Political Science

Political science is the academic discipline which “seeks to systematically describe, analyse and explain the operations of government institutions-and-overtly political-organisations; plus-all-those social-activities and interactions which help determine binding allocations or decisions by legitimate sources of authority; and in addition the values, views of human nature and prescriptive theories which inform debates about such institutions, decisions and allocations.”

This focuses on the state as the central concept summing up the organisation of government institutions. Theories about the state also sum up how government as a whole relates to the rest of society (to ‘civil society’). Older themes in liberal political theory additionally focus on the relationships between government and individual citizens. The broad remit of political science has another consequence: there is no single dominant body of thought in the discipline, nor even a consensus about how to use key concepts. There are different theories of the state, which contest with each other, not least about the meaning of central concepts such as ‘the state’.

Effective arguments in political science are those which both advance our understanding and which move theory debates along as well. In all your own work you need to take seriously the need to compare views and interpretations and to develop a way of writing which explains why you feel that one view should be preferred to other possible explanations. This approach is called ‘relational. argument’ — it expresses the advantages (and limits) of one approach in relation to other viewpoints.

This does not mean that you should treat each view as equivalent, saying ‘it all depends how you see it’ and relapsing into the belief that one view is as good as any other. It means only that, if you find one view very convincing and you want to argue for its overall superiority, you should not do so dogmatically but comparatively, showing in what ways your favoured view works better and acknowledging its main problems and areas of weakness.

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