Political Science | Intro to Study of Politics (3 cr)
Y570 | 3717 | Ostrom

Anyone looking for pristine purity is bound to be disappointed with the
discipline of political science.  Not only does it include a multitude of
substantive areas, regional specialties, and theoretical approaches but it
also covers a wide variety of epistemological perspectives and
methodological and methodology.  On the epistemological side, we will
explore four ways of approaching the study of politics.  Each of these ways
of studying politics or modes of investigation makes certain assumption
about what politics is or ought to be, and on the basis of those assumptions
each attempts to show how, and with what methods or techniques, we can
arrive at more or less certain knowledge of political phenomena.
However, the fundamental assumptions that underline each of these
epistemologies are radically different.  As a result, their conceptions of
what constitutes scientific knowledge of politics, and the means by which it
can be acquired, are also very different.  Thus, some political scientists
argue that we ought to emulate the rigorous procedures and standards of the
natural sciences in order to discover the basic laws of politics.  Others
claim that political knowledge should be abstract and deductive in character
and should develop along the lines of modern micro economic theory.  Still
others claim that politics as well as the social sciences generally are
unique, and require a fundamentally different mode of investigation.
Political science should attempt neither to establish law-like propositions
(since there are none) nor represent political knowledge with abstract,
deductive theoretical structures.  Instead, political inquiry should result
in the interpretation of political phenomena.  A fourth position holds that
theoretical neutrality is impossible in the study of political affairs, and
that, moreover, it would give raise, would it be possible, to worthless
findings or at least to findings of questionable value.  According to this
position, political science must be critical.  As in the case of the
physician, positive knowledge can help the political scientist, but
disinterested knowledge and the accumulation thereof cannot be the main
goal.  It is only a means toward that goal.
It is not easy to say who, if anyone, is right in this dispute over the
nature of political inquiry.  Indeed, it seems likely that no definitive
resolution of these matters will be forthcoming.  Yet no practicing
political scientist can afford to neglect the issues raised by this dispute;
for, like it or not, they are inextricably bound up with the conduct of
inquiry.  They are, in other words, unavoidable, and for that reason ought
to be addressed in a forthright manner.
Beyond diversity in epistemology, political science also subsumes various
methodological approaches.  In this seminar we shall examine a variety of
different methods of inquiry, including survey research, experimentation,
case studies, comparative methods, and formal modeling, demonstrating the
kinds of knowledge they give rise to as well as their intrinsic strengths
and weaknesses.
This seminar, then, will examine different epistemological perspectives and
methodological approaches used in the study of political phenomena so as to
introduce young scholars to some key issues they will eventually confront
during the course of their research.  The rationales underlying these
perspectives and methods will be identified, criticisms of the rationales
will be raised, and responses to these criticisms will be suggested.  In the
end I hope everyone will be able to appreciate the strengths as well as
limitations of these various modes of political inquiry.