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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Political science is a social science concerned with the theory and practice of politics and the description and analysis of political systems and political behavior. It is often described as the pragmatic application of the art and science of politics defined as "who gets what, when and how", leaving out of the picture most of the "why".[1] Political science has several subfields, including: political theory, public policy, national politics, international relations, and comparative politics.

Political science is methodologically diverse, to the discipline include classical political philosophy, positivism, interpretivism, structuralism, and behavioralism, realism, pluralism, and institutionalism. Political science, as one of the social sciences, uses methods and techniques that relate to the kinds of inquiries sought: primary sources such as historical documents and official records, secondary sources such as scholarly journal articles, survey research, statistical analysis, case studies and model building.

"As a discipline" political science, possibly like the social sciences as a whole, "lives on the fault line between the 'two cultures' in the academy, the sciences and the humanities."[2] Thus, in some American colleges where there is no separate School or College of Arts and Sciences per se, political science may be a separate department housed as part of a division or school of Humanities or Liberal Arts.[3]



Political scientists study anything about and related to the allocation and transfer of power in decision making, the roles and systems of governance including governments and international organizations, political behavior and public policies. They measure the success of governance and specific policies by examining many factors, including stability, justice, material wealth, and peace. Some political scientists seek to advance positive (attempt to describe how things are, as opposed to how they should be) theses by analyzing politics. Others advance normative theses, by making specific policy recommendations.

Political scientists provide the frameworks from which journalists, special interest groups, politicians, and the electorate analyze issues. According to Chaturvedy, "...Political scientists may serve as advisers to specific politicians, or even run for office as politicians themselves. Political scientists can be found working in governments, in political parties or as civil servants. They may be involved with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or political movements. In a variety of capacities, people educated and trained in political science can add value and expertise to corporations.[4] Private enterprises such as think tanks, research institutes, polling and public relations firms often employ political scientists."[5] In the United States, political scientists known as "Americanists" look at a variety of data including elections, public opinion and public policy such as Social Security reform, foreign policy, US Congressional committees, and the US Supreme Court — to name only a few issues – but in a period of seventy five years, only two American political scientists, J. Allen Smith and Charles A. Beard, have dealt intensively with the economics of politics.[6]

Most United States colleges and universities offer B.A. programs in political science. M.A. or M.A.T. and Ph.D or Ed.D. programs are common at larger universities. The term political science is more popular in North America than elsewhere; other institutions, especially those outside the United States, see political science as part of a broader discipline of political studies, politics, or government. While political science implies use of the scientific method, political studies implies a broader approach, although the naming of degree courses does not necessarily reflect their content.[7] Separate degree granting programs in international relations and public policy are not uncommon at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Master's level programs in political science are common while political scientists engage in public administration.[8]

The national honour society for college and university students of government and politics in the United States is Pi Sigma Alpha.


Niccolò Machiavelli, one of many influential political theorists


Political science is a late arrival in terms of social sciences. However, the discipline has a clear set of antecedents such as moral philosophy, political philosophy, political economy, political theology, history, and other fields concerned with normative determinations of what ought to be and with deducing the characteristics and functions of the ideal state. In each historic period and in almost every geographic area, we can find someone studying politics and increasing political understanding.

The antecedents of Western politics can trace their roots back to Plato (427–347 BC) and Aristotle (384–322 BC), particularly in the works of Homer, Hesiod, Thucydides, Xenophon, and Euripides. Later, Plato analyzed political systems, abstracted their analysis from more literary- and history- oriented studies and applied an approach we would understand as closer to philosophy. Similarly, Aristotle built upon Plato's analysis to include historical empirical evidence in his analysis. Plato wrote The Republic and Aristotle wrote the Politics.

The rise and fall of the Roman empire

During the height of the Roman Empire, famous historians such as Polybius, Livy and Plutarch documented the rise of the Roman Republic, and the organization and histories of other nations, while statesmen like Julius Caesar, Cicero and others provided us with examples of the politics of the republic and Rome's empire and wars. The study of politics during this age was oriented toward understanding history, understanding methods of governing, and describing the operation of governments. Nearly a thousand years elapsed, from the foundation of the city of Rome in 753 BC to the fall of the Roman empire or the beginning of the Middle Ages. In the interim, there is a manifest translation of Hellenic culture into Latin quarters. The Greek gods become Romans and Greek philosophy in one way or another turns into Roman law as in Stoicism. The Stoic was committed to maintaining the status quo no matter how oppressive it might become. Among the best known Roman Stoics were Roman philosopher Seneca and the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. Seneca accepted an Eastern cult that worshiped the emperor as a god; it was adopted by the Roman emperor Caligula. The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius are not really the reflections of a philosopher king bent on seeking political and social reform but rather the notes written down while he was not engaged in his multiple military campaigns; notes that betray a preoccupation for his own soul but show no sign that he was a Roman emperor. According to Polybius, Roman institutions are the backbone of the empire but Roman law is the medulla.[9]

The Middle Ages

With the fall of the Western Roman Empire, there arose a more diffuse arena for political studies. The rise of monotheism and, particularly for the Western tradition, Christianity, brought to light a new space for politics and political action. Works such as Augustine of Hippo's The City of God synthesized current philosophies and political traditions with those of Christianity, redefining the borders between what was religious and what was political. During the Middle Ages, the study of politics was widespread in the churches and courts. Most of the political questions surrounding the relationship between church and state were clarified and contested in this period. The Arabs lost sight of Aristotle's political science but continued to study Plato's Republic which became the basic text of Judeo-Islamic political philosophy as in the works of Alfarabi and Averroes; this did not happen in the Christian world, where Aristotle's Politics was translated in the 13th century and became the basic text as in the works of Saint Thomas Aquinas.[10]

The Orient

In ancient India, the antecedents of politics can be traced back to the Rig-Veda, Samhitas, Brahmanas, the Mahabharata and Buddhist Pali Canon. Chanakya (c. 350-275 BC) was a political thinker in Takshashila. Chanakya wrote the Arthashastra, a treatise on political thought, economics and social order, which can be considered a precursor to Machiavelli's The Prince. It discusses monetary and fiscal policies, welfare, international relations, and war strategies in detail, among other topics. The Manusmriti, dated to about two centuries after the time of Chanakya is another important political treatise of ancient India.

Ancient China was home to several competing schools of political thought, most of which arose in the Spring and Autumn Period. These included Mohism (a utilitarian philosophy), Taoism, Legalism (a school of though based on the supremacy of the state), and Confucianism, which became the dominant political philosophy in China during the Imperial Period. Confucian political ideas also deeply influenced and were expounded upon by scholars in Korea and Japan.

In Persia, works such as the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and Epic of Kings by Ferdowsi provided evidence of political analysis, while the Middle Eastern Aristotelians such as Avicenna and later Maimonides and Averroes, continued Aristotle's tradition of analysis and empiricism, writing commentaries on Aristotle's works. Averroe did not have at hand a text of Aristotle's Politics, so he wrote a commentary on Plato's Republic instead.

The Renaissance

During the Italian Renaissance, Machiavelli established the emphasis of modern political science on direct empirical observation of political institutions and actors. For Machiavelli, nothing seems to be too good nor too evil if it helps to attain and preserve political power. Machiavelli shatters political illusions, reveals the harsh reality of politics and could be considered the father of the politics model.[11] Later, the expansion of the scientific paradigm during the Enlightenment further pushed the study of politics beyond normative determinations.

Like Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, well-known for his theory of the social contract, believed that a strong central power, such as a monarchy, was necessary to rule the innate selfishness of the individual but neither of them believed in the divine right of kings. John Locke, on the other hand, who gave us Two Treatises of Government and who did not believe in the divine right of kings either, sided with Aquinas and stood against both Machiavelli and Hobbes by accepting Aristotle's dictum that man seeks to be happy in a state of social harmony as a social animal. Unlike Aquinas' preponderant view on the salvation of the soul from original sin, Locke believed man comes into this world with a mind that is basically tabula rasa. According to Locke, an absolute ruler as proposed by Hobbes is unnecessary, for natural law is based on reason and equality, seeking peace and survival for man.

The Enlightenment

Religion would no longer play a dominant role in politics. There would be separation of church and state. Principles similar to those that dominated the material sciences could be applied to society as a whole, originating the social sciences. Politics could be studied in a laboratory as it were, the social milieu. In 1787, Alexander Hamilton wrote: "...The science of politics like most other sciences has received great improvement." (The Federalist Papers Number 9 and 51). Both the marquis d'Argenson and the abbé de Saint-Pierre described politics as a science; d'Argenson was a philosopher and de Saint-Pierre an allied reformer of the enlightenment.[12]

Other important figures in American politics who participated in the Enlightenment were Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.

Modern political science

Since Political Science is essentially a study of human behavior, in all aspects of politics, observations in controlled environments are usually not available and impossible to reproduce or duplicate. Because of this, Political Scientists seek patterns in the reasons and outcomes for political events so that generalizations and theories can be made. Again, study is still difficult since humans make conscious choices unlike other subjects in science, such as organisms, or even inanimate objects as in physics. Despite the complexities, consensus has been reached on various political topics with the help of proper study. To the extent that political scientists are not politicians, they can demonstrate a greater objectivity about politics. Politics may be studied as an activity, as current affairs, as the work of government and as conflict, either national or international, and its early solution.[13]

The advent of political science as a university discipline was marked by the creation of university departments and chairs with the title of political science arising in the late 19th century. In fact, the designation "political scientist" is typically reserved for those with a doctorate in the field. Integrating political studies of the past into a unified discipline is ongoing, and the history of political science has provided a rich field for the growth of both normative and positive political science, with each part of the discipline sharing some historical predecessors. The American Political Science Association was founded in 1903 and the American Political Science Review was founded in 1906 in an effort to distinguish the study of politics from economics and other social phenomena.

In the 1950s and the 1960s, a behavioral revolution stressing the systematic and rigorously scientific study of individual and group behavior swept the discipline. The late 1960s and early 1970s witnessed a take off in the use of deductive, game theoretic formal modeling techniques aimed at generating a more analytical corpus of knowledge in the discipline. This trend has continued and accelerated, even as the behaviouralist revolution has subsided. At the same time, due to the interdependence of all social life, political science also moved towards a closer working relationship with other disciplines, especially sociology, economics, history, anthropology, psychology, public administration, law, and statistics without losing its own identity.[14] Increasingly, political scientists have used the scientific method to create an intellectual discipline based on the generation of formal models used to derive testable hypotheses followed by empirical verification. Over the past generations, the discipline placed an increasing emphasis on relevance, or the use of new approaches to increase scientific knowledge in the field and provide explanations for empirical outcomes. One of these approaches is that of communication.[15]

See also


  1. ^ Laswell, H. (1935). Politics: Who Gets What, When, How. London: McGraw-Hill.  
  2. ^ Stoner, J. R. (2008-02-22). "Political Science and Political Education" (Web). Paper presented at the annual meeting of the APSA Teaching and Learning Conference (APSA), San José Marriott, San José, California. http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p_mla_apa_research_citation/2/4/5/5/8/p245585_index.html. Retrieved 2009-02-04. "… although one might allege the same for social science as a whole, political scientists receive funding from and play an active role in both the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities [in the United States]."   <http://www.allacademic.com/metal/p245585_index.html>.
  3. ^ See, e.g., the department of Political Science at Marist College, part of a Division of Humanities before that division became the School of Liberal Arts (c. 2000).
  4. ^ Chaturvedy, J. C. (2005). Political Governance. Gyan Publishing House. p. 4. ISBN 8182053175. http://books.google.com/books?id=kzV4V59udu8C&pg=PA4&dq=people+trained+in+political+science+can+add+value+and+expertise+to+corporations#v=onepage&q=people%20trained%20in%20politcal%20science%20can%20add%20value%20and%20expertise%20to%20corporations&f=false.  
  5. ^ Chaturvedy, J. C. (2005). Political Governance. Gyan Publishing House. p. 4. ISBN 8182053175.  
  6. ^ Farr, James; Seidelman, Raymond (1993). Discipline and History. University of Michigan Press. p. 147. ISBN 0472065127. http://books.google.com/books?id=e9_jbbroRHsC&pg=PA147&dq=American+political+scientists#v=onepage&q=American%20political%20scientists&f=false. "political activities ...are affected ...by economic factors."  
  7. ^ Politics is the term used to describe this field by Brandeis University; Cornell College; University of California, Santa Cruz; Hendrix College; Lake Forest College; Monash University; Mount Holyoke College; New York University; Occidental College; Princeton University; Ursinus College; and Washington and Lee University. Government is the term used to describe this field by Bowdoin College; Colby College; Cornell University; Dartmouth College; Georgetown University; Harvard University; Smith College; Wesleyan University; the College of William and Mary; the University of Sydney; the University of Texas at Austin; the University of Ulster; the University of Essex; Victoria University of Wellington, which has both a "School of Government" and a separate "Political Science and International Relations Programme"; and the London School of Economics and Political Science. Politics and government is the term used by the University of Puget Sound. Government and politics is used by the University of Maryland, College Park.
  8. ^ Vernardakis, George (1998). Graduate education in government. University Press of America. p. 77. ISBN 0761811718. http://books.google.com/books?id=Rd3DDiQm3M8C&pg=PA77&dq=political+science+international+relations+degree#v=onepage&q=political%20science%20international%20relations%20degree&f=false. "...existing practices at Harvard University, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Michigan."  
  9. ^ Almond, Gabriel Abraham (2002). Ventures in political science. Lynne Rienner Publishers. p. 29. ISBN 1588260802. http://books.google.com/books?id=VMwpeKhifwcC&pg=PA29&dq=political+science+Roman+Stoics#v=onepage&q=political%20science%20Roman%20Stoics&f=false. "Polybius attributes the remarkable growth and power of Rome to its political institutions."  
  10. ^ Muhsin, Mahdi (2001). Alfarabi and the foundation of Islamic political philosophy. p. 35. ISBN 0226501864. http://books.google.com/books?id=y6BF52Uw9BIC&pg=PA35&dq=Political+science+Plato%27s+republic&lr=#v=onepage&q=Political%20science%20Plato's%20republic&f=false. "...a combination of Plato and Plotinum, could do much more to clarify political life as it then existed..."  
  11. ^ Lane, Ruth (1996). Political science in theory and practice: the 'politics' model. M. E. Sharpe. p. 89. ISBN 1563249402. http://books.google.com/books?id=4nB0LuuYYCkC&pg=PA89&dq=Political+science+Plato+the+republic&lr=#v=onepage&q=Political%20science%20Plato%20the%20republic&f=false. "Discussion then moves to Machiavelli, for whom the politics model was not an occasional pastime..."  
  12. ^ Gayytyhfvbvbhfghd, Peter (1996). The enlightenment. 2. W. W. Norton & Co.. p. 448. ISBN 0393313666. http://books.google.com/books?id=gQPna6P69i0C&pg=RA2-PA448&dq=political+science+the+enlightenment&lr=#v=onepage&q=political%20science%20the%20enlightenment&f=false. "The men of the Enlightenment sensed that they could realize their sobvbhrtyhcial ideals only by political means."  
  13. ^ Bealey, Frank; Chapman, Richard A.; Sheehan, Michael (1999). Elements in political science. Edinburgh University Press. pp. 3–4. ISBN 0748611096. http://books.google.com/books?id=Zkr_8paP_zwC&pg=PA3&dq=political+science+as+science#v=onepage&q=&f=false. "...political scientists...and...politicians..., the activities of the two, ...are quite different."  
  14. ^ Farr, James; Seidelman, Raymond (1993). Discipline and history: political science in the United States. University of Michigan Press. pp. 230–233. ISBN 0472065127. http://books.google.com/books?id=e9_jbbroRHsC&pg=PA230&dq=political+science+other+discipline&ei=m63DSoY415Ay9dO42AM#v=onepage&q=political%20science%20other%20discipline&f=false. "...ultimately all social life is interdependent..."  
  15. ^ O'Hair, Dan; Kreps, Gary L. (1990). Applied communication theory and research. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. p. 225. ISBN 0805809152. http://books.google.com/books?id=IBVOgebb1icC&pg=RA1-PA225&dq=political+science+communication&ei=VcXDSpCclo_CNoWy8NsD#v=onepage&q=political%20science%20communication&f=false. "...the relevance of several areas of communication research to political contexts..."  

Further reading

External links

Study guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiversity

Part of the Strategic Studies curriculum


Political Science

Political Science, just like any other w:social science, is interconnected to many other fields and must be viewed, compared and contrasted though each relative field in order to fully understand the subject matter.

Political Science relates to the way humans will organize themselves into a working society that is in the interest of the public good. By doing this, the society will advance and benefit as a whole through a process known as collective action, and will be able to live fairly and justly. Political Science observes many aspects of how societies accomplish this goal through four major fields of study. In addition, these fields are usually studies along with other relative fields such as: w:Anthropology, w:Economics, w:Geography, w:Religion, w:Philosophy, w:Psychology, and w:Sociology.

Political Theory

The field of Political Theory is one of the four major fields in the study of Political Science. It will explore and analyze the philosophy by which a society has chosen to organize its government, construct its laws, and achieve its desired goals (Political, Economic, or Social). Political Theorists do not compare and contrast which theories are better than others. Political Theorists simply compare and contrast different political theories, and see how well they meet the needs of the people and the goals for which this theory was created so that it may accomplish.

Government & Politics

The field of Government & Politics is one of the four major fields in the study of Political Science. It explores the product(s) of political theories on people and nations. When studying Government & Politics, it is important to carefully consider all aspects of how a society is meant to function under the laws and institutions they have created. Many government types are explored, but only briefly. Depending on the country a student is in, this field is dominated by an in-depth analysis of that country's government and political structure.

Comparative Politics

The field of Comparative Politics is one of the four major fields in the study of Political Science. Unlike the field of Government & Politics, in comparitive politics, students are usually given two or more types of governments and asked to conduct an in-depth analysis on how each form of government is either beneficial for the people, or a burden on the people, as well as see how well each government type does in yielding the desired goals for society.

International Politics

The field of International Politics is one of the four major fields in the study of Political Science. This field is considered quite new when compared to all other fields in Political Science. However, International Politics dates back to Ancient Greece and the relationship the individual city-states had between themselves. This field looks at how societies form governments that must work and cooperate to coexist with other governments of other societies in an increasingly international community. Such topics include: International Law, International Relations, International Organization, Global Political Economy, and Foreign Policy.

See also



Simple English

Political science is a branch of social science that is concerned with theory, description, analysis and prediction of political behavior, political systems and politics.



Political scientists study the allocation and transfer of power in decision-making, the roles and systems of governance including governments and international organizations, political behavior and public policies. They measure the success of governance and specific policies by examining many factors, including stability, justice, material wealth, and peace.

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