Since emerging in the late nineteenth century, political science has undergone a radical shift--from constructing grand narratives of national political development to producing empirical studies of individual political phenomena. What caused this change? Modern Political Science--the first authoritative history of Anglophone political science--argues that the field's transformation shouldn't be mistaken for a case of simple progress and increasing scientific precision. On the contrary, the book shows that political science is deeply historically contingent, driven both by its own inherited ideas and by the wider history in which it has developed.
Focusing on the United States and the United Kingdom, and the exchanges between them, Modern Political Science contains contributions from leading political scientists, political theorists, and intellectual historians from both sides of the Atlantic. Together they provide a compelling account of the development of political science, its relation to other disciplines, the problems it currently faces, and possible solutions to these problems.
Building on a growing interest in the history of political science, Modern Political Science is necessary reading for anyone who wants to understand how political science got to be what it is today--or what it might look like tomorrow.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
Princeton University Press
January 21, 2007
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from Modern Political Science by Robert Adcock
A History of Political Science: How? What? Why?
ROBERT ADCOCK, MARK BEVIR, AND SHANNON C. STIMSON
BRITISH AND AMERICAN political scientists recently have shown an unusual degree of interest in the history of their discipline. The dawn of a new millennium prompted leading figures in the British study of politics to reflect on their past and to situate themselves in relation to it.1 In America, work on the history of political science has appeared off and on for some time, but the last decade has witnessed a positive flourishing of such studies. These studies include some in which luminaries in the discipline look back on their teachers and predecessors.2 They also include a distinct subgenre of historical studies written from within the discipline, but by scholars outside its limelight.3 The past of political science has attracted further attention recently from intellectual historians outside of the discipline in both Britain and America.4 Modern Political Science brings together political scientists and intellectual historians from both sides of the Atlantic to pursue a comparative and transnational account of the development of political inquiry in Britain and America since the late-nineteenth century. In doing so, it not only explores "what" happened in the history of political science, it also embodies a distinctive analysis of "how" and "why" we might study this history.
The recent attention given to the history of political science is both the temporal companion to and in some tension with the avowedly historical approaches that are increasingly popular within political science itself. For several decades now, as we discuss more fully in chapter 12, various neostatists and institutionalists have presented themselves as offering a historically sensitive alternative to the formalist excesses of certain variants of behavioralism or, more recently, of rational choice theory. While Modern Political Science shares these scholars' concern to understand the present in light of the past that produced it, beyond this rather generic overlap parallels give way to significant differences of approach. Indeed, this volume is, in part, motivated by a worry that avowedly historical approaches in contemporary political science run the risk of naturalizing one particular conception of historical inquiry by proceeding as if their own way of distinguishing "historical" from "ahistorical" studies was obvious and uncontested. Even worse, these approaches can appear to be adopting this conception simply for their own polemical purposes, without the aid of extended reflection upon the practice and purpose of historical inquiry and its relation to social science. Modern Political Science attempts, then, to locate the self-described "historical institutionalism" as a contingent, recently emergent approach that is but one of multiple ways of bringing the past to bear on the study of politics. More generally, it attempts to recall the plurality and range of approaches to the past that have, at one time or another, claimed the loyalty of political scientists in Britain and America.
How to Study the History of Political Science
Modern Political Science draws on developments within the history of ideas that have transformed the ways in which we might think about disciplinary history.5 It is indebted to a radical historicism that stands in contrast to the naturalizing perspective from which political scientists commonly view their discipline and its past. The naturalizing perspective understands political science as constituted by a pregiven empirical domain--politics--and a shared intellectual agenda, to make this domain the object of a cumulative and instrumentally useful science. It thus encourages a retrospective vision that focuses, first, on the establishment of an autonomous discipline, free from the clutches of history, law, and philosophy, and, second, on charting progress made in the subsequent development of that discipline.6
Radical historicism, in contrast, has made intellectual historians and political theorists wary of postulating a given empirical domain or a shared intellectual agenda as the defining feature of any putative discipline. It has turned the constitution of a discipline from an assumption or a fulfillment into a problem. "Disciplines are unstable compounds," as Stefan Collini recently put it, for "what is called a 'discipline' is in fact a complex set of practices, whose unity, such as it is, is given as much by historical accident and institutional convenience as by a coherent intellectual rationale."7 The creation of an apparently given empirical domain and shared intellectual agenda thus appears as the contingent victory of particular intellectual traditions, where these traditions legitimate themselves precisely by telling the history of the discipline as if their own assumptions were unproblematic. For radical historicists, the history of political science might unpack the contingent origins of dominant traditions, recover alternative traditions that get left out of other histories, or question the naturalizing histories by which practitioners of a discipline legitimate their own approaches as contributing to progress in the study of politics. Such radical historicist endeavors do not seek to invert naturalizing narratives of intellectual progress into despairing narratives of stagnation or decline. Rather, they typically aspire to interpret the history of political science in ways that bypass the narrative options of progress, stagnation, or decline.
The radical historicism that informs Modern Political Science belongs within a tradition that has played a recurring role in the human sciences during the twentieth century. This tradition arose as a distinctive perspective following on a heightening of the concern with context and change that characterizes historicism more generally. Where the developmental form of historicism prevalent in the nineteenth century sought to bring particular contexts and changes together as parts of a larger historical whole, radical historicists worry that such synthetic efforts tame the contingency of human history: they are cautious of framing particular historical developments in relation to any overarching category, let alone of framing them in terms of an apparently natural or progressive movement. Radical historicists thus break with those grand narratives, often reminiscent of a notion of providence, by which developmental historicists seek to reconcile an attention to change and context with a desire to locate particular developments in a meaningful and progressive whole.
Radical historicism's wariness toward overarching categories and grand narratives raises the question: What sort of aggregate concepts, if any, should we use when studying the past? It draws our attention, in particular, to the dangers of an excessive focus on the idea of a discipline.8 Disciplinary histories here risk privileging the category of the discipline as if its institutional presence--the American Political Science Association or membership of departments of Political Science--demarcates boundaries to the flow of ideas or explains the ways in which ideas have developed within such boundaries. In contrast, radical historicism encourages us to disaggregate the institutions of a discipline and thereby to portray them as the contingent products of debates that often include ideas that have come from other disciplines. It encourages us, we would suggest, to deploy traditions as our aggregate concepts, allowing that while these traditions might parallel the institutions of a discipline, they also might parallel the contours of specific subfields or cut across disciplinary and subdisciplinary boundaries. Radical historicism also casts doubt on accounts of disciplinary change that concentrate on debates about objects or topics that appear to be given outside of the context of any tradition and of which scholars can be said to be acquiring better and better knowledge. It encourages us, instead, to understand traditions as changing as and when their exponents respond to intersubjective dilemmas that arise within the context of those particular traditions.9
Modern Political Science thus employs concepts such as tradition and dilemma to demarcate its aggregate units. Radical historicists conceive of beliefs as contingent in that people reach them against the background of a particular intellectual inheritance, rather than by means of pure reason or pure experience. We thus need a concept akin to tradition in order to demarcate the background that helps to explain how people reach the beliefs they do. Of course, other related concepts can do much the same work--language, discourse, and so on. While the particular word we use is of little importance, there is, at times, a substantive issue at stake. Structuralists, and some of those influenced by them, adopt one version of the argument that people can only form beliefs and so act against the background of a social inheritance; they use concepts such as language and discourse in part to indicate that inherited modes of thought fix beliefs and actions in ways that sharply limit the possibility of human agency. It appears to us, in contrast, that such concepts rely on a false dichotomy between structures or quasi structures and the notion of an autonomous self: after all, we can reject autonomy, insisting that actors always are embedded in social contexts, and still accept agency, arguing that they can modify these contexts for reasons they form against the background of such contexts. Our preference for the word tradition thus represents a self-conscious attempt to allow for agency by viewing social inheritances as only ever influencing, as opposed to fixing, the beliefs and actions that individuals go on to hold and to perform. People inherit traditions that they then develop or transform before passing them on to others.