The discipline of political science

The discipline of political science


The discipline of political science, government or, simply, politics had a different development in the USA and in the UK. The aim of this essay is to show how this popular subject was firstly introduced in the USA and in the UK, (PART 1), then this essay will examine the particular development of the subject in the USA along with the development of the “4 dominant paradigms” (PART 2) and, finally, the development of the subject in Britain (PART 3).

Hobbes's own two pieces were important in the history of the free-will controversy


Political science was first developed in the USA as it is proven by the creation of the School of Political Science at Columbia in 1880. In Britain the London School of Economics and Political Science, the first university with a politics department, was founded in 1895, 15 years after the first political science department in USA. The creation of LSE and its politics department was directly linked with the expansion of the British Empire. Indeed, the expansion of the empire created the need for a generation of scholars who could help, afterwards, in the governance as well as the policy and decision making of this huge empire. Also, due to the teaching of politics in universities, a generation of public intellectuals, who could debate important political issues independently from the state, emerged . The formation of public intellectuals in British Universities is one of the differences between British and American political science. Indeed, because of the fact that politics were perceived as a science in the USA, the “professionalization and specialisation of the discipline”pushed political scientists to concentrate in the actual study of politics rather than participating in public debates like some of the first political scientists in Britain did.

The next step, in the history of American political science, was the creation of APSA, the American Political Science Association, in 1903. As one can read in the second Article of the APSA constitution, the APSA set aims such as the encouragement of Political Science, Political Theory, Political Institutions, Politics, Public Law, Public Administration, and International Relations and was based on principles such as nonpartisanity and not showing any support to political parties

In the beginning, political science was similarly perceived in Britain and in the USA. Although, “ after World War 1 American Political science began to veer from the common course toward a model informed by positivist science”. Therefore the study of political science in the USA took a more scientific direction while in England “History as a cultural genre and academic study commanded greater authority” Therefore it is becoming obvious that USA sought to make political science a “distinctive subject”, a science on its own whether in the UK political science was still influenced by history and could be still considered as a “junction subject”. UK's politics were also influenced by philosophy, unlike USA which was more positivist in the study of political science. In other words USA's study of politics was based on empiricism and on the assumption that experience, data analysis etc are the key to knowledge and in understanding politics.


The development of political science in the USA (The emergence of “4 dominant paradigms”)

The positivist direction that American political science had given to the study of politics along with the development of data and surveys' analysis lead to the emergence of Behaviouralism. A very influential book that marked behaviouralism was “The people's choice” ( Lazarsfeld, Berelson, Gaudet). “The people's choice” set new basis on research, data analysis and surveys' methods. It also helped the development a new sub-field of political research: electoral choice. Indeed, “The people's choice” was a huge survey of 3000 people during the 1940 Roosevelt-Willkie elections in USA and it stressed the psychological and social facts that affect people's voting behaviour. Behaviouralism proposed a radical change in the study of political science. First of all the development and the more systematic use of new research methods instead of the traditional ones in order to do more accurate surveys and analysis. The new research methods would allow to examine more precisely the comportment of voters. Another important feature of behavioralism is it's assumption that, like realism proposes, ethics are not part of political science but instead, behavioralism believes that only empiricism can allow to draw conclusions in political science. In the 1950's and 1960's behaviouralism was at its peak. David Easton, who was the APSA president during 1968-1969, declared the “8 foundation stones of behavioralism” some of which are: “the belief in uniformities in political behaviour, a commitment to verification, the recognition that ethics and empirical analysis, the acknowledgement of the primacy of pure science”. During his presidency, David Easton launched a change in the study of politics which had a behaviouralist approche and aimed to stress the need for empiricism in political analysis as well as the need to concentrate in current political issues.

Another important paradigm that emerged in the USA was the new institutionalism. Institutionalism stresses the importance of institutions in politics and in society. Institutions have a significant role in structuring the society and imposing order and therefore individuals are directly affected by them and they conform to the prevailing institutions. Institutionalists would agree that “Individuals are governed by the logic of appropriateness - meaning that institutions can be considered as embedding rules and routines that defines what constitutes appropriate action”. Therefore institutions are very important because they impose limits that restrict individuals to act in society within some defined bounds. Though, institutionalism is divided into different forms of institutionalism such as: normative, rational choice, empirical, sociological, international and historical institutionalism. Historical institutionalism, for example, apart from the important historical and social role of institutions, stress also the importance of history by emphasizing the notion of “path dependence”. This means that it is history that leads us to a certain “path” according to the events that have occurred. Path is meant to be the approach that we have concerning politics and how we conceptualise society. And because of the fact that we were lead to a certain path by historical events, we cannot change the path and therefore we can be considered as depended to it. The only way to change the way that institutions and society are formed is if history had been different, but history can't be changed.

Another very influential paradigm was “Rational Choice” which is based on the rational choice theory and on Hobbes's Theory of the natural state of human. According to Rational Choice theoristsç

Please be aware that the free essay that you were just reading was not written by us. This essay, and all of the others available to view on the website, were provided to us by students in exchange for services that we offer. This relationship helps our students to get an even better deal while also contributing to the biggest free essay resource in the UK!