Why Political Science?


Political science is a both a classical discipline and one of the most recently developed social sciences. The origins of the study of politics reach back to the beginnings of human society. Inquiries about the nature of governments, their leaders and publics, what shapes public policies, and international interactions among nations have always been important.


Aristotle characterized politics as the "queen of the sciences," and he classified governments according to their various structures, the power of their leaders, and the involvement of their people. Throughout history, philosophers have addressed the same issues. Machiavelli was an astute student of political power. St. Thomas Aquinas analyzed the origins and legitimacy of political order. Among the many other political theorists are Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, and Simone de Beauvoir.


Political theory and practice were joined in the crafting of the United States Constitution in Philadelphia in 1787. The authors of the constitution, particularly James Madison, were political theoreticians of the first magnitude. They endeavored to mold political theories into a constitutional design for political institutions responsive to a country with diverse populations and regions. Constitutional amendments and interpretations as well as social, economic, and political events contribute to the evolution of American government.


Much of contemporary political science encompasses a wide range of topics and methods of inquiry. In the twentieth century, the evolution and growth of political science scholarship has taken place primarily in the United States. It is also important to recognize the contributions to political theory and analysis made by European scholars who left Europe in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, such as Hannah Arendt and Paul Lazersfeld. At the end of the twentieth century, the study of political science is conducted throughout the world.


In the past century, political science scholarship, although continuing to embrace philosophy, law, and history, has expanded to scientific inquiry and analytical theory about political behavior and political decisions. Data collections‑for example, to examine questions based upon the theories of cognate social sciences such as psychology and sociology‑and hypothesis testing, as well as economic and mathematical modeling and policy analysis are significant approaches to the study of politics and governments, domestic and international. Political science continues to include new methods of analysis and to pursue the goal of describing and explaining political phenomena with greater accuracy. Political science today seeks constantly to become more rigorous in its standards of inquiry and proof. It is also a far more diverse discipline than in the past with a growing number of women and minorities, both majoring in political science and teaching it.



What do Political Scientists Study?


Political science is a broad discipline in both content and methods. Political science includes philosophical, historical, and analytical studies of governments, politics, and policies. Political scientists may focus on political behavior, decision making, processes, organizations, and public policies. Inquiry in political science addresses the domestic and international politics of the United States and all other countries and regions. Political scientists study the political values, attachments, and activities of people, individually and in groups. Political science examines both what preferences people share and how they differ according to their personal attributes and positions in the economy and society. Political science also studies how people regard and trust each other as well as their leaders and governments. Consequently, political science has many facets and offers opportunities for many different concentrations (see box to right).


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For more career information see Dr. Langill in OM 333.