Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

The Political Science Educational Philosophy of Ralph Bunche: Theory and Practice

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

The Political Science Educational Philosophy of Ralph Bunche: Theory and Practice

Article excerpt

This article is based upon a textual analysis of Ralph Bunche's writings since 1940 to determine the nature, scope, and significance of his educational philosophy of the discipline of political science. From this textual analysis of his writings, the article finds that five major intellectual categories emerged from his writings and notes; whether those categories were original ones and/or whether they were modifications of categories already in existence. After having evaluated the original and secondary nature of these categories, this article indicates that Bunche's educational philosophy created a different perspective and vision for the discipline. Herein lays his great contribution.

Embedded in Ralph Bunche's writings and organizational practices is a unique and exceptional conceptualization of political science as a discipline. This conceptualization and vision, which we shall call an educational philosophy, is not to be found in a single coherent and comprehensive publication, document, and/or volume. Yet, it does exist in his wide and diverse and scattered writings and leadership roles and practices in the Howard University Department of Political Science, the presidency of the American Political Science Association, positions at the U.S. Department of State, and in leadership positions at the United Nations. It is also to be found in his four research memoranda for the Gunnar Myrdal report, An American Dilemma, and in his field research in South Africa (Edgar, 1992; Grantham, 1973). Here, in these sundry works, Bunche left an intellectual record, and it is possible to delineate from that record of scholarship and field studies his conceptualization of Political Science as a discipline that challenges, contrasts, and diverges sharply with the dominant and consensus one now describing the discipline.


Bunche delivered his presidential address to the American Political Science Association (APSA) in Chicago, Illinois on September 9, 1954 which just happened to be the 50th anniversary of the organization (Bunche, 1954). Using this unique moment in time, as well as this historic occasion (of being the first African American to serve as President of the APSA), this President told the membership that the nation state and the international community had certain problem areas, which merited greater attention from the discipline of political science (Bunche, 1954).

Among the problems that Bunche noted were "the problem of colonialism, particularly of colonial Africa"; the fear, intolerance, suspicion, and confusion emanating from racial demagogues; and the second-class citizenship emerging from racial segregation, White supremacy, and disenfranchisement (Bunche, 1954, p. 969). In Bunche's view, these grave problems had been ignored by the discipline. These pressing problem areas facing the profession and society threatened both freedom and democracy (Bunche, 1954). But perhaps most importantly is not Bunche's identification of these problems, but what they offer in terms of insights into the mind of a public intellectual who happens to be an African American political scientist. Undergirding these poignant remarks and suggestions is a vision and perspective of the discipline of political science that, while borne of the past and present, offers a course correction and reform for the future.

To see this vision and perspective with its proposed reforms for an academic discipline and professional organization, this study will begin with a textual analysis of Bunche's post-1940 writings and delineate from those works and the appropriate secondary sources the seminal intellectual categories of his educational philosophy. Moreover, the study will reconstruct, from these categories of ideas and reflections, a systematic and holistic portrait of Bunche's desired political science education.

1940 was chosen as the point of departure for this study because in this Special Issue there is an article by Jonathan Scott Holloway which offers an excellent exposition of Bunche's intellectual ideas from the early 1930s until the 1940s. …

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