African American Perspectives on Political Science

Article excerpt

Wilbur C. Rich, ed., African American Perspectives on Political Science. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2007. Pp. 456. Cloth $89.50. Paper $32.95.

Conventional political science in the United States is a historical and social science discourse located predominantly among highly educated white men, and produced by such men for each other. The anthology under review purports to evaluate and contest black exclusion from this academic discipline. Yet, this would-be progressive undertaking is largely truncated because most of the volume's eighteen essays are written within the shadow of dominant white American political science scholarship, and they scarcely challenge the discipline's received assumptions, theories, and analytical approaches. In general, readers will not find in this text new ideas, concepts, theories, approaches, or even new thinking about "political thought." Rather, this is a set of essays whose authors essentially bow to the intellectual altars of liberal pluralism and political behavioralism. Rather than challenge or go beyond the limitations of scientism in conventional political studies, most of the authors embrace the "scientific method" of quantitative data analysis associated with the natural sciences as the model for empirical political science. Hence, little new knowledge about black politics emerges in this text. Written within the disciplinary power of behavioral political science, this volume is not a product of the provocative or powerful thinking necessary for the 21st century. Indeed, most of the essays easily could have been published ten or more years ago!

The volume's title encourages the anticipation of particular viewpoints on the discipline of political science, specifically African American perspectives. Hence, part of my strategy in approaching the volume was to identify and understand the meaning of these various perspectives. I searched in vain. In the introduction the editor Wilbur Rich announces, "This collection of essays is about political science as seen through the eyes of African American political scientists--their assessment of the subfields, their views about the quality of race-related research and their regrets about the omissions in the literature. The central theme is that race matters in politics not only nationally, but internationally." He notes that these "omissions" hinder an understanding of racial and ethnic conflict, and therefore require a variety of perspectives to contend with the "danger of unconscious insularity in methodology and outlook." "For this reason," Rich writes, "we African American political scientists have a special responsibility to rethink the norms, canons, and directions of the discipline." Except for a few essays, however, the anthology falls far short of these goals. Indeed, the essays rarely break new ground, and the contributors generally accept the dominant methodology, norms, and canons of conventional political science.

African American Perspectives on Political Science is comprised of five parts. Part one "Race and Political Scientists" contains three essays that are contextual and review the literature on conventional political science research, suggesting that the discipline has consistently evaded racial and ethnic politics. The contributors also note the challenges black political scientists face in seeking to advance in the field. There are two essays in "Globalization and Transnational Politics." One provides a comparative analysis of African Americans in Latin American politics, and the other examines competing theoretical frameworks employed in the study of social change and political development. In "Civic Engagement and Voting," part three, the four essays are interesting and analyze the complexity of black public opinion; the changing character of political attitudes about black feminism; the interconnections of race, class, and gender in the organizational politics and civic activities of African American women; and the academic trajectory and political activism of a member of the first generation of African Americans to earn the Ph. …