Fields and subfields of political science include political theory and philosophy, civics and comparative politics, national systems, cross-national political analysis, political development, international relations, foreign policy, international law and politics, public administration, administrative behavior, public law, judicial behavior, and politics and public policy. Political science also studies power in international relations and the theory of Great powers and Superpowers.
Political science is methodologically diverse. Approaches to the discipline include classical political philosophy, interpretivism, structuralism, and behavioralism, realism, pluralism, and institutionalism. Political science, as one of the social sciences, uses methods and techniques that relate to the kinds of inquiries sought: primary sources such as historical documents and official records, secondary sources such as scholarly journal articles, survey research, statistical analysis, case studies, and model building.
History of political science
- Main article: History of political science
Antecedents of political science
While the study of politics is first found in the Western tradition in Ancient Greece, political science is a late arrival in terms of social sciences. However, the discipline has a clear set of antecedents such as moral philosophy, political philosophy, political economy, history, and other fields concerned with normative determinations of what ought to be and with deducing the characteristics and functions of the ideal state. In each historic period and in almost every geographic area, we can find someone studying politics and increasing political understanding.
The antecedents of politics trace their roots back even earlier than Plato and Aristotle, particularly in the works of Homer, Hesiod, Thucydides, Xenophon, and Euripides. Later, Plato analyzed political systems, abstracted their analysis from more literary- and history- oriented studies and applied an approach we would understand as closer to philosophy. Similarly, Aristotle built upon Plato's analysis to include historical empirical evidence in his analysis.
During the rule of Rome, famous historians such as Polybius, Livy and Plutarch documented the rise of the Roman Republic, and the organization and histories of other nations, while statesmen like Julius Caesar, Cicero and others provided us with examples of the politics of the republic and Rome's empire and wars. The study of politics during this age was oriented toward understanding history, understanding methods of governing, and describing the operation of governments.
With the fall of the Roman Empire, there arose a more diffuse arena for political studies. The rise of monotheism and, particularly for the Western tradition, Christianity, brought to light a new space for politics and political action. During the Middle Ages, the study of politics was widespread in the churches and courts. Works such as Augustine of Hippo's The City of God synthesized current philosophies and political traditions with those of Christianity, redefining the borders between what was religious and what was political. Most of the political questions surrounding the relationship between church and state were clarified and contested in this period.
In the Middle East and later other Islamic areas, works such as the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and Epic of Kings by Ferdowsi provided evidence of political analysis, while the Islamic aristotelians such as Avicenna and later Maimonides and Averroes, continued Aristotle's tradition of analysis and empiricism, writing commentaries on Aristotle's works.
During the Italian Renaissance, Niccolò Machiavelli established the emphasis of modern political science on direct empirical observation of political institutions and actors. Later, the expansion of the scientific paradigm during the Enlightenment further pushed the study of politics beyond normative determinations.
The advent of political science as a university discipline is evidenced by the naming of university departments and chairs with the title of political science arising in the 1860s. Integrating political studies of the past into a unified discipline is ongoing, and the history of political science has provided a rich field for the growth of both normative and positive political science, with each part of the discipline sharing some historical predecessors. The American Political Science Association was founded in 1903 in an effort to distinguish the study of politics from economics and other social phenomenon.
In the 1950s and the 1960s, a behavioral revolution stressing the systematic and rigorously scientific study of individual and group behavior swept the discipline. At the same time that political science moved toward greater depth of analysis and more sophistication, it also moved toward a closer working relationship with other disciplines, especially sociology, economics, history, anthropology, psychology, and statistics. Increasingly, students of political behavior have used the scientific method to create an intellectual discipline based on the postulating of hypotheses followed by empirical verification and the inference of political trends, and of generalizations that explain individual and group political actions. Over the past generation, the discipline placed an increasing emphasis on relevance, or the use of new approaches and methodologies to solve political and social problems.
Contemporary political science
Political scientists study the allocation and transfer of power in decision-making, the roles and systems of governance including governments and international organizations, political behavior and public policies. They measure the success of governance and specific policies by examining many factors, including stability, justice, material wealth, and peace. Some political scientists seek to advance positive theses by analyzing politics. Others advance normative theses, by making specific policy recommendations.
The study of politics is complicated by the frequent involvement of political scientists in the political process, since their teachings often provide the frameworks within which other commentators, such as journalists, special interest groups, politicians, and the electorate analyze issues and select options. Political scientists may serve as advisors to specific politicians, or even run for office as politicians themselves. Political scientists can be found working in governments, in political parties or as civil servants. They may be involved with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or political movements. In a variety of capacities, people educated and trained in political science can add value and expertise to corporations. Private enterprises such as think tanks, research institutes, polling and public relations firms often employ political scientists. In the United States, political scientists known as "Americanists" look at a variety of data including elections, public opinion and public policy such as Social Security reform, foreign policy, U.S. congressional power, and the Supreme Court to name only a few issues.
Current fields of study
Civics and comparative politics involve the comparison of different forms of government in different settings. In the United States and Canada, it may also include regional studies; that is, work focusing on a particular state, province or region.
International relations focuses on the study of the dynamics of relations between states, and, more recently, on transnational issues such as the environment, human trafficking, trade, social movements, labor like co-operatives, or preventing terrorism.
The complex interplay of economic and political choices is reflected in the field of political economy where political science tries to understand the normative implications of economic structures and theories.
Public Administration studies the implementation, determination and outputs of public policies. It seeks to explain the role of political structure, bureaucratic politics and interest group activity on the public policy output and the policy performance of public sector entities.
Political elites and political behavior, and the interplay between them, are studied in the field of political psychology.
Alternative terms for the academic study of politics are political studies, or even politics. While political science implies use of the scientific method, political studies implies a broader approach. The term government is used by Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Georgetown University, Cornell University and the London School of Economics to describe the field, but the choice of a label for a department often has little to do with how the subject is studied.
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