Every time I see a car with a ‘happy family’ sticker on the back, I always wonder, why does the owner of the car feel to have the need to tell people along the way that his family is happy? What if it doesn’t? the sticker is only used as a gimmick to hide the truth that his family, say, is not happy. If wealth is to be used as a ‘measure’ for happiness, wealthy –and therefore happy– families do not put those weird stickers on their expensive cars. We have never seen the latest expensive sport car with a happy family sticker on the back, have we?
Almost the same thing happened in the study of social sciences, including political science. I will never forget Robert Keohane’s story in “Political Science as a Vocation” about his economist colleague who once said, “any discipline with science in its name is not really science!” Even if political science continues to impose itself as a branch of science – which requires mathematical formulation, precise quantitative testing, or even experimental validation – political science, he continued, would indeed be an oxymoron.
The same anxiety was also experienced by Woodrow Wilson (1911) who, as Ellen Grigsby mentioned, disliked the name of political science. Politics should not be understood with an objective and narrow measurement model. Study on politics involves many aspects because it refers to many important aspects of human life, therefore scientific approaches are feared to obscure the most interesting side of political life.
However, and this is what I think is important, the task of all studies is to come up with something understandable and reliable; and we cannot do it unless we use a scientifical approach. That is why, Ellen wrote “History of the Discipline” to show that the study of politics underwent extraordinary developments, all of which were intended to none other than –she wrote— investigate, analyze, and explain politics and political life.
I am pleased to observe that the study of politics has progressed to not only focus on governmental institutions (as traditionalists do) or political actors (as behavioralists do), but has gone further by discussing the means of political (postbehavioralism) because political studies have to be meaningful, specially to address urgent political problems. The postbehavioralism approach also seeks to erase the old debate about whether politics is really science or not, that it by stating that science and values –which in this context I define as political means— are inextricably connected. Politics may indeed not science, yet the two cannot be separated.
Realizing that politics is not a science is important because the main goal of politics is not to become a science per se, therefore political science, wrote Ellen, should not seek to model itself on the strict application of scientific methods. Perhaps, science is also not good for political development because science tends to be value-free – and behavioralist is even proud of this –, politics concerns the interests of many people and those people are not merely objects of study, but living beings that have value. The study of politics is certainly very good to be carried out scientifically, yet there is no need to eliminate its value to make it so-called value-free.
I agree with Dryzek’s statement, who firmly stated that political science should be stepped in everyday life and its concerns, not isolated from it as an esoteric, specialized, value-free science. I now understand that science – as ‘happy’ in ‘happy family’ – could be a hope, not a state of condition. The people whose cars have happy family stickers could actually hope that their families are really happy, just like the sticker says. And just like the stickers, the word “science” in “political science” could also mean a hope that this object of studies can be investigated, analyzed, and describes using scientific methods so that it is meaningful to address political problems. And as a hope, I believe postbehavioralism may not be the last approach we can all find or use to understand political phenomenon, yet for sure, postbehavioralism has opened possibilities for it.
At the end, we all want to be happy, and I am not sure if we can do it scientifically.
- Dryzek, J. S. (2006). Revolutions without enemies: Key transformations in political science. American Political Science Review, 100(4), 487-492.
- Grigsby, Ellen. (2011). “History of the Discipline,” in John T. Ishiyama and Marijke Breuning (eds.). 21st Century Political Science: A Reference Handbook. Los Angeles: SAGE Publication, Inc. pp. 5.
- Keohane, R. O. (2009). Political science as a vocation. PS: Political Science & Politics, 42(2). 1.