The Scientific Analysis of Politics: Important Contributions from Some Overlooked Sources

By McDermott, Rose; Monroe, Kristen Renwick | Political Research Quarterly, September 2009 | Go to article overview

The Scientific Analysis of Politics: Important Contributions from Some Overlooked Sources


McDermott, Rose, Monroe, Kristen Renwick, Political Research Quarterly


What are the best approaches and methodologies toward a scientific study of politics? During the professional lifetimes of most readers of Political Research Quarterly, that question has received a variety of answers, with the debate frequently generating more heat than light. While the minisymposium presented here does not attempt to resolve the important issues surrounding these challenges, it does suggest a body of work that is often overlooked in these discussions. In particular, the contributors suggest several areas of literature from other sciences, including ethology, biology, behavior genetics, evolutionary psychology and cognitive neuroscience, that could benefit analysts working on a wide range of topics within political science and broaden the boundaries of acceptable political science research modalities.

While theoretical and methodological traditions in political science have typically stressed the importance of socialization and learning in human political behavior, the approaches offered here encourage a more serious consideration of the interaction of the environment with the innate side of human nature. To be clear, we do not discount in any way the critical role played by socialization in instructing and informing human political behavior. Rather, we wish to emphasize the importance of incorporating more biological information into our explanations of the sources and operation of these activities as well. We do not mean to reactivate a no longer productive debate about nature versus nurture, since it now seems clear that both forces operate in tandem in ways that are inextricably intertwined. Rather, by encompassing both facets - nature and nurture - into an integrated perspective, we believe it is possible to achieve a more comprehensive understanding of human political behavior. With this goal in mind, we offer a series of papers that provides a fresh approach to the study of politics from a serious evolutionary psychological and biological framework.

The symposium contains four papers that suggest how diverse theories, approaches and/or tools of biology and psychology - broadly defined - can prove useful to scholars concerned with the analysis of political behavior. The first paper, "Mutual Interests: The Case for Increasing Dialogue between Political Science and Neuroscience" by Rose McDermott (2009) explores recent work in cognitive neuroscience to suggest how evolutionary models can help illuminate topics of interest in political science. The second paper, "Is There a Party in Your Genes?" by Peter K. Hatemi, John R. Alford, John R. Ribbing, Nicholas G. Martin, and Lindon J. Eaves (2009), explores the relationship between genetics and the strength of partisan attachments, as distinct from party identification. In similar fashion, Jamie Settle, Christopher Dawes and James Fowler (2009) use twin studies to examine "The Heritability of Partisan Attachments." The final paper by Kristen Renwick Monroe, Adam Martin and Priyanka Ghosh (2009), "Politics and An Innate Moral Sense: Scientific Evidence for an Old Theory?" draws on work from animal ethology, child development, neuroscience, and primatology to address ethical issues involved in positing an innate moral sensibility. The papers presented here thus employ a wide range of theoretical literatures, research methods, and empirical data more traditionally associated with biology or psychology to suggest how political scientists can gain additional purchase into investigations of enduring political problems if they broaden the theoretical, methodological and empirical boundaries of conventional research in political science.

The goals of this minisymposium are four-fold. We wish to: (1) introduce a potentially exciting area of research to new scholars; (2) widen the range of theoretical and methodological work deemed acceptable in political science; (3) confer professional legitimacy on work that explores endogenous approaches/ techniques/theories/bodies of literature in political science; and (4) broaden discourse about what is considered appropriate research in the scientific study of political activities. …

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