. One of the consequences of this revolution was the development of rational choice theory, which assumes that individuals act to maximise their own benefit. This theory has become a major tool for analysing political behaviour. This period also saw the emergence of new approaches to comparative politics and international relations, which also benefited from the use of empirical and quantitative methods to study political behaviour.
The behavioural revolution marked a major transformation in the study of political science. It was characterised by two main ideas:
- Broadening the scope of political science: The proponents of this revolution challenged the traditional view that limited political science to the study of the formal institutions of government. They sought to go beyond this limitation by integrating the study of informal procedures and the political behaviour of individuals and groups, such as political parties. These informal procedures can include processes for formulating new public policies, which often involve consultation with organised interest groups such as trade unions and other civil society associations. These processes, although not institutionalised, play a key role in politics and can be described as informal institutions.
- The desire to make political science more scientific: The proponents of the behavioural revolution questioned the empirical approach, which is not informed by theory. They advocated rigorous and systematic theoretical reasoning that could be tested by empirical studies. This approach led to the establishment and testing of theoretical hypotheses, using both quantitative and qualitative methods.
The behavioural revolution had a major impact on political science, broadening its field of study and insisting on a more rigorous and scientific approach.
The post-war period saw a significant expansion and diversification of political science research. International relations, for example, became a major sub-discipline, focusing on the phenomena of war, peace and cooperation on a global scale. At the same time, comparative politics has emerged as an essential field of study, offering a comparative perspective on political systems and institutions around the world. Attention to the specific political institutions of the United States has also increased, allowing for a more in-depth analysis of that particular system. New sub-disciplines have emerged, further broadening the spectrum of political science. Security studies, for example, began to focus on national and international security challenges and strategies. In addition, international economic relations have been identified as a crucial area of study, bridging politics and economics on a global scale. Finally, the study of political behaviour took on increasing importance, with a focus on understanding the actions and behaviours of individuals and groups in the political context. In sum, this post-war period marked a turning point in political science, deepening its multidisciplinary nature and broadening its scope for understanding the complexities of politics.
The University of Michigan played a major role in promoting the behavioural approach to political science in the post-war period. Its political science department emphasised empirical studies and fostered a scientific culture in the study of politics. In particular, the Center for Political Studies at the University of Michigan was a pioneer in research on political behaviour. The centre is famous for launching the American National Election Studies (ANES), a longitudinal study that has collected data on the voting behaviour, political opinions and attitudes of American citizens since 1948. This study has provided invaluable data for understanding how and why individuals participate in political life. The University of Michigan's emphasis on the empirical study of political behaviour has helped move the field of political science beyond purely institutional and legal analysis to include a deeper understanding of how individual actors and groups behave in the political context.
Two major publications of this period, which fully symbolise this behavioural revolution, are "Political Man: The Social Bases of Politics" by Seymour Martin Lipset, published in 1960, and "The Civic Culture: Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations" by Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba, published in 1963. These two books were highly influential and marked the period of the behavioural revolution in political science. Seymour Martin Lipset's "Political Man: The Social Bases of Politics" was published in 1960 and has become a classic in the field of political sociology. Lipset uses an empirical approach to examine the social and economic conditions that contribute to democratic stability. In particular, he looks at factors such as the level of economic development, the education system, religion, social status and other social factors to understand patterns of political behaviour. "The Civic Culture: Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations was published in 1963 by Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba. The book presents a comparative analysis of political cultures in five countries (United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and Mexico) and proposes the concept of "civic culture" to explain democratic stability. Almond and Verba argue that a country's political culture, reflected in citizens' attitudes and beliefs towards the political system, plays a crucial role in the functioning and stability of democracy. Both books reflect the behavioural revolution's emphasis on the study of people's attitudes, beliefs and behaviours in order to understand politics.
The behavioural revolution marked a significant turning point in the discipline of political science by emphasising the importance of theories in the analysis and understanding of political phenomena. This reorientation towards a more theoretical approach has made it possible to introduce new concepts and analytical tools, thereby enriching the field of the discipline. One of the main impacts of this revolution has been the strengthening of theoretical arguments in political analysis. Instead of relying solely on descriptive observations and suppositions, researchers began to formulate more solid hypotheses and theories to explain political behaviour. This has led to more nuanced debates and a deeper understanding of political processes. In addition, the behavioural revolution also introduced greater sophistication to political theory. With the adoption of a more scientific approach, researchers have developed more complex and accurate theoretical models to explain a wide variety of political behaviours and phenomena. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the behavioural revolution promoted a more rigorous consideration of the scientific method in the study of politics. This means that researchers have begun to adopt more rigorous and systematic research methods, including the use of statistics and other quantitative tools. This has led to greater reliability and validity of research results, thereby enhancing the credibility of the discipline of political science as a whole.
The third scientific revolution (1989 - present): The new face of political science[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
The third scientific revolution in political science, which began in the 1970s, has had a major impact on the way political research is conducted today. This revolution introduced more rigorous and systematic research methods, including the use of statistics and mathematical models to test hypotheses and measure the impact of different factors on political phenomena. It also encouraged researchers to adopt a more empirical approach, based on observation and experience rather than pure theory. The third scientific revolution also saw an expansion in the fields of study of political science. Researchers began to explore new areas such as electoral behaviour, comparative politics, identity politics, environmental politics, and others. These new areas of study have greatly expanded our understanding of how politics works and the role of political factors in society. This revolution has also introduced greater diversity into political science research. Researchers began to study a wider range of political contexts and to take into account more diverse perspectives. In addition, this revolution has also encouraged greater interdisciplinary collaboration, with political scientists working with experts from other disciplines to solve complex political problems.
Rational Choice Theory (RCT) is an important and influential approach in political science that is primarily inspired by economic theory. This theory assumes that individuals are rational actors who make decisions according to their personal interests, seeking to maximise their utility, i.e. the benefit or pleasure they derive from a certain action. According to RCW, individuals weigh up the costs and benefits of different options before making a decision. This evaluation of costs and benefits can take into account many different factors, including material consequences, time, effort, risks and emotional and social rewards. RCW is often used as a 'metatheory' in political science research. This means that it provides a general framework for understanding how and why individuals make certain political decisions. For example, it can be used to analyse questions such as electoral behaviour (why do people vote the way they do?), coalition formation (why do some political parties ally themselves with others?), or foreign policy decision-making (why do countries choose to declare war or sign peace treaties?).
The third scientific revolution in political science emphasised the use of rigorous logical reasoning and formal methods. In this context, rational choice theory (RCT) is a major example of this approach. RCT, and other similar approaches, often begin by establishing a set of basic assumptions or hypotheses. These assumptions are supposed to represent certain fundamental aspects of human behaviour or the political system. For example, RCM generally postulates that individuals are rational actors who seek to maximise their utility. From these basic assumptions, researchers then logically deduce a number of propositions or hypotheses. For example, if we assume that individuals are rational and seek to maximise their utility, we might deduce that individuals will be more likely to vote if they believe that their vote will have an impact on the outcome of the election. These propositions or hypotheses are then tested empirically, often using quantitative data. For example, a researcher might collect data on voting behaviour and use statistical techniques to test the hypothesis that individuals are more likely to vote if they think their vote has an impact. This approach has the advantage of providing clear and testable predictions, and has helped to improve the rigour and accuracy of political science research. However, as mentioned above, it has also been criticised for its simplistic assumptions about human behaviour.
Game theory, a branch of mathematics that studies decision-making situations where several players interact, was integrated into political science as part of the third scientific revolution. It provides a formal framework for analysing situations where the outcome for an individual depends not only on his own choices, but also on those of others. It is often used in political contexts to model situations of conflict and cooperation, such as negotiations, elections, coalition-building and foreign policy decision-making. Game theory lends itself well to rational choice theory, as it assumes that actors are rational and seek to maximise their utility. However, it goes beyond simple maximisation of individual utility to consider how the choices of other players can influence outcomes. Statistical analysis has become a standard research method in political science since the third scientific revolution. Researchers use statistical methods to analyse large datasets and to test hypotheses about the relationships between different variables. Statistical analysis can help identify trends, establish correlations, predict future outcomes and test the effectiveness of different policies. By using these tools - game theory and statistical analysis - political science has gained in rigour, precision and the ability to test and validate its theories. However, as always, these methods have their limits and challenges, and researchers continue to debate how best to use them in practice.
The third scientific revolution in political science has had a major impact on all facets of the discipline, including qualitative research methods. In response to the rigour and precision provided by quantitative methods, researchers using qualitative methods have sought to strengthen their own approaches. For example, they have worked to develop more systematic frameworks for collecting and analysing qualitative data, and to improve the transparency and reproducibility of their research. They have also sought to incorporate elements of statistical rigour into their work, for example by using coding methods to systematically analyse texts or interviews. In addition, qualitative researchers have also emphasised the unique advantages of their methods. For example, they point out that qualitative research can provide a deeper and more nuanced understanding of political phenomena, by focusing on context, interpretation and meaning. They also defend the role of qualitative research in generating new theories and in studying phenomena that are difficult to measure or quantify. In this way, the pressure of quantitative methods and rational choice theory has effectively led to a strengthening of qualitative research in political science. This has contributed to a healthier balance between qualitative and quantitative methods in the discipline, and has encouraged a more integrative approach that values the contribution of each method to the understanding of politics.
The influence of the third scientific revolution has had a widespread impact on all areas of political science, including qualitative research. A number of major books have been written in response to these changes, illustrating how researchers have sought to strengthen the rigour and systematicity of qualitative research. For example, "Designing Social Inquiry: Scientific Inference in Qualitative Research" by King, Keohane and Verba in 1994, is a key book that put forward an approach to qualitative research based on principles of scientific rigour similar to those of quantitative research. Brady and Collier took up the baton in 2004 with "Rethinking Social Inquiry: Diverse Tools, Shared Standards", which argues for complementarity between quantitative and qualitative methods to deepen understanding of social phenomena. They also presented various tools and techniques for improving the quality of qualitative research. Continuing in the same vein, George and Bennett published "Case Studies and Theory Development" in 2005, a book that provides strategies for using case studies to develop and test theories in political science. Finally, in 2007 Gerring added to this body of work with "Case Study Research: Principles and Practices", which offers a comprehensive guide to case study-based research. These works show how qualitative research in political science has responded and evolved in the face of the third scientific revolution. They highlight the importance of a rigorous and systematic approach to qualitative research while recognising the unique strengths of this method.
To conclude this general review, we can simplify some of these important paradigms into a single idea. Indeed, each approach can be summarised by an adage that captures well the contributions of behaviourism and rational choice theory:
- Behaviourism, or behaviourism, is concerned with the actions and behaviour of individuals rather than simply the institutional structure. Following the principle of "don't just look at formal rules, look at what people actually do", behaviourism emphasises the observation and study of the actual actions of individuals and groups, taking into account both the formal and informal rules that guide these actions. It has played a major role in shifting political analysis towards a deeper understanding of individual and group behaviour.
- Rational choice theory, on the other hand, is based on the principle that "individuals are motivated by power and interest". It maintains that individuals make decisions based on their personal interests and seek to maximise their utility. Following this line of thought, rational choice theory has made it possible to formalise the analysis of political actions and to predict behaviour based on the postulate of rationality.
Both paradigms have made significant contributions to political science and continue to shape our understanding of political behaviour. However, it is also important to note that each paradigm has its limitations and that a complete understanding of political phenomena often requires a combination of different approaches and methods. In addition to behaviourism and rational choice theory, two other major schools of thought in political science are systemism and structuralism-functionalism. Systemism operates on the principle that "everything is connected, feedback is essential". This philosophy emphasises the interdependence of all the elements of a political system. It emphasises the importance of feedbacks which, by creating results, are fed back into the new demands made on the political system, thus influencing its dynamics and evolution. On the other hand, structuralism-functionalism is guided by the idea that "form adapts to function". This perspective postulates that the functions of political institutions determine their forms. It is a useful framework for understanding how political institutions develop and change in response to the needs and demands of society.
Finally, institutionalism is another important school of thought in political science, which operates on the principle that "institutions matter". Indeed, an entire branch of this school, known as historical institutionalism, has developed around this idea. Historical institutionalism focuses on the importance of institutions in determining political outcomes, emphasising their role as the rules of the game that shape political behaviour, and how they evolve and change over time.
The narrative we have just traversed corresponds to what Almond has defined as the 'progressive-eclectic perspective' on the history of political science. This perspective, which can be seen as the mainstream of political science, recognises the value of many different approaches in the discipline. It emphasises the scientific progress made through the integration of elements from different schools of thought, including behaviourism, rational choice theory, systemism, structuralism-functionalism and institutionalism. According to this perspective, each approach brings unique tools and perspectives that together contribute to a more complete understanding of political phenomena.
This 'progressive-eclectic perspective' is not universally accepted, but it is widely accepted by those who adhere to its definition of knowledge and objectivity, which is based on the separation of facts and values, and adherence to standards of empirical evidence.
The idea of 'progressive' refers to a commitment to the idea of scientific progress, which manifests itself both in a quantitative accumulation of knowledge - in terms of the volume of knowledge accumulated over time - and in a qualitative improvement in the rigour and accuracy of that knowledge.
The 'eclectic' aspect of the perspective describes a non-hierarchical, integrative approach to pluralism. This means that no one approach or school of thought is considered superior to others. All perspectives and methodologies are welcomed and can contribute to the sum total of knowledge in this dominant view of political science. As a result, approaches such as rational choice theory and institutionalism can produce work that fits well within this progressive-elective perspective.
These summaries represent the evolution of the discipline by describing the various revolutions and classifications. They also illustrate the development of methods over time:
Alternative histories of the discipline[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
Although the 'progressive-eclectic perspective' is widely accepted, it is important to note that there are other schools of thought that offer alternative histories of political science. These perspectives may differ on key issues, such as the relative importance of different approaches or the evolution of the discipline over time. They may also focus on different aspects of political science, or interpret the same events or trends differently. These alternative histories contribute to the richness and diversity of political science as a discipline.
Protest movements: anti-science and post-science[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
There are currents of thought in political science that reject the idea that the discipline is intrinsically scientific and progressive. Some postmodernist and post-structuralist currents, for example, may question the idea that political science can be a purely objective or neutral enterprise. They suggest that all knowledge is rooted in specific cultural, social and historical contexts, and that so-called 'objectivity' can often mask forms of power and domination. Other currents, such as feminism or critical theory, may also reject the idea of linear progress in political science. They might point out that advances in knowledge do not always benefit everyone equally, and that certain voices or perspectives can be marginalised in the process. These currents offer an important critique of the dominant orthodoxy in political science, and have helped to stimulate important debate and reflection on the nature of knowledge and research in political science.
Anti-science: A critique of scientism[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
The 'anti-science' position in political science is generally associated with thinkers such as Claude Lévi-Strauss. This perspective criticises Weber's division between facts and values and questions the idea that we can objectify social reality. It also rejects behaviourism and, more generally, positivism, which seeks to study political phenomena causally and empirically.
For those who adopt an anti-science perspective, the introduction of scientific methods into political science is not only illusory, but can also damage our understanding of social dynamics. They suggest that an emphasis on empirical rigour and objectivity can obscure the complexities and nuances of social and political life, and reduce these phenomena to trivial or simplistic elements.
It is important to note that while this position is critical of traditional scientific methods, it is not necessarily against all forms of research or analysis. On the contrary, many of those who adopt an anti-science stance support alternative forms of research, which emphasise interpretation, context and meaning.
Claude Lévi-Strauss defends an approach to social science that is both humanistic and committed. This approach envisages an intimate and passionate collaboration with the great philosophers and philosophies in order to discuss and understand the meaning of the central ideas of political science. For Lévi-Strauss, social science should aim to interpret social phenomena rather than simply explain them mechanically or causally.
In his view, the scientific method, when applied to the social sciences, can create an illusion of precision and objectivity that masks the complexity and subjectivity of social phenomena. Instead, he supports an approach that values context, meaning and the human perspective. This vision rejects the idea that political science must necessarily follow the model of the natural sciences, and proposes an alternative vision of what a genuinely humanistic and engaged social science could be.
Post-science: Towards a new understanding of reality[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
The 'post-science' position is often associated with certain currents of constructivist and postmodernist thought. It is situated in a post-behaviourist and post-positivist perspective.
One of the emblematic figures of this current is the philosopher Jacques Derrida, who introduced the idea of 'deconstruction'. This critical and analytical approach calls into question traditionally accepted structures of thought and conceptual categories. For Derrida, deconstruction aims to reveal the often overlooked undertones, assumptions and contradictions that underlie our usual discourses and understandings.
In the context of political science, a post-scientific approach might challenge the assumptions and methods of conventional research. It might suggest, for example, that the traditional categories and concepts of political science are culturally specific and historically contingent, rather than universal or objective. It might also challenge the idea that political research can be conducted neutrally or objectively, emphasising how researchers are always situated in specific political, cultural and historical contexts.
The post-scientific position, like the anti-scientific position, rejects the classic dichotomy between factual and value judgements. This approach adopts a critical stance, asserting that any analysis or interpretation is inevitably coloured by the values and presuppositions of the person undertaking it. Adherents of this school of thought call for an end to positivism, i.e. the idea that assertions must be supported by empirical evidence in order to be considered valid. They challenge the idea that empirical verification should be the sole criterion of validity in the human sciences. Rather than seeking to establish unquestionable objective truths, proponents of this approach seek to reveal the different perspectives and possible interpretations of a phenomenon. They argue that research in the human sciences must necessarily take account of the social, cultural and historical context, as well as the values and presuppositions of the researcher. This position invites further reflection on how knowledge is produced and used in political science.
Each theoretical perspective is inextricably linked to fundamental choices that structure the way we apprehend and study the world. These choices concern ontology, epistemology and methodology:
- Ontology refers to our understanding of the nature of the social and political world, of what 'is'. It encompasses a set of assumptions and assertions that a specific theoretical approach makes about the nature of social reality. It includes questions about what actually exists and about the basic entity or unit that constitutes the political or the object of analysis in political science.
- Epistemology concerns what we can know about the social and political world. It explores the limits and possibilities of our knowledge, asking questions about the nature and validity of the knowledge we can acquire.
- Finally, methodology refers to the procedures we use to acquire this knowledge. It determines the tools, techniques and approaches we use in our research, and guides the way we collect, analyse and interpret our data.
In short, these three dimensions are intimately linked and shape the way we conceive and conduct our research in political science. Each theoretical approach makes distinct choices in these three areas, giving rise to a diversity of approaches and perspectives in political science.
When it comes to the nature of reality, or what 'is', there is indeed a major distinction between the postmodernists and the progressive-eclectic mainstream. The progressive-eclectic mainstream generally adopts an objective ontology. This means that they consider that reality exists independently of our perceptions or interpretations. They maintain that we can observe and study this reality through rigorous empirical research, and that it exists outside our mental or social constructs. Postmodernists, on the other hand, often adopt a more subjective or constructivist ontology. They argue that reality is socially constructed and shaped by our perceptions, interpretations and discourses. For them, reality does not exist independently of our conceptions or language, and therefore cannot be studied objectively or independently. This leads to a very different approach to research, which emphasises the interpretation, critique and deconstruction of social and political discourses.
For postmodernists, reality and its representation are intimately linked. In their view, our understanding of the world is intrinsically shaped by the way we represent it, whether through language, culture, art or other forms of social discourse. They argue that these representations are not simply passive reflections of reality, but play an active role in the construction of our reality. For postmodernists, there is no clear distinction between objective reality and our subjective representation of it. Instead, our understanding of reality is constantly constructed and re-constructed through our social interactions and cultural discourses. They are therefore interested in how representations and discourses shape our understanding of the political world, and how these constructions can be deconstructed and criticised.
This table summarises the ontological, epistemological and methodological position characteristic of the postmodern school.
In terms of epistemology, the postmodern perspective emphasises uncertainty and scepticism. Rather than seeking to establish absolute truths or indisputable facts, postmodernists argue that our knowledge is always conditioned by our perspective and our cultural and social frames of reference. They therefore challenge the idea that we can attain objective or universal knowledge. This means that, for postmodernists, knowledge is never 'fixed' or 'definitive'. Instead, our understanding of the world is constantly evolving, as we interact with others and engage in new discourses and cultural practices. This perspective challenges the idea that knowledge can be defined solely by empirical evidence or scientific tests, and argues that our understanding of reality is always shaped by our social and cultural context.
According to the postmodern perspective, all knowledge is intrinsically subjective, depending on the individual point of view of each researcher or observer. This subjectivity necessarily leads to a diversity of interpretations and understandings of the social and political world. Moreover, postmodernism emphasises the importance of deconstructing dominant discourses. The aim is not simply to accept these discourses as established truths, but to examine them critically and question their underlying assumptions and power effects. In particular, postmodernists seek to make heard the dissonant or marginalised voices that are often excluded or neglected by dominant discourses. They argue that these voices have equal value and legitimacy in political analysis and must be integrated into the academic conversation. In sum, postmodernism promotes a critical approach to political science that values diversity of perspectives and is actively engaged in challenging and questioning established discourses and power structures.
Opponents of eclecticism: Neo-Marxists and rational choice theorists[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
Some currents in political science reject eclecticism, i.e. pluralism in the choice of theories and methods. These currents, which are often more dogmatic, believe that one or more theoretical or methodological approaches are superior to others and should predominate in the discipline. For example, some defenders of rational choice theory argue that this approach, which uses economic models to explain political behaviour, is the most accurate and useful for understanding politics. They criticise eclecticism for its lack of rigour and theoretical coherence. Similarly, some qualitative researchers criticise eclecticism for its emphasis on quantitative methods and its neglect of qualitative methods. They argue that qualitative analysis, with its focus on interpretation and context, offers a deeper and more nuanced understanding of politics than quantitative methods allow. So while eclecticism is a key feature of the progressive-eclectic perspective, it is far from universally accepted in political science. Some schools of thought prefer a more unified and discipline-specific approach.
Neo-Marxists: A radically different perspective[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
The neo-Marxists are a current in political science that draws on the ideas of Karl Marx, but seeks to modernise and adapt them to the contemporary world. Their aim is to use Marxist concepts and theories to understand and criticise contemporary politics.
According to the neo-Marxists, the truth of social science was discovered and elaborated by Karl Marx in the 19th century. They believe that Marx discovered the fundamental laws of capitalism and class struggle, which are still relevant to understanding politics today. However, neo-Marxists are not orthodox Marxists. They do not simply repeat Marx's ideas, but seek to develop and extend them. For example, neo-Marxist writers such as Nico Poulantzas and Robert Cox have sought to incorporate ideas from sociology, political theory and international studies into their Marxist analysis. Thus, while remaining faithful to Marx's commitment to a critical analysis of capitalism, neo-Marxists seek to develop a richer and more nuanced interpretation of politics that takes account of changes in the structure of capitalism and the nature of class struggle since Marx's time.
Neo-Marxists adhere to the idea that the societal laws unveiled by Marx represent an integrated vision of historical, economic, social and political processes, and of human behaviour within these structures. They believe that these elements form an indivisible whole, and that history follows a unidirectional evolutionary trajectory. This vision is based on the conviction that economic structures, in particular the capitalist system, largely determine social and political dynamics. Moreover, it presupposes that the course of history is largely determined by class conflicts and material forces, which push society in a certain direction. It is in this sense that the neo-Marxist interpretation of politics and history is both holistic and future-oriented: it sees all aspects of society as interconnected, moving together towards a certain historical destination, often conceived as the advent of a more egalitarian post-capitalist society.
The neo-Marxist perspective is deterministic in the sense that it echoes the Marxist conception of a class antagonism inherent in the capitalist mode of production. According to this perspective, this class tension is destined to lead to the collapse of the class system and trigger a communist revolution. As a result, there is a rejection of eclecticism, as neo-Marxist ideology suggests that it is difficult, if not impossible, to incorporate new ideas or perspectives that do not fit within this predetermined theoretical framework. In other words, this approach leaves little room for innovation or the contribution of new ideas that are not in line with fundamental Marxist principles.
The neo-Marxist perspective, by focusing primarily on class conflict and economic forces, may neglect other important explanatory factors in political science. For example, it may not take sufficient account of the role of political institutions, which can structure political behaviour independently of economic forces. Furthermore, it may downplay the importance of identity factors such as ethnicity and nationalism, which can have a profound influence on politics even in the absence of clear class conflicts. Finally, this perspective may also neglect the role of the international system, focusing instead on the internal dynamics of countries. This may limit its ability to explain foreign policy and international relations.
Neo-Marxist theories may have difficulty explaining phenomena such as the support of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) for war credits in 1914. According to Marx's theory, the international working class should unite against the capitalist system rather than divide along national lines. Yet in this historical example, we see that the SPD, which represented the working class in Germany, chose to support its own country's war effort rather than oppose the war in the name of international working class solidarity. This highlights some of the limitations of neo-Marxist theories. There may be many factors, such as nationalism, that can lead workers to act in ways that are contrary to the predictions of Marx's theory. This suggests that a full understanding of politics requires looking at a wide range of factors and forces, not just class conflict and economic dynamics.
Rational choice theorists: An individual-centred approach[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
Rational choice theorists are an important group in the field of political science, and have their origins and methods in economics. Rational choice theory is based on the idea that individuals always act to maximise their own benefit or utility. In the political context, this means that political actors - be they voters, legislators, political parties, etc. - make decisions based on their own interests. - In the political context, this means that political actors - be they voters, legislators, political parties, etc. - make decisions based on their personal interests and how they perceive that different options might help them achieve their objectives. This approach is often used to model political behaviour and to explain a wide range of political phenomena, from voting to the formation of government coalitions. Rational choice theorists often use sophisticated mathematical and statistical tools, such as game theory, to develop and test their models.
The pioneers of rational choice theory in the field of political science, such as Kenneth Arrow, Anthony Downs and Mancur Olson, were among the first to apply economic methods and models to the analysis of political phenomena after the Second World War. Kenneth Arrow, a renowned economist, developed the famous "impossibility theorem" which demonstrates the inherent limitations of any collective voting procedure. Anthony Downs, in his influential book "An Economic Theory of Democracy", established a framework for understanding the behaviour of voters and political parties as guided by self-interest. For his part, Mancur Olson, in "The Logic of Collective Action", analysed why and when people choose to participate in collective actions, such as trade unions or social movements. These researchers laid the foundations for the application of rational choice theory to political science, and their work continues to influence the discipline to this day.
The rational choice theory approach seeks to develop a unified theory of political science. It proceeds by deduction from axioms or postulates derived from economics. Among these fundamental postulates, the individual is considered to be homo economicus: a rational being who is primarily motivated by self-interest. This individual constantly calculates costs and benefits in order to maximise satisfaction. These postulates give rise to hypotheses which are then subjected to empirical tests to verify their validity. Thus, rational choice theory offers a strict and coherent theoretical framework for explaining and predicting human behaviour in the political sphere.
Rational choice theory is also known for its parsimony, as it aims to explain politics with a minimum number of axioms and postulates. It has a universal ambition, seeking to explain all political phenomena. Moreover, it maintains that the specific theories it generates for specific fields can be integrated into a more global theory of politics. In other words, it aspires to create a complete and encompassing theoretical framework, capable of covering all political phenomena through simple and universal principles.
From this perspective, we can see that rational choice theory rejects pluralism (or eclecticism) in favour of a hierarchical structure, insisting on the pre-eminence of its model. In other words, rational choice theorists tend to see their approach as superior, claiming that it can provide a unified and universal explanation of political phenomena. It is from this perspective that they contradict the principle of eclecticism, which values the coexistence and interaction of different theories and approaches. In addition, rational choice theory presents itself as a major break with the past, considering everything that preceded it to be pre-scientific. In other words, it proposes a vision that calls into question previous approaches, describing them as less rigorous or less systematic in their methodology, and therefore less 'scientific' by comparison.
Annexes[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
References[modifier | modifier le wikicode]
- Lasswell, Harold Dwight, 1902- Politics; who gets what, when, how. New York, London, Whittlesey house, McGraw-Hill book Co.[c1936] (OCoLC)576783700
- Goodin, R 2009, 'The State of the Discipline, The Discipline of the State', in Robert E. Goodin (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Political Science, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 3-57.
- Duesenberry, 1960, p. 233
- Karl Marx (trans. R. Cartelle and G. Badia), ed. sociales, coll. Classiques du marxisme, 1972, chap. Les origines du coup d'état du 2 Décembre, p. 161
- Herbert Baxter Adams (1883). The Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science . p. 12.
- Lasswell, Harold Dwight, and Dorothy Blumenstock. World Revolutionary Propaganda: A Chicago Study. New York: Knopf, 1939.
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- Almond, Gabriel A. "Political Science: The History of the Discipline." A new handbook of political science 75-82 (1996): 50.