Sunday, January 10, 2010

Political science and society

John Sides at The Monkey Cage quotes a review in The Atlantic's politics blog of a new book on the 2008 campaign:

Political scientists aren’t going to like this book, because it portrays politics as it is actually lived by the candidates, their staff and the press, which is to say — a messy, sweaty, ugly, arduous competition between flawed human beings — a universe away from numbers and probabilities and theories.
He then refutes the widely held assumptions about what political scientists care about or like:

Back to Ambinder. If anything, I just find his comment, well, sort of lazy. Can’t we move beyond these stereotypes of academia? I read Ambinder every day, and take his reporting and commentary seriously. I don’t think it’s asking too much of him to look for a little value in political science.

I don't entirely disagree, but it is important to ask ourselves why such views are so prevalent.  Stephen Walt recently wrote about political scientists blogging, and he had one observation that I found very compelling:

It would be good for the IR field if academic scholars were expected to write a few blog posts every now and then, if only for the purpose of self-examination. If the typical academic had to write a blog for two weeks, they might discover they had nothing to say to their fellow citizens, couldn't say it clearly, or that nobody cared. That experience might even lead a few of my fellow academics to scratch their heads and ask if they were investing their research time appropriately, which would be all to the good.

We have a strong tendency to argue that misrepresentation of political science is everyone else's fault.  Instead, we should ask ourselves why that misrepresentation is occurring, and what we can do to correct it.  Otherwise we will end up with more efforts to cut our grant funding or the like.

On the other hand, my impression is that this political science/society divide is more extreme at the national level (e.g. members of Congress, national journalists, etc.).  My department has extensive local contacts (indeed, the chair of the County Board of Commissioners has often taught courses in political science and international studies) and I don't recall any stories about how we were irrelevant or ivory towerish.


Defensores de Democracia 10:52 AM  

Mr Weeks

Universities and studies of History, Political Science, Military History, etc ..... are extremely important.

I have read tons and tons of stupid articles and idiotic comments in newspapers about current events.

But the best articles in Magazines like "Foreing Policy Mag", "Financial Times", "The Atlantic", "The New Yorker" and other wonderful publications are written by academics.

Today, I respect more Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Georgetown, Cornell, MIT, UCLA, etc ... because I know of the excellent people that they have in their Faculties.

Thanks Heaven that Universities exist with departments to study the World of Politics and the World at large.

I am astonished of the Imbecility of the Hate Merchants in several TV Networs, Radio, and by the plain stupidity of celebrated "pundits" that have won the most coveted prizes of Journalism as editorialists or whatever of newspapers, magazines, etc .....

So Universities are necessary to counter that Tsunami of Garbage, Hate, Fear, Paranoia and Ignorance.

The Future of Foreign Policies :

Vicente Duque

Anonymous,  8:49 PM  

I just attended the American Historical Association convention in San Diego. As a non-academic I was struck by what I saw. The sessions included two panels. The younger academics could not present their ideas without reading their papers word for word. No eye contact. No inflection. No enthusiasm. No visuals. The language they used was unnecessarily jargon-laden, "representations," "paradigms" and so forth when plain language would do.

History is the broadest of disciplines, yet universities train PhDs to specialize w/o any useful instruction in presentation skills and pedagogy. I understand why, but I also heard the younger PhDs lament as they recited the poor level of engagement of their students at non-prestigious colleges. I also think some of the PhD training ought to focus on making connections between what is widely known (and often erroneously assumed to be known by students and the public) and research. In short a course on teaching a survey. It should be seen as a celebrated activity rather than a burden. Until academics in the humanities and social sciences engage the public in a meaningful way, they will continue to lose status, funding and influence. Natural sciences and applied learning will never have this problem at US universities.

Defensores de Democracia 5:50 PM  

Anonymous :

I have read your comment several times and I find it very interesting.

In the first reading I understood that it was about Latin American Experts or Historians, or probably Latin American Professors.

The meetings of Latin American Presidents have very low level of Intelligence and Wisdom. I feel sad for Latin American Studies, at least in Latin America.

Later I realized that it was the "American Historical Association" and I was astonished but I believe you.

I repeat my rant that nothing is more important than the Wisdom that comes from the Journalists or Writers that have spent many years in site ( in situ ) of the News, in the nation of the conflict, and from people in Academia, free of the temptations of the devil.

I feel very sad because of the Great Perversion that I find in the Newspapers, TV, Radio, etc ... with honorable exceptions.

Universities more important than ever, and I am not a Professor and have no connection with Academia or Schools.

The Future of Foreign Policies :

Vicente Duque

reyes brocade 9:22 PM  

You have to study / understand something before you discuss it with somebody else. What I'm trying to say is source of knowledge is much more important than anything.

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