Should Political Scientists Care More About Politics?

Archon Fung says yes in his review of Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson’s Winner Take All Politics for the Boston Review, and name-checks Lee Sigelman.

One might think that the counterweight would come from the ranks of political scientists and sociologists at American Universities, but few academics have come forward. In an article that commemorates the centennial of the American Political Science Review, Lee Sigelman surveys the kinds of articles that have been published in the Review. Sigelman isolates several categories including “policy prescription or criticism” and “policy prescription or criticism with presentation of empirical results.” During the intellectual ferment of the Progressive Era and New Deal period, 20 percent of articles fell into the two categories. Since 1967, however, only six of 1,526 articles in the Review fit in the two categories. Sigelman writes:

If ‘speaking truth to power’ and contributing directly to public dialogue about the merits and demerits of various courses of action were still numbered among the functions of the profession, one would not have known it from leafing through its leading journal.

Political science may displace economics as the dismal science at just the time when we need new visions of political possibilities. Given this broader trend toward disengagement, we all owe Hacker and Pierson a huge debt. They are forging an important path in the field by working on problems that are of urgent concern to all Americans, by trying to understand how and why we got here, and by putting us in a position to imagine how we can do better.

[Cross-posted at the Monkey Cage]

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Henry Farrell

Henry Farrell is an associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University.