A New Handbook of Political Science

By Robert E. Goodin; Hans-Dieter Klingemann | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
Political Science: The History of the Discipline

Gabriel A. Almond


I Introduction

IF we were to model the history of political science in the form of a curve of scientific progress in the study of politics over the ages, it would properly begin in Greek political science, make some modest gains in the Roman centuries, not make much progress in the Middle Ages, rise a bit in the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, make some substantial gains in the 19th century, and then take off in solid growth in the 20th century as political science acquires genuine professional characteristics. What would be measured by this curve is the growth and qualitative improvement in knowledge concerned with the two fundamental questions of political science: the properties of political institutions, and the criteria we use in evaluating them.

We would record three rising blips in the 20th-century growth curve. There was the Chicago blip in the interwar decades ( 1920-1940), introducing organized empirical research programs, emphasizing psychological and sociological interpretations of politics, and demonstrating the value of quantification. A second much larger blip in the decades after World War II would measure the spread of "behavioral" political science throughout the world, improvements in the more traditional subdisciplines, and professionalization (in the sense of the establishment of multi-membered, meritocratically recruited, relatively non-heirarchic, departments; the i establishment of associations and specialist societies, refereed journals; and so on). A third blip would register the entry of deductive and mathematical methods, and economic models in the "rational choice/methodological individualist" approach.

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