Political science and theory

Political Theory is an interdisciplinary effort whose center of gravity is at the humanities pole of Political Science. Although its traditions, approaches, and styles may vary, what unites political theory is its commitment to theorizing, criticizing, and diagnosing the norms, practices, and forms of organization of political action.

Those who dedicate themselves to political theory are called “political theorists” and their objective is to study politics from the humanities. Of course, to this day there is much disagreement about exactly what this means. The political theorist, on the other hand, is usually skeptical about the hegemonic approach of the social sciences, the one that has exclusively scientific pretensions.

In recent decades, the study of politics has become increasingly formal and quantitative. Within the academic world, therefore, there are those who believe that the interpretive and qualitative approach is less valuable. Political theory, however, is oblivious to the “quantitative vs. qualitative” and is positioned, rather, between normative political philosophy and the study of empirical politics.

What Does A Political Theorist Do?

Political science and history

It cannot be denied that political theory has an irreducible normative component. Its study can be systematic or diagnostic; textual or cultural; critical, genealogical or deconstructive in its method; liberal, socialist or conservative. Political theory is constructed from these and other approaches.

Political theory is a hybrid sub-discipline that does not have a dominant methodology or approach. When a political theorist is asked how he defines himself, he usually does so in terms of those authors who have most influenced his thought of him: Deleuze, Arendt, Rawls, Habermas, among others.

It might seem, then, that political theory lacks a defined identity. Some political theorists see themselves as arbiters of universal questions and explorers of immemorial texts. Others, however, place an emphasis on the study of the history of political ideas. Many see the uncertain and diffuse character of the discipline as a reflection of the uncertainty that characterizes the political world in which we live.

Fortunately for the task of the political theorist, the reflection on the nature of the discipline coincides with a moment in which the academy has turned towards interdisciplinarity. This reconsideration of the way in which knowledge is produced and the limits of academic disciplines can serve the political theorist (and others) to see the virtue and strength in the plurality of approaches and methods. Such diversity does not require rectification nor should it be seen as a weakness.

Political Theory And Political Science

The relationship of Political Theory with Political Science has not always been a happy one. Since Political Science exists as such (late 19th century), there have been frequent claims about its “new” scientific character. In the early 1950s, the behavioral revolution attempted to extirpate political theory from the discipline. Later, the stream of rational choice ( rational choice ) would try to do the same.

From the perspective of behaviorism and rational choice, the work of the political theorist does not fit within a discipline that has scientific aspirations. William Riker, for example, thought that Political Science should reject “beautiful letters, criticism, and philosophical speculation,” along with “hermeneutics and phenomenology.”

Thus, within the world of Political Science, there are those who distinguish the “true” scientific study of politics, on the one hand, and the more humanistic approach, on the other. Political theory, then, has had to endure and suffer the consequences of this marginalization, which has dominated the landscape of Political Science for several decades.

Political Science and Political Theory are in a complex relationship of cohabitation. There are tensions, antagonisms, and important differences between the two, but there is also tolerance, cooperation, and a common task.

Political Theory And History

There are also meeting and disagreement points between Political Theory and History. Especially when it comes to the question of how far it is possible to understand political ideas outside of their historical context. Another interesting point of debate between both disciplines is the possibility of using political principles of one era to criticize political practices in a different era.

Quentin Skinner, famous for his commitment to historical contextualism, has suggested that the principles of republican liberty may be useful in offering an alternative to today’s notion of liberty. Despite his careful work, however, Skinner’s proposal attracted multiple criticisms.

Ultimately, politics is not about universal truths that survive the test of time. It is not, however, just about particular interests and contingent instrumental debate ( who gets what, how and when ). Political theory, in its attempt to understand political reality, cannot ignore the historical context, but neither can it ignore the fact that certain ideas can “travel” from one era to another.

Political Theory And Philosophy

Philosophy has an important influence on political theory. One of the most influential authors in contemporary political theory is, without a doubt, John Rawls. Rawls’s work on justice ( A Theory of Justice ) derives fundamentally from analytic philosophy and represents an ambitious, normative, and systematic investigation of liberal democracies.

In his work, Rawls follows the philosophical thought of Immanuel Kant in order to find a solution to one of the oldest problems in politics: the search for a balance between freedom and equality. Following Rawls, many contemporary political theorists have continued this discussion of justice.

The alliance between analytic philosophy and political theory has turned out to be a productive alliance and has generated some of the newest and most interesting work in recent decades. Of course, Rawls’s liberal approach has also been criticized. The currents of communitarianism, post-structuralism, and feminism are just some of the alternative theoretical approaches to the Rawlsian perspective.

Political Theory And The “Real” World

The way in which Political Theory has positioned itself against Political Science, History, and Philosophy can be read, in part, as a reflection of the meaning of politics. It can also, if you like, be understood as reflecting the nature of theory and what can (and cannot) be done in theoretical work.

The greatest criticism of the work of the political theorist is related to his supposed utopian vision of society. Indeed, when theoretical explorations generate conclusions that cannot be implemented, political theory shows its most vulnerable side.

There are political principles that, due to their nature or empirical conditions, cannot be put into practice in a reasonable way. An important part of theoretical work, however, remains on the possibility of imagining utopian scenarios. The possibility of doing so also means the possibility of thinking beyond the world as it is presented to us.

Contemporary political theory pays careful attention to the challenges presented by the ecological crisis; security and emergency policies; the impact that new technologies have on our privacy, justice, or our concept of what is human; the impact of migration on our ideas about race, tolerance, and multiculturalism; and the consequences of growing economic inequality on the concepts of freedom, equality, democracy, sovereignty, and hegemony.

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