Guide to Methods for Students of Political Science

Guide to Methods for Students of Political Science

Guide to Methods for Students of Political Science

Guide to Methods for Students of Political Science


For the last few years, Stephen Van Evera has greeted new graduate students at MIT with a commonsense introduction to qualitative methods in the social sciences. His helpful hints, always warmly received, grew from a handful of memos to an underground classic primer. That primer has now evolved into a book of how-to information about graduate study, which is essential reading for graduate students and undergraduates in political science, sociology, anthropology, economics, and history -- and for their advisers.

-- How should we frame, assess, and apply theories in the social sciences? "I am unpersuaded by the view that the prime rules of scientific method should differ between hard science and social science. Science is science".

-- A section on case studies shows novices the ropes.

-- Van Evera contends the realm of dissertations is often defined too narrowly. "Making and testing theories are not the only games in town.... If everyone makes and tests theories but no one ever uses them, then what are they for?"

-- In "Helpful Hints on Writing a Political Science Ph.D. Dissertation", Van Evera focuses on presentation, and on broader issues of academic strategy and tactics.

-- Van Evera asks how political scientists should work together as a community. "All institutions and professions that face weak accountability need inner ethical rudders that define their obligations in order to stay on course".


Many professions have codes of ethics and teach professional ethics in their professional schools. For example, most students of law, business, and medicine now take a course in professional ethics at some point.

The social sciences should also discuss and teach professional ethics, for three reasons. First, the wider world cannot easily hold us accountable for our general professional performance. No market forces compel us to deliver a useful research product. Absent this pressure we risk degenerating into social parasites. (Groups that are accountable to none seldom serve any well and often turn parasitic or worse.) a shared body of professional ethics that defines our obligations to society can reduce the accountability gap by helping us to hold our own feet to the fire.

Second, our students cannot easily hold us accountable. If we teach badly, there is little they can do about it. Hence we must hold ourselves accountable to perform as teachers. a body of ethics that defines our teaching obligations can be a self-accountability mechanism.

Third, the lack of shared norms among ourselves on proper conduct in all manner of personal and professional settings causes . . .

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