Posts Tagged ‘political science’
I don’t remember where it all started, but I’ve been unhappy with the concept of the decision as the central framework for political science for a long time. Very few political scientists, I should note, would say this is the case. They’d probably object to the idea that there is a central framework. Instead, they would likely focus on various different frameworks. But, being heterodox and inclined to see the biggest picture possible, it was clear to me there was a deep similarity among these different approaches. For one thing, there was so much political activity that was left out of this dominant framework, or dismissed or obscured. Of course, we might conclude that something that political actors think is important is not after investigating it, but to do so as a matter of definitions makes little sense.
Since I began developing my idea of ‘politics as a contest of claim making’ as an alternative, I find that idea all over political science, although rarely foregrounded. It seems the sort of banal point that is widely understood but rarely the basis for much explicit theorizing. But it does come up again and again. My task seems to be to call attention to it and explicate its implications.
Jodi Jacobson, at RH Reality Check, talks about the disconnect between the public and politicians on abortion, which touches on something I’ve been emphasizing here.
Consistent rejection by actual voters of attempts to give the state control over women’s bodies tells us three things. One, polls that attempt to divide people into neat boxes such as “pro-choice” and “pro-life” or to measure support for hypothetical restrictions on abortion in generic terms do not reflect how people really feel about safe abortion care. In fact, when asked specifically about who should make decisions on how and when to bear children and under what circumstances to terminate a pregnancy, voters make clear they do not want to interfere in the deeply personal decisions they believe belong between a woman, her partner and family, and her medical advisers, even in cases of later abortion. In short, voters do not want legislators playing god or doctor.
In my investigation of how scholars of judicial politics adopted the decision as the core concept of the thing to be explained, part of my argument has been that this wasn’t unique to the behavioralists, but was true of ‘traditionalists’ as well. Joseph Tanenhaus, a participant in this conflict, agrees, in his Journal of Politics article “Supreme Court Attitudes Toward Federal Administrative Agencies” (1960). It’s easy to get distracted by the dispute between quantitative and qualitative approaches, but there is more here than that.
In the current controversy over the suitability of quantitative methods for the study of appellate-court behavior, there is a tendency to overlook a rather important similarity among the majority of contenders on both sides. Most contemporary analysts of appellate-court decisions, whether they be lower-court judges, practicing lawyers, journalists, professors of law, or political scientists, tend to comb discrete decisions in a search for uniformities and inconsistencies [my emphasis]. However much their motives may vary, analysts of both schools strive to generalize about phenomena which are, in some ways, unique. Utilizing the techniques it considers most apposite, each group collects and classifies data which it hopes to cast into formularies characterizing the behavior of a court and its individual members. Read the rest of this entry »
The definition of the alternatives is the supreme instrument of power; the antagonist can rarely agree on what the issues are because power is involved in the definition. He who determines what politics is runs the country, because the definition of alternatives is the choice of conflicts, and the choice of conflicts allocates power.
E.E. Schattschnieider, The Semisovereign People: A Realist View of Democracy (emphasis in the original).
There’s been a lot of buzz about an excellent (but not yet peer-reviewed) working paper by David Broockman and Chris Skovron, “What Politicians Believe About Their Constituents: Asymmetric Misperceptions and Prospects for Constituency Control,” which looks at state legislative candidates’ perceptions of their constituents’ opinions. The findings are striking, but unlike many others, I don’t find them all that surprising:
Actual district opinion explains only a modest share of the variation in politicians’ perceptions of their districts’ views. Moreover, there is a striking conservative bias in politicians’ perceptions, particularly among conservatives: conservative politicians systematically believe their constituents are more conservative than they actually are by over 20 percentage points, while liberal politicians also typically overestimate their constituents’ conservatism by several percentage points.
That the primary task of political science is today one of popular education, and that therefore it must still retain its character as a “normative,” a “telic,” science, is, then, my thesis. Why, indeed, should there be another natural science anyway? The general obtuseness of the laboratory sciences to social values is boasted by their would-be imitators, and is as notorious as it is infantile. With modern physics and chemistry brandishing sticks of dynamite with the insouciance of a four-year old, what could be more preposterous than to induct political science into the same nursery of urchins?
Edward S. Corwin, “The Democratic Dogma and the Future of Political Science”
Alex Sparrow has been interested in the idea I’ve been discussing called ‘democratic efficiency.’ He encouraged me to talk a bit more about how to achieve it, and then since has written about this. His post is well worth checking out, and in many ways parallels my own thinking. But his use of the term democratic efficiency and mine are a different, so it seems worth taking the opportunity to explain my own position a bit more clearly. I also noticed as I looked through my posts that I had been defining democratic efficiency differently – by emphasizing different elements of the idea. This no doubt adds to the confusion.
I’ve been talking a lot about politics as contested claim making, and how taking formal ideas like judicial review and democracy for granted distorts our understanding of politics. Related is the idea that a lot of analytic terms are really just justifications for the status quo, and we’d be better off finding a different set of terms that aren’t tied to such justifications.
This is different from the standard story of politics science, which says that the discipline used to confuse normative ideas for empirical ones, until the behavioralists (pdf) severed the ties between the two, thus truly becoming a science. Since that time, political theory (in essence, the study of normative ideas) has been a sort of odd fit in the discipline–not unlike judicial politics, although for different reasons. Read the rest of this entry »
Part of the critique of the standard approaches to judicial politics that I’ve been working on involves looking at the justifications offered for why the field chose decision-making as its standard concept of the thing to be explained, and why decision-making generally came to mean formal rulings on the merits by Supreme Court justices. I’ve argued elsewhere that part of this was a mistaken assumption that such decisions were action as opposed to talk and a mistaken assumption that decisions are necessarily efficacious.* (I say mistaken both because these assumptions are not true, but more importantly because they obscure rather than illuminate). Once we jettison those assumptions, it means that other actors should be brought into better focus and whether rulings are followed is an open question. This means shifting our attention from decision-making to legitimation and authority, with the more important question being not ‘why did this actor do as they did’ but ‘how will others respond.’ Read the rest of this entry »