Political Scientists Question the Direction of American Political Studies

Historians in the News

The American Political Science Association's annual conference opened here on Thursday, and the U.S. presidential campaign is, not surprisingly, on almost everyone's lips. The program includes dozens of panels on voter turnout, presidential rhetoric, campaign advertising, and the politics of race.

But amid the frenzy of election-season chatter, four prominent scholars came together on Thursday afternoon for a grim panel discussion on the health of the subfield known as American politics. Three of the four panel members said that the subfield—at least as it is now defined and structured within most political-science departments—has grown bloodless and hyperquantitative, while the fourth gave a partial defense of the field's direction.

"We have defined what counts as 'American politics' too narrowly, and we therefore study American politics inadequately," said Rogers M. Smith, a professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania.

The field has restricted itself, Mr. Smith said, to quantitative analyses of public opinion, voting behavior, and legislative action, giving too little attention to courts and the executive branch, and neglecting insights offered by historians, theorists, and the study of other nations.

Anne Norton, who is also a professor of political science at Penn, said that Americanists have largely ignored, for example, the debates about the Guantánamo Bay detention center and other recent assertions of executive authority....
Read entire article at Chronicle of Higher Ed

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