Making Political Science Matter: Debating Knowledge, Research, and Method

By Sanford F. Schram; Brian Caterino | Go to book overview

13
Political Science and Political Theory
The Heart of the Matter

David Kettler

When Bent Flyvbjerg raises a call to “re-enchant and empower social science” (2001, 166), he may be understood, at least in part, to be renewing the demand for a “new political science” that had already mobilized an earlier generation (Kettler 1974; Wolfe 1970). Like the members of that cohort, he rightly despairs of the disciplinary preference for studies that are designed more to display and refine techniques of analysis than to seek answers to the questions that attend efforts to respond to the political urgencies of the times. Social scientists in general and political scientists in particular, intoxicated with methodology, are forever looking where the light of science is deemed to shine brightest, and not where the key objects of value have been lost. The question was then and the question is now, however, whether the best antidote is, so to speak, a hair of the dog. Flyvbjerg asks us to set about reversing the situation where social science is the “loser in the Science Wars.” I am not persuaded that this is a valuable or achievable objective, and I will argue that those of us who share his larger concerns would do better to “declare victory” and to withdraw from that theater of operations, which is not of our choosing.

Philosophy is a demanding autonomous discipline with its own claims to respect; the self-reflection of critical intellectuals in the social sciences is best served by steady attention to what other working social scientists say and do in close conjunction with their actual studies. Mediations between the two domains take varied forms. Obviously, there will be learning from and bargaining with philosophical writers, but judgments will be more commonly made good by social science results than by improvised “refu-

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