Political Science: The State of the Discipline II

By Ada W. Finifter | Go to book overview
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Expanding Disciplinary Boundaries: Black, Latino, and Racial Minority Group Politics in Political Science

Paula D. McClain and John A. Garcia


Political science as a discipline historically has not seriously concerned itself with the politics of America's various minority groups, 1 particularly black and Latino politics. In fact, there was tacit, if not expressed, agreement that some groups within the American political spectrum were not legitimate subjects for political scientists to study. Matthew Holden, Jr. ( 1983) reports that at a 1941 conference on the Interdisciplinary Aspect of Negro Studies, Ralph J. Bunche, the first black American to receive a Ph.D. ( 1934) in political science, 2 lamented that the publication prospects in political science for works on the political behaviors of Negroes were somewhat limited. Bunche continued:

In some field[s] this (publishing] is relatively easy. Anthropologists deal with the Negro as a respectable topic, and the journals of anthropology take such articles without hesitation. In respect to my own field, which concerns the status of the Negro, except insofar as papers having to do with colonial problems and the like are involved, there isn't a very cordial reception for papers dealing with the Negro (quoted in Holden 1983, 34).

Professor Emmett E. Dorsey, the late chair of the department of political science at Howard University, was quoted by Walton ( 1986, xi) to have said, as late as 1964, "Negro politics was long considered an offbeat field of political science." Many viewed it as an "academic graveyard for any young scholar who sought academic respectability..." (p. xi). Holden ( 1983, 34) has characterized the attitude within political science, as well as other social science disciplines, as an attitude of non-interest in "all this stuff about Negroes." Further,

Holden observes that political scientists "did not perceive those black-white relationships in American society to raise critical intellectual problems for scholars, in contrast to raising 'social problems' for social activists." The attention paid to the problems of Latinos within the American political system, as well as Latino-white relationships, was equally nonexistent.

This chapter principally traces and examines the development of the fields of black and Latino politics and their entrance into the realm of appropriate topics for political scientists to study. Current trends and future directions of the two subfields are also explored. Two other emergent fields of study, American Indian politics and Asian-American politics, are addressed as well, but not to the same depth and extent as the other two areas. Our brief discussion of these two subfields is not meant as a comment on the importance and significance of the areas, but is reflective of the paucity of research thus far.

An undertaking of this kind is replete with pitfalls. Principal among them is how one surveys a body of literature to provide a descriptive history of the development of the subfields, while at the same time establishing the analytical and methodological linkages between the various historical periods. 3 Moreover, the importance of political events to the intellectual development and growth of black and Latino politics must also be acknowledged and integrated. Thus one's organizational approach is important.

We have chosen to discuss the subfields separately, focusing on concepts and/or theoretical approaches that characterize the literature at various points in time. There is a tendency within the discipline to assume that similarities in racial minority group status within the United States result in similarities of experiences and behaviors; consequently, blacks, Latinos, Asian Americans, and American Indians are merged under the category of minority group politics. Yet, while there may be similarities in racial minority group status, there are fundamental differences in their experiences,


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Political Science: The State of the Discipline II
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