political science

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

political science

political science, the study of government and political processes, institutions, and behavior. Government and politics have been studied and commented on since the time of the ancient Greeks. However, it is only with the general systematization of the social sciences in the last 100 years that political science has emerged as a separate definable area of study. Political science is commonly divided into a number of subfields, the most prominent being political theory, national government, comparative government, international relations, and special areas shared with other social sciences such as sociology, psychology, and economics. In practice, these subfields overlap. Political theory encompasses the following related areas: the study of the history of political thought; the examination of questions of justice and morality in the context of the relationships between individuals, society, and government; and the formulation of conceptual approaches and models in order to understand more fully political and governmental processes. The study of national government focuses on the political system of the researcher's particular country, including the legal and constitutional arrangements and institutions; the interaction of various levels of government, other social and political groups, and the individual; and proposals for improving governmental structure and policy. Comparative government covers many of the same subjects but from the perspective of parallel political behavior in several countries, regions, or time periods. International relations deals both with the more traditional areas of study, such as international law, diplomacy, political economy, international organizations, and other forms of contact between nation states, and with the development of general, scientific models of international political systems. None of the political science subfields can be clearly separated. All of them, for example, deal with questions closely associated with political theory. Valuable and sophisticated discussions of almost all the areas of political science, including the areas now generally classified under such titles as political sociology, can be found throughout intellectual history as far back as Plato and Aristotle. Through the centuries, the questions of political science have been discussed in contexts varying with the changing perspectives of the time. During the Middle Ages, for example, the major concerns revolved around the problem of where the state stood in relation to man and his God. Karl Marx, on the other hand, viewed political questions in the context of society's economic structure. Modern political science stresses the importance of using political concepts and models that are subject to empirical validation and that may be employed in solving practical political problems.

See V. O. Key, Politics, Parties, and Pressure Groups (5th ed. 1964); G. Almond and G. B. Powell, Comparative Politics: A Developmental Approach (1966); J. Rawls, A Theory of Justice (1971); B. Crick, The American Science of Politics (1982); G. Shakhnazarov, Contemporary Political Science in the U.S.A. and Western Europe (1985).

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