History of Political Science Research Paper

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I. Introduction

II. Traditionalism

A. Definition and Overview

B. Case Studies of Traditionalism

III. Behavioralism

A. Definition and Overview

B. A Case Study of Behavioralism

IV. Postbehavioralism

A. Definition and Overview

B. A Case Study of Postbehavioralism

V. Conclusion

I. Introduction

Within the discipline of political science in the United States, traditionalism, behavioralism, and postbehavioralism are three distinct political science research approaches. That is, each offers a perspective on how best to carry out investigation, analysis, and explanation relating to politics and political life (Dryzek & Leonard, 1988). These three approaches represent different points of emphasis regarding the ways in which research about politics should proceed. For example, it will be seen that traditionalism—in comparison with behavioralism—tends to emphasize the usefulness of analyzing governmental institutions when studying political phenomena, whereas behavioralism tends to assert the importance of research into the intricacies of the behavior of individual political actors (e.g., citizens, lobbyists, candidates, elected officials). However, all three research perspectives share the belief that political science research should produce explanations that improve and deepen our understanding of complex political processes.

As one begins to analyze the meaning and complexity of traditionalism, behavioralism, and postbehavioralism, it is important to keep in mind three points. First, traditionalism, behavioralism, and postbehavioralism are broad categories, and within each category one finds a variety of political scientists who are not necessarily in agreement on all matters relating to the study of politics. For example, during the years in which traditionalism was the prevailing research approach within political science, Woodrow

Wilson (1911) delivered an address to the American Political Science Association (APSA) that called into dispute various claims made by previous APSA president James Bryce. In 1908, Bryce had stated that political science, that is, a scientific understanding of politics, was possible insofar as human actions tended to be similar, or repeatable, over time; thus, Bryce (1909) reasoned, one could generalize about patterns of human activity and draw conclusions about political life. Wilson (1911), however, while not altogether denying the existence of some degree of patterned activity over time, stressed the uniqueness characterizing human beings and human actions. Despite these differences, both Bryce and Wilson were representative of traditionalist political science.

Second, traditionalism, behavioralism, and postbehavioralism are often linked with certain decades in the development of political science in the United States. Traditionalism is usually associated with the political science practiced during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Behavioralism is generally associated with the post-World War II period, although its origins are sometimes traced back to the 1920s. Postbehavioralism’s appearance in the discipline had been noted and commented on by the end of the 1960s (Dahl, 1992; Dryzek, 2006; Ricci, 1984).

It is important to realize, however, that these historical markers are best used as general designations, because the development of these three research approaches was too multifaceted and complex to fit neatly into rigid time categories. The emergence of a new approach did not necessarily completely or entirely displace an older one; for example, while traditionalism was challenged by behavioralism in the 1950s and 1960s, a number of political scientists continued to hold to traditionalism. Indeed, many contemporary introductory textbooks in U.S. politics continue to reflect the perspective of traditionalist political science. Moreover, not all subfields of political science were affected equally or simultaneously by the emergence of a new approach. For instance, the subfield of U.S. politics incorporated the behavioralist approach earlier than did the subfields of international relations and comparative politics (Sigelman, 2006).

Third, two of the three research approaches have tended to define themselves in opposition to their predecessors and, in so doing, have helped shape the manner in which those prior approaches have been remembered. Specifically, behavioralism defined itself in opposition to what it understood as constituting traditionalism, and post-behavioralism carved out its own identity, in part, as a critique of what it saw as the defining elements of behavioralism. As a result, one sees that the emergence of the newer approaches was coupled with a rejection of perceived deficiencies in the earlier approaches. In identifying what they saw as inadequacies in the older approaches, the newer approaches tended to highlight differences between the new and the old and, in some cases, tended to understate any similarities. For example, behavioralism emphasized its adherence to scientific method and, in so doing, sometimes gave the impression that that which it was attempting to replace—traditionalism—had not regarded itself as scientific. As becomes clear when one analyzes the actual writings of traditionalists, however, traditionalists generally saw themselves as political scientists and often made much of the fact that, as political scientists, they were not to be confused with historians (Farr, 1990; Gunnell, 2006). As early as 1910, an APSA president was calling on the discipline to employ statistical analyses to identify political patterns and test conclusions relating thereto (Lowell, 1910). Similarly, postbehavioralists, it will be seen in the discussion below, emphasized the importance of producing research that was relevant in addressing contemporary questions, but, in stressing their own newness relative to behavioralists, postbehavioralists often tended to understate the extent to which early-20th-century political scientists had also sought to use political science research to address urgent, relevant problems in U.S. life (Gunnell, 2006).

II. Traditionalism

A. Definition and Overview

Traditionalism is an approach defined by its focus on the study of political institutions, law, or a combination of these. In addition, traditionalism locates its scientific reliability in its grounding in careful historical or legal investigations that are designed to produce thorough descriptions of the subject in question (Easton, 1971; Fried, 2006; Isaak, 1985; Macridis, 1992). That is, traditionalism is an approach in political science that seeks to study political phenomena by investigating law, history, and/or institutions such as the government as a whole or narrower institutions such as legislative, executive, or judicial bodies. A traditionalist seeking to understand how the U.S. Congress works would, thus, investigate such questions as what the law (e.g., the U.S. Constitution) provides for in terms of congressional powers and limits, how Congress as an institution has evolved historically, and how Congress as an institution fits into the larger institutional network of the U.S. government in its entirety. A traditionalist seeking to understand courts could follow a similar strategy of pursuing historical questions (e.g., how courts have evolved), legal questions (e.g., what laws govern courts and how courts have participated historically in shaping laws), or institutional questions (e.g., how courts are organized and administered as institutions). A traditionalist in the field of international relations might study international law or national laws and treaties relating to interstate interactions (i.e., foreign policy).

Traditionalist political science has not been an approach that has demanded narrow or exclusive disciplinary specialization. On the contrary, early traditionalist political scientists needed to be comfortable with such fields as history or law in order to pursue their work. Francis Lieber, who, in 1857, became the first person to hold an official political science professorship in the United States, was, in actuality, a professor of both history and political science at New York’s Columbia College (Farr, 1990). Traditionalism’s breadth is also revealed in APSA president Albert Shaw’s (1907) comments that it was possible to find numerous political scientists participating in the American Historical Association as well as in “Economic and Sociological groups” (p. 178).

Traditionalist political scientists tended to be explicit in drawing connections between political science research and service to the public interest, in whatever manner the latter might be defined by the political scientist in question. Shaw’s 1907 APSA presidential address is an illustration of traditionalism’s linkage of empirical-scientific and normative-ethical objectives. “I believe that there will be a very general agreement,” Shaw asserted, “that this Association can render an extremely useful service to the country, without departing in the smallest degree from its scientific methods” (p. 181). Shaw went on to suggest that APSA might undertake investigative projects on problems or concerns relative to “the public benefit” (p. 181). In fact, a perusal of the early records published in Proceedings of the American Political Science Association and in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science reveals traditionalists’ interests in addressing child labor, political party reform, and other public welfare questions (Addams, 1906; Richberg, 1913).

B. Case Studies of Traditionalism: Frank Goodnow and Woodrow Wilson

For a fuller, more detailed understanding of traditionalism, one can look in greater depth at two examples of traditionalist political science. The first is Frank Goodnow’s 1904 address to the first meeting of APSA. Goodnow’s address included (a) a definition of what he called political science’s “scope” but not a technical definition of political science itself, (b) an examination of what political science was to have as its research focus, and (c) a closing statement about political science’s relevance. An examination of these three components of his address illustrates traditionalism’s salient elements of institutionalism (in the emphasis on studying the institution of the state), legalism (in the emphasis on studying law and jurisprudence), a historical perspective, and attention to the public benefits of scientific inquiry.

First, in his address, Goodnow (1904) announced that he preferred to define political science’s scope (i.e., that which political science was to study) rather than attempt a definition of political science itself. Setting out to construct a technically detailed definition of the discipline per se, Goodnow contended, was not as productive an enterprise as determining what the discipline should have as its focus of research. He pointed to what he termed the “dangerous” possibility of defining the discipline in too limited or too expansive a manner (p. 35). He proceeded to characterize political science’s scope as the investigation of states. Political scientists were neither the first nor the exclusive researchers of states, Goodnow explained, but were, rather, unique in targeting the state as a primary subject for analysis. For example, historians might study historical states and might indirectly study contemporary states, Goodnow reasoned, and economists might investigate monetary matters relating to states. However, only political scientists would have as their “main interests” the direct, detailed, “scientific” analysis of states in all their complexity. Goodnow’s comments suggest that the previously noted absence of disciplinary narrowness or specialization in traditionalist political science did not have to translate into the absence of disciplinary identity. Goodnow was, in this address, identifying himself as a political scientist as opposed to a historian, even while his approach to political science would employ historical perspectives. Moreover, in identifying the institution of the state (as opposed to the behavior of individuals, for example) as the central and defining subject matter of political science, Goodnow was conveying what is generally termed the traditionalist orientation toward institutionalism.

Second, Goodnow (1904) framed the study of states— and thus political science as a discipline—broadly. Political science’s range of investigation was to include, he argued, the study of how the “State’s will” was communicated, what comprised the “State’s will,” and how the “State’s will” was carried out. In explaining what he meant by the communication of the “State’s will,” Goodnow made reference to such matters as the values conveyed through a country’s political ideas or political theory, constitution, and political party platforms. Political values influenced state policies or will. The second element—the “content of the State will”—Goodnow identified as law (p. 40). Law revealed a state’s meaning. Indeed, one sees how closely Goodnow’s traditionalist political science was attached to the study of law when one encounters his remark that “it is very doubtful” that anyone could become a political scientist—that is, that anyone could understand states “as an object of scientific study”—without a thorough understanding of law (pp. 42-43). To understand how states carried out their “wills,” Goodnow continued, one needed to study administrative law, a subject that, in the absence of political science, had been frightfully neglected, he believed. He pointed to the benefits of studying the history of English poor laws as a guide for improving public administration generally.

Finally, Goodnow (1904) closed his address by expressing hope that political science could contribute to the public good. He identified teachers and political practitioners as two groups that could benefit directly from the knowledge produced by the disciple. Moreover, in disseminating a more descriptively accurate and comprehensive understanding of states, teachers and practitioners, in their respective professional roles, could contribute to an enhanced public well-being.

An examination of Woodrow Wilson’s (1911) address to the seventh annual APSA meeting offers a second opportunity for scrutinizing more carefully traditionalism’s breadth, a breadth critiqued as “unscientific” by later advocates of behavioralism. Although better known as the 28th president of the United States, Wilson also served as president of APSA and, in this latter capacity, argued against a narrow, specialized conception of political science. In fact, at one point in his address, he went so far as to assert that he disliked the name political science, which, he claimed, implied that human interactions should be studied objectively and narrowly. He argued for the designation politics rather than political science as a more suitable name for the study of the state and “statesmanship” (pp. 10-11). Although Wilson supported a scientific approach, if by science one meant accuracy and thoroughness in one’s study of political life, he argued that such study should include an examination of literature, art, and poetry and should seek to inspire “vision” and “sympathy” (pp. 2, 10, 11). His understanding of political science, one finds, could hardly be broader, in that he concluded that “nothing” that has an impact on “human life” should be termed “foreign” to the discipline (p. 2). Wilson argued that the astute student of politics should demonstrate “a Shakespearian range” (p. 10). Although Wilson’s immediate influence on U.S. political science was limited (Ubertaccio & Cook, 2006), his explicit embrace of an expansive politics is illustrative of traditionalism’s lack of disciplinary specialization. In addition, a comparison of his approach with that of Goodnow is helpful in reminding students of traditionalism of the approach’s internal diversity.

III. Behavioralism

A. Definition and Overview

Behavioralism emerged as a criticism of traditionalism’s failure, in the view of behavioralists, to offer an approach to the scientific investigation of political questions that was sufficiently rigorous to produce predictive results based on quantitatively tested data. Specifically, behavioralism’s defining elements include a focus on political actors and their behavior (or attitudes and opinions), value-free science, and the study of operationalizable questions through hypothesis formulation and empirical, quantitative research (Ricci, 1984). The focus on studying political actors represented a shift away from traditionalism’s concentration on the historical and legalistic study of institutions.

In turning attention to the study of political actors, many behavioralists employed survey research to compare the attitudes of voters versus nonvoters, elites versus non-elites, partisan identifiers versus independents, or other subunits of populations. Students of congressional politics could enlist behavioral approaches to shift research away from the analysis of the institutional history of legislatures to an empirical investigation of the actual behaviors of congressional officeholders, staff, or congressional committee members. Behavioralists were interested, for example, in whether members of Congress spent greater time and devoted greater resources to the actual drafting of legislation or to responding to constituency demands, campaigning for the next election, or interacting with lobbyists. Empirical observation of such behaviors devoid of normative judgments (about how voters, nonvoters, elites, masses, partisans, independents, or congressional members “should” be behaving) would, in the words of David Easton (1971), correct the traditionalist “neglect of the most obvious element, the human being” (p. 203) in the conduct of research. Moreover, not only would a “value-free” science guard against the corruption of biases associated with normative preferences, but strict adherence to the study of questions translatable into operational variables and testable hypotheses would provide a more reliable knowledge than that producible by means of traditionalism.

In a 1967 essay titled “The Current Meaning of Behavioralism,” Easton (1992) summed up behavioralism as having eight interrelated “intellectual foundation stones” (p. 47):

  • “regularities”: A rigorous study of political behavior would allow political scientists to make predictions, just as natural scientists could make predictive statements.
  • “verification”: Predictions were to be testable in order to be falsified or verified.
  • “techniques”: Political science should become increasingly sophisticated in its use of scientific data collection and testing methods.
  • “quantification”: Political science should use precise, quantifiable measurements; questions for research had to be definable in testable, operationally narrow and precise terms.
  • “values”: Empirical, scientific study operates by a process different from the pursuit of normative objectives.
  • “systematization”: Political science research should produce a body of systematic information; theories and generalizations could be based on sound inferences from testable data.
  • “pure science”: Political science research should operate in a value free manner, that is, independently of any possible subsequent use of scientific knowledge to address perceived social problems.

Robert Dahl (1992) traced the origins of this approach to the 1920s and to the work of Charles Merriman and the so-called Chicago School of Harold Lasswell, Gabriel Almond, V. O. Key, and David Truman. By the mid-1960s, one member of this school—Almond (1966)—was proclaiming “a new paradigm” in political science (p. 875). Almond described this paradigm as having three components: (1) a “statistical approach” geared toward “test[ing] hypotheses” that would generate (2) “probability” statements and (3) a study of the interaction of actors and units within larger political “systems” (p. 876). As is clear in Almond’s language, this new behavioral approach was using highly specialized tools and methods drawn from such fields as math, statistics, economics, and psychology. Indeed, Almond pointed out that graduate study in political science was becoming increasingly focused on training students in the tools of “the scientific revolution”—tools that were turning political science in the direction of survey research, statistical sampling, and team-based and grant-funded quantitative research. During the post-World War II behavioralist period, publications in the American Political Science Review (APSR) became increasingly oriented toward statistical analyses of public opinion and behavior, especially in the subfields of U.S. politics and comparative politics (Sigelman, 2006). The new focus on studying that which could be precisely and narrowly operationalized seemed worlds removed from the one in which an APSA president could proclaim, as Woodrow Wilson had, his distaste for the term political science and his hope for a field of politics characterized by a “Shakespearean range.”

B. A Case Study of Behavioralism: Herbert McClosky’s “Consensus and Ideology in American Politics”

Herbert McClosky’s “Consensus and Ideology in American Politics,” published in the APSR in 1964, can serve as a case study for examining more closely the salient features of the behavioralist approach. As the title of his article suggested, McClosky was interested in the extent to which consensus, or broad agreement, on political values existed in the United States. Although he opened his article with a brief overview of Tocquevillean comments on democratic culture and customs, McClosky framed his analysis around the investigation of specific hypotheses relating to the attitudes of political actors, in this case, actors grouped into two subunits of the U.S. population. McClosky hypothesized that the U.S. public was not uniform in its political views, that it was more supportive of democracy in the abstract than in particular cases, and that political elites (those whom he called influentials) were more supportive of democracy than non-elites were.

McClosky (1964) divided the U.S. population into two groups: the influentials and the general electorate. The influentials were individuals who had been delegates or alternates at the major party conventions in 1956, and the general electorate was simply the population at large. McClosky used survey research to measure the attitudes of both groups. With respect to the influentials, a sample of more than 3,000 members of the delegates and alternates at the Democratic and Republican conventions was surveyed. With respect to the general population, McClosky used a national sample of 1,500 adults. Both groups were surveyed on a variety of questions or items, and responses to the items served as “indicators” of “opinions or attitudes” about democratic values (p. 364). If a subunit manifested 75% or higher levels of agreement on an item, consensus was said to be demonstrated.

McClosky (1964) found greater degrees of consensus for democratic procedures among influentials than among the public at large. For example, his surveys contained 12 items to measure support for the “rules of the game” (procedural democracy). These items included statements that respondents were asked to register agreement or disagreement with and consisted of statements about whether a citizen could be justified in acting outside the law, whether majorities had an obligation to respect minorities, whether the means were as important as the ends in the pursuit of political outcomes, whether the use of force was ever justified as a political strategy, and whether voting rights should be expansive or curtailed. Survey results demonstrated, McClosky reported, that influentials expressed consensus on most of the 12 items, whereas the general electorate expressed consensus on none of the 12 items.

McClosky (1964) proceeded to report that, while both influentials and the general population exhibited broader support for freedom of speech when asked about this freedom in the abstract than when asked about freedom of speech for specific unpopular groups, influentials were more supportive than the general population of free speech for unpopular groups. McClosky concluded that one might be led to believe that citizens of the United States had reached consensus on the importance of freedom of speech until one looked at the noninfluentials’ responses to items involving the application of the principle to particular cases, incidents, and people. For example, support for the rights of Communists, of persons accused of treason, and of convicted criminals was higher among the influentials than among the general population.

Furthermore, McClosky (1964) reported greater consensus among influentials on the importance of the democratic value of freedom than on the democratic value of equality. In fact, McClosky reported the absence of consensus among both influentials and the general electorate on the matter of whether all people were equal, as well as on questions relating to whether all people should be accorded equality. McClosky’s surveys included indicators to measure support for political, social, and economic equality, and his results suggested an absence of consensus among both influentials and the general electorate relating to all three types of equality. In other words, on statements relating to whether most people can make responsible decisions in governing themselves (political equality), whether different ethnic groups are equal (social equality), or whether all people have an equal claim to have a good job and a decent home (economic equality), consensus was absent.

McClosky (1964) also sought to measure what he understood as ideological clarity and the ability to identify oneself accurately along ideological lines. In evaluating survey participants in terms of their responses to particular statements relating to liberal versus conservative issues and their adoption of ideological markers (liberal vs. conservative), he found that influentials were more accurate than the general population in naming themselves as liberals or conservatives and in identifying a position as liberal or conservative.

McClosky (1964) closed his article with six summarizing generalizations. First, elites (influentials) were different from non-elites in terms of a greater elite support for democratic processes and a more complete understanding of political ideology. Second, a comparison of the education and economic circumstances of the two groups suggested possible (and testable) reasons for the differences in attitudes demarcating the two groups. Third, the level of support for democracy among U.S. elites was problematic on some issues (e.g., equality). Fourth, in spite of problematic levels of attitudinal support for democratic values, the U.S. system of Republican-Democratic politics appeared stable, a result, in part, of the nonparticipation of non-democracy-supporting non-elites. In short, democracy, McClosky stated, is sometimes “saved” by the nonparticipation of uninformed segments of the demos (p. 376). Fifth, classic accounts of democracy are inaccurate when claiming that the acceptance of democratic ideas is essential for the survival of democracy. Sixth, although McClosky advised political scientists against becoming sanguine about the lack of support for democratic processes among the population at large, he shared his hope for a wider disbursement of democratic values among segments of the U.S. population as the country continued to promote educational and scientific advancements.

Students of political science can observe key elements of behavioralism in McClosky’s work. First, behavior was understood by behavioralists like McClosky broadly enough to encompass opinions and attitudes. Second, it is evident that the turning of the discipline toward the study of the behavior of actors is regarded by behavioralists to be deeply revealing of that which was hidden as long as political science held to traditionalism’s tenacious insistence on studying institutions. Behavioralism in the hands of political scientists such as McClosky had accomplished something no less remarkable than to reveal—and prove empirically—the flaws in classic, long-standing accounts of why and how democracies work. Third, behavioralists such as McClosky believed that they had succeeded in demonstrating that big questions such as the ones Wilson wanted political science to address were most reliably answered when turned into narrow, specialized, operationalizable questions and variables. After all, what could be a bigger, more Shakespearean question than the one McClosky had addressed? Yet, only by defining consensus in a narrow, testable way, for example, could McClosky study the question of democratic consensus in such a precise and careful manner. Fourth, behavioralists such as McClosky were not opposed to theoretical generalizations, but they believed that such generalizations were most appropriately developed out of concrete, empirical results; moreover, such generalizations could be used to generate new empirically testable questions. In the process of empirically measuring and testing, however, one was not to allow biases or normative presumptions (e.g., about the goodness of citizens of the United States or of U.S. democracy) to distort one’s observations. Finally, the value-free political science of behavioralists such as McClosky tended to produce conclusions that left unchallenged the fundamental structures of the U.S. status quo. As Ricci (1984), Dryzek (2006), and Susser (1992) have noted, behavioralists saw their science as value free but, perhaps ironically, often tended to produce results that fit comfortably with normative assumptions regarding the fundamental soundness of the U.S. political system’s ability to address progressively any problems that political science might bring into the open. Indeed, it might even turn out to be the case that what looked like a defect (the apathy of the uninformed) was discovered by means of behavioralism to be an asset.

IV. Postbehavioralism

A. Definition and Overview

Postbehavioralism is an approach that emphasizes (a) that political science research should be meaningful, that is, that it should address urgent political problems; (b) that science and values are inextricably connected; and (c) that political science should not seek to model itself on the strict application of scientific methods used in the natural sciences whereby research is driven exclusively by that which can be reduced to narrowly defined questions testable by the most rigorous, most specialized scientific procedures presently available. Postbehavioralists reacted against what they interpreted as behavioralism’s excessive reliance on the purity of scientific precision at the expense of “relevance.” While many postbehavioralists upheld the value of empirical and statistically oriented research, they tended to argue that behavioralism had overreached in emphasizing a strict adherence to narrow scientific procedures and that behavioralism’s proclaimed value-free approach in actuality veiled a normative endorsement of the status quo and was thus both normative and conservative.

A number of postbehavioralist critics of behavioralism, including Peter Bacharach, Christian Bay, Hans Morganthau, and Theodore Lowi, would join the Caucus for a New Political Science, organized in 1967 (Dryzek, 2006). The caucus continues to conceptualize political science as best carried out when political scientists integrate their identities as community members with their identities as scholars and thus craft research agendas in response to political needs. Political science should be steeped in everyday life and its concerns, not isolated from it as an esoteric, specialized, value-free science, according to Caucus statements (New Political Science: The Journal, n.d.).

In 1969, David Easton stated that postbehavioralism was proving to be a transformative force in the discipline. Easton discerned postbehavioralism’s presence on two levels: first, postbehavioralism was identifiable as a collection of individual political scientists who shared a growing dissatisfaction with behavioralism’s implications, and, second, postbehavioralism was manifested as a new intellectual outlook or approach that could guide research. In his presidential address to APSA, Easton delineated what he called a “distillation” of postbehavioralism’s defining elements (p. 1052). Easton described postbehavioralism as a demand for relevance, as forward-looking, as application oriented, and as premised on the belief that it was nothing short of unethical for political scientists to remove themselves from the arena of deliberation and action when confronted with and surrounded by political problems. Easton made multiple references to the Vietnam War, to the threat of nuclear escalation, and to the struggles of the civil rights movement, and he noted that postbehavioralism was an indictment of behavioralism’s irrelevance in finding solutions to such problems. Indeed, Easton pointed out that, from a postbehavioralist perspective, behavioralism could be charged with failing even to see such problems, a charge that must have sounded particularly strange to students of McClosky, schooled as they were in regarding influentials or elites as more adept at identifying and understanding political issues than were members of the general electorate. Easton used the metaphor of blinders to describe what had overtaken a discipline that could not see the obvious, pressing issues of society even while it could describe in copious detail the merits of operationalization, hypothesis formulation, statistical analysis, verification, and falsification. Why, Easton asked, in an era of behavioralism (i.e., 1958-1968), had the APSR had only four articles on racial disturbances, only two articles on the practice of civil disobedience, only one article on problems of poverty, and only three articles on urban disorder?

Easton (1969) went on to explain that postbehavioralism’s critique of behavioralism was deeply grounded in an understanding of science at odds with that embraced by behavioralism. For postbehavioralists, science was unavoidably based on normative assumptions; thus, according to postbehavioralists, a “value-free” political science (the kind of political science advanced by behavioralists) was not possible. Indeed, postbehavioralists asserted that to proclaim value neutrality was itself a normative stance (i.e., an assertion that a so-called value-free stance was better than its opposite). Postbehavioralism faulted behavioralism for not having acknowledged—and thus not having scrutinized—its own normative foundations and the ways in which those foundations shaped the direction of its research agenda. However, insofar as postbehavioralism was not a rejection of an empirically based science per se, Easton hoped that postbehavioralism could elucidate behavioralism’s logic and correct its lack of self-awareness regarding its own assumptions rather than become a repudiation of the gains made in political science’s shift away from the early and less scientifically oriented methods of traditionalism. In later years, some scholars would come to regard postbehavioralism’s legacy as opening up possibilities of a more “eclectic” application of research methods to the study of political phenomena (Lane, 1990, p. 927).

B. A Case Study of Postbehavioralism: The Perestroika Protest in Political Science

In December 2000, PS: Political Science and Politics published “Voices: An Open Letter to the APSA Leadership and Members.” The letter, signed by more than 200 political scientists, had been circulated by someone referring to himself or herself as “Mr. Perestroika.” Echoing postbehavioralist concerns from decades earlier, the Perestroika protest letter charged APSA and APSR with having a disciplinary obsession with quantitative methodology at the expense of meaningful subject matter. Its narrow methodological focus, the letter argued, had rendered APSA and its premier journal remote from the actual world of scholarly work undertaken by most political scientists. The letter called for increased openness in APSA (e.g., in elections to APSA governing bodies and to the APSA editorial board), the inclusion of a broader range of articles in APSR, public disclosure of survey results that could demonstrate widespread dissatisfaction with the discipline’s direction, and greater openness to critical voices in the discipline. Noting that they had not organized themselves into an actual caucus or subunit within APSA, the Perestroika letter signees, nonetheless, claimed to speak for a broad segment of political scientists (“Voices,” 2000).

Perestroika supporter Gregory Kasza expanded on the concerns expressed in the initial letter in “Perestroika: For an Ecumenical Science of Politics” (2001). One can see in Kasza’s elaboration of the Perestroika protest six major points illustrative of postbehavioralism. First, it was claimed that U.S. political science had been distorted by the dominance within the discipline of highly specialized quantitative research approaches; because of this dominance, Kasza asserted, political scientists seeking to produce scholarly works using qualitative approaches were being marginalized. Second, Kasza argued that the marginalization of nonquantitative approaches constituted a breach of academic freedom. Political scientists, he contended, were being pressured to mold their substantive interests to fit the contours of rigid methodologies and frameworks; he mentioned an anonymous graduate student who had been warned that she would fail as a political scientist if she did not make her dissertation conform to rational choice strictures. Third, in allowing a narrow understanding of science to become dominant within the discipline, political science was undercutting its ability to produce sound scholarship. Indeed, Kasza went so far as to assert that a Perestroika movement could save the discipline from producing subpar scholarship. Fourth, Kasza made the quintessentially postbehavioral call for a political science that was more “relevant” in addressing substantive political concerns. Fifth, Kasza suggested that, in seeking to become as sophisticated a science as possible, political science had actually become something of an adventure in fiction. Kasza charged that scientifically oriented political scientists were, in all too many cases, operationalzing human motives, desires, and choices in such narrow terms (in order to be rigorous) as to render their subjects caricatures.

Finally, Kasza (2001) offered an alternative, “ecumenical” approach. Ecumenism, he explained, would be defined by three elements. First, an ecumenical political science would select problems for analysis and then make decisions about which research approaches would best address the problem, rather than adopting a research approach and defining problems to fit the requirements of the research approach. Second, an ecumenical political science would be explicit in its acceptance of a plurality of methods or approaches. Specialized quantitative methodologies would coexist with qualitative methodologies in an open and expansive political science; for example, graduate programs would reintegrate political philosophy and policy studies into their core areas in a Perestroika-driven discipline. Third, an ecumenical political science would value interdisciplinary study. Kasza urged political scientists to rethink graduate training and, specifically, to institute dual-degree graduate programs. Political science graduate students should be encouraged to earn master’s degrees in alternative and diverse fields, fields encompassing the humanities as well as hard sciences.

V. Conclusion

In calling for interdisciplinary collaboration, Kasza (2001) was aware that he and other Perestroika supporters were challenging political science to regain something from its earlier orientation. Indeed, in the postbehavioral Perestroika protest, one can recognize remnants of traditionalism. One is reminded of the cross-disciplinary approach of Goodnow when reading recent demands for interdisciplinary breadth in graduate training. At the same time, one can observe in postbehavioralism a parallelism linking the demand to study real people (rather than excessively narrowly operationalized “actors” described by behavioralists) with behavioralism’s impatience with traditionalism’s earlier preference for studying institutions rather than people. Neither the Perestroika protesters nor other advocates of postbehavioralism purged political science of behavioralism. In fact, at present, one can find all three approaches in political science. One might conclude from a study of the history of traditionalism, behavioralism, and postbehavioralism that political science, as a discipline, has been characterized not as much by complete breaks with preexisting research approaches as by periodic shifts and rearrangements of research emphases (Dryzek, 2006).

See also:


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