Political Science: The State of the Discipline II

By Ada W. Finifter | Go to book overview

Preface

This project has its origin in the Spring of 1981, shortly after Seymour Martin Lipset, then president of the American Political Science Association, asked me to be program chair for the 1982 Annual Meeting. In undertaking that job, I made a fateful decision -- that it might be interesting and useful to encourage a substantial number of political scientists to turn their attention to one particular issue by having a "theme" for the meeting. The theme I chose was "The State of the Discipline." The idea was well received; interest in serious evaluation of research and knowledge in the discipline was very high, and President Lipset and Thomas Mann, then executive director of the Association, asked me to collect the theme papers that had been presented at the meeting into what became the first edition of this book. This second edition retains the same overall goal of reviewing important recent research in various subfields of political science. All of us connected with the project share the hope that this edition will be as useful as was the first for students, teachers, researchers, and others who are interested in the cumulation of knowledge in our discipline.

In the years since the first edition was published, we were pleased to learn that teachers throughout the profession used that volume in a variety of different courses, and that many researchers were using it to get an overview of both their own and other areas of research. About two years ago, therefore, the current executive director, Catherine Rudder, and deputy director Robert J-P. Hauck, thought it must surely be time to do an update. This edition, however, did not begin as a series of papers for an annual meeting but, rather, "from scratch." To provide the opportunity for different perspectives on research to be expressed, we assembled a new set of chapter authors. In addition, these authors were asked to provide a perspective on the research literature that was as international and comparative as their expertise and the research literature itself permitted. The story of how this transition occurred may be of some interest to members of the profession.

At the time we began to plan for the second edition, Theodore Lowi was the president of the Association. Since we did not have an existing group of papers already prepared as we had had for the first edition, President Lowi and the Publications Committee asked me to consult with colleagues in the profession before deciding on the final group of authors for the new edition. As I recall those early conversations with Cathy, Rob, and Ted, I think we all assumed that we were going to ask the scholars who had written for the first edition to update and revise their chapters, and that the consultation I was to do would be primarily about the new chapters that would be added to cover some major areas that had not appeared in the first edition. I think we all envisioned a project that would be completed fairly quickly and with few of the coordination complexities that usually accompany volumes involving large numbers of authors -- certainly that was my understanding!

As with any project that involves consultation, however, one does not always anticipate the ideas of those one consults. And when the ideas that come forth are good ones, one may wind up with a project that is considerably different from that envisioned by its initiators. That is certainly the history of this edition.

To comply with the request for consultation, I wrote to perhaps a hundred colleagues who had recently served in positions in which they would have had the need and the opportunity to think about the state of the discipline, either in general or in their own particular research areas. My correspondence list included current and past section chairs for the Annual Meetings, officials of the "organized sections," officers of the Association, and other colleagues and friends whom I knew to be especially concerned about the state of the discipline. I expected few replies. Instead, I received numerous thoughtful, concerned, and extraordinarily helpful letters from colleagues of every disciplinary persuasion. Most often, people were generous with kind remarks about the first edition and numerous suggestions for coverage and authors for the new one. There were also, of course, those who were less happy and wanted important changes to be made.

These letters had a profound effect on the further course of planning and, ultimately, the book itself. In the end, it is in large part this input that was responsible for the direction the new book has taken, and the ways in which it departs from the first edition. The many specific suggestions about coverage and content were all interesting and helpful and very many resulted in specific charges to authors about materials that should be covered in their chapters. Many of the authors whose chapters are included were suggested to me initially by these correspondents.

My informal content analysis of the letters also yielded several more general themes that came up with some frequency.

First, both as researchers and as teachers, colleagues did want updates on what was going on in

-vii-

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