Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Translating Political Science

Matthew Flinders, "The Tyranny of Relevance and the Art of Translation." Political Studies Review 11, 2 (May 2013): 149-167.


The ‘tyranny of relevance’ captures a widespread sense of concern among social and political scientists that their academic freedom and professional autonomy is under threat from a changing social context in which scholars are increasingly expected to demonstrate some form of social ‘relevance’, ‘impact’ or ‘engagement’ beyond academe. This article attempts to reframe the current debate by reflecting upon the history of the discipline and different forms of scholarship in order to craft an argument concerning the need for political scientists to rediscover ‘the art of translation’. This, in turn, facilitates a more sophisticated grasp of key concepts, emphasises the need for the discipline to engage with multiple publics in multiple ways, and suggests that engaging with non-academic audiences is likely to improve not simply the discipline's leverage in terms of funding, or scholarship in terms of quality, but also teaching in terms of energy and relevance. The simple argument of this article is not therefore that political science has become irrelevant, but that it has generally failed to promote and communicate the social value and benefit of the discipline in an accessible manner. Resolving this situation is likely to demand a little political imagination.

Yes, yes, yes. All political science research starts with a problem or puzzle even if it is not immediately obvious. We should take it upon ourselves to explain what it is to the world outside academia. We should do this not because we're being forced, but rather because it's good for everyone. Thinking about translation will make your argument clearer and expand your audience.

The article above was part of a special issue on relevance and impact in political science.


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