What Is Political Science?

in #politics11 months ago

My academic advisor is pressing me, so my best response is to go back to fundamentals and try to refresh my perspective with some basic definitions. A few weeks ago, I asked the question, "Is Economics Just Politics?" to which I got a very helpful comment from @sounexpected:

A definition of oïkonomia (economy) would be the organization of the house while one of politikos (politics) would be the study of a city's organization, of social interactions, and the use of power to regulate it. Politics would therefore be Economics, but on a bigger scale!

As this response helped my thinking a lot, I wondered what other shit have I taken for granted that might be worth revisiting. Of course, one can come up with many different answers for this question. But, for me, as it relates to the line of reasoning I am trying to pursue, today I ask the question:

What is Political Science?



The go-to resource for finding any kind of lodestar definition is the OED or Oxford English Dictionary. Ironically, one has to pay to access the OED, but other services, like Lexico license the OED content, so those of us who have forgotten all our library passwords, and can't be bothered to go figure out how to renew them, can still get access. So here's the OED definition:

Political science: The branch of knowledge that deals with the state and systems of government; the scientific analysis of political activity and behaviour.

Now when I was a kid, I was always taught that it was bad practice to define a term using the elements of that term. So I'm kind of disappointed with the definition above. To me, it's kind of the equivalent of defining "bad stuff" as "the category of items in the world that exhibit a bad quality." I mean, it's not very helpful, right? So we press on...

Another approach is to define political science by its various subcomponents, kinda like if you were to define rock music by saying rock music is the category of music that includes psychedelia, classic rock, indie rock, oldies, etc. It's not perfect, I know, but it is informative. So how does that work out for political science?

Here is a list of the fields of study that are often included in undergraduate political science departments: Comparative politics, international relations, political economy, political philosophy or political theory, and American government & politics.

That certainly jives with the poly sci course listings at the University of Washington, where again we find one of those uninspiring definitions that include the word itself:

Political science focuses on the theory and practice of government and politics at the local, state, national, and international levels.

This definition is a more direct definition that simply answers the question of "What?" without diving too deep into the "theory" that would answer the more complex and interesting questions of who, why, when, how, etc.

For me, I think the answer lies in the term interdisciplinarian, which is kind of the root of crypto itself. Whereas crypto lies at the intersection of economics, politics, and software engineering, politics itself is the OG interdisciplinary subject. It draws upon the fields of economics, law, sociology, history, philosophy, geography, psychology, anthropology and the neurosciences.

So if anyone ever asks you, "What is political science?" You can just tell them,


Putting it all together...

Political science is the branch of knowledge that deals with the theory and practice of administering the state and systems of government at the local, state, national, and international levels, which draws upon the fields of economics, law, sociology, history, philosophy, geography, psychology, anthropology and the neurosciences.


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