FUNDAMENTAL POLITICAL SCIENCE CONCEPTS
By Fred W. Riggs
By Fred W. Riggs
CONFIDENTIAL DRAFT: do not quote or reproduce without author's permission
The IPSA project on the Development of Political Science, sponsored by its Research Committee #33 on the Study of Political Science as a Discipline, is very interesting for COCTA, RC #1. If the important and most puzzling concepts used by IPSA Research Committees and Study Groups could be compiled, linked to each other, and to the research findings or theories in which they are used, the network of resources provided by the World Wide Web could be enhanced by the cooperative development of a tool that would be helpful to all political scientists. I visualize a process whereby each IPSA research group (including both RCs and SGs) could help by responding to a brief questionnaire providing information based on the short statement about its work provided on the IPSA Home Page.
A good starting point might be the classification of IPSA groups into a small system that suggests how each fits under a larger theme. John Trent in his open letter to research groups about the project speaks of orienting each group's theme "...to the broader topic which characterizes your sub-field as it is generally recognized in the discipline." Because groups are arranged by serial numbers reflecting the sequence of their establishment, there is no logical structure in their listing. Without pre-supposing any accepted classification of "broad topics," I went through the list and, judging solely by their titles, classified them under a set of rubrics that might systematize them: Area , Functions , Hybrids , Levels , Overviews , Sectors and Social categories. Admittedly, these are not the normal headings used by sub-fields in any Political Science Department, but they seem to categorize the IPSA groups in the following ways:
This sorting of the IPSA research groups is not intended to be critical. Rather, it could support the development of key concepts for Political Science. Each group can provide an expert statement on the focal concepts it studies, and the terms that best represent these concepts. However, for Political Science as a whole there must be other concepts that are not viewed as central to the concerns of any group. Political Scientists should, I think, be aware of them and some may want to propose new groups to look at hitherto neglected phenomena.
Parochialism as a Challenge. A major gap involves the study of one's own political system. Most American Political Scientists focus their attention on American politics, and the same is no doubt true in other countries where, for example, Canadian, French, Chinese, Nigerian, Brazilian, or Egyptian politics (and many others) attract most of the attention of local Political Scientists. In most of these countries, however, self-analysis is heavily comparative since their Political Scientists are well aware of the experience of other countries and tend to take them into account in their work.
Unfortunately, because of its pioneering role in the development of modern Political Science, Americans studying their own political system usually do so without making comparisons with other countries. Sometimes they say comparisons are not useful because of the uniqueness of the American system! Ironically, they seem to ignore the fact that one cannot know whether a system is unique without making comparisons. I believe the American system is quite exceptional for reasons that can only be understood after making comparisons.
Despite their belief in the uniqueness of the American system, many American political scientists believe that political principles drawn from the American experience are exportable as though they reflected universals of political wisdom. However, precisely because of its uniqueness, many generalizations based on the parochial analysis of American governance have limited applicability in other countries.
This applies empirically to technical assistance programs, especially in Public Administration, where rules and practices based on the American experience have been exported to developing countries, often with unexpected and unfortunate results. It also applies to international Political Science because so many political scientists around the world have studied in America and, if not, have at least read many American books. Political Science concepts need, I think, to be globalized, which means establishing generic concepts within which the concepts that are uniquely (or particularly) relevant to the American case can be understood as the special concepts they are.
Area Studies.We do not generate global concepts by means of area studies, a term reserved for the study of OTHERS, those who are different from oneself. Thus if an American studies Nigerians, that is area studies. Perhaps if Nigerians studied American politics they could also call that area studies. However, when Nigerians study their own country, or Americans do their own country, what do we call that? Certainly not "area studies!" We cannot say "indigenous" without suggesting a particular subject of area studies, the peoples who lived there first before settlers or conquerors appropriated their land. Nor can we use "local" because this word already refers to sub-systems within a polity.
Could we perhaps use endogenous,a word that has biological or organic meanings, but could be extended to polities? If so, we could use endogenous politics to refer to the study by anyone of their own political system.
Endogenous perspectives, like those found in the American context, become parochial unless they are couched in a comparative framework made possible by global consciousness. In such a framework, endogenous studies contribute to the universalization of Political Science both by adding concrete information about each local case, and also by enriching general concepts. The more we can learn about each concrete situation, the easier it becomes to formulate generic concepts that embrace all the differences -- it's like learning to know what a "cat" is after looking at the Angora, Burmese, Maltese, Manx, Persian, Russian, Siamese and Turkish varieties. One never sees an abstract "cat," but only particular examples of the species. Thinking of "politics" on the basis of the American experience is like trying to generalize about cats after having only seen the Persian breed. Only after looking at more breeds -- or polities -- can one distinguish between what is generic and what is just a special case. It is significant that the area-oriented IPSA groups focus either on third world countries or on the international and regonal levels. No groups promote the study of North American or European politics as a form of area studies, nor has any group yet emerged to look at the world-system in global terms.
Comparative Politics. Using the concept of endogenous politics can help us clarify what we mean by comparative politics. At the conference of the American Political Science association to be held in Atlanta, Sept. 2-5, 1999, 45 divisions will offer panels, among whom five will focus on "Comparative Politics," meaning in effect "non-endogenous" politics -- i.e., the politics of countries outside the U.S. The five categories include a general heading for Comparative Politics, followed by sessions that focus on "Developing Nations," "Communist and Post-Communist Countries," "Western Europe," and "Advanced Industrial Societies." The last rubric might include the U.S. However, U.S. is not explicitly mentioned in any of the 18 panel titles announced in the preliminary program for the Atlanta conference. "Europe and North America" occurs in one title, "global" in three and "welfare" or "welfare reform" in four of the titles.
Among the other sessions, 23 address topics that will be mainly
endogenous, 6 focus on international relations, 7 deal with political
theory, and 3 are hybrids. I doubt that any of the APSA panels will deal
with American politics in a comparative perspective. In the APSA context,
area and comparative studies overelap insofar as both
involve Americans looking abroad at other countries while ignoring the
U.S. The difference is that the former tends to focus on one country at a
time, non-comparatively, whereas the latter looks for explanatory
generalizations based on comparisons.
Among the IPSA research groups, 7 use the word, 'comparative', in their titles, but I suspect that the overwhelming majority of all IPSA groups actually involve intra-regional comparisons, making the inclusion of this word in their titles redundant. Moreover, none of the groups have an endogenous focus on any one country without benefit of comparisons. Thus a group on French politics, Russian politics, or Egyptian politics will surely use comparisons to establish the particularities of their country focus. This suggests to me that any glossary of key concepts in Political Science needs to make a distinction between endogenous studies that can be carried out in any one country without reference to others, and studies that take into account different political systems. Of course, area oriented groups explicitly focus on polities found within a geographic region, but in principle all of them involve comparisons. Endogenous studies by local people and area studies by outsiders can and should be merged in the IPSA context, viewing both as segments of what we may call global studies.
Executive Power. When one looks at the groups that focus on sectors of government, one may be struck by the absence of groups interested in executive power -- the role of presidents, prime ministers, and cabinets. The only exception is SOG (RG27) but its focus is primarily on links between the executive, cabinet, and top levels of the bureaucracy in pluralistic democracies. However, the executive power in these societies is also linked to the representative functions of "politics" as expressed in legislatures, political parties, and electoral systems. Thus chief executive provide bridges between institutionalized polyarchic power (the representative function) and the management of public administration through hierarchic (bureaucratic) power. One reason for this notabile gap may well be some conceptual problems rooted in historical accidents.
For Americans, under the influence of their separation-of-powers Constitution, executive power rests in the presidency, and there are, indeed, many studies of the presidency by American political scientists. However, because of the insularity of endogenous studies in the U.S., virtually all their treatises on the American presidency are parochially non-comparative. However, the fact that virtually all industrialized democracies except the U.S. have parliamentary systems in which the executive power lodges in the parliament and its Cabinet as a ruling committee, makes comparative presidential studies seem irrelevant. (To distinguish beteween these two quite different institutions, I shall capitalize Cabinet whenever the word is used to represent a governing body lodged within a parliament, by contrast with cabinet, uncapitalized, to represent presidential appointees who manage administrative departments.)
Actually, the comparative analysis of presidentialism would make a lot of sense provided all countries with separation-of-powers constitutions could be copmpared. However, this would involve comparing the U.S. with virtually all Latin American countries, and a few in Asia, Africa, and post-Communist countries. I believe such comparisons would be illuminating, but they violate the assumption that "developed" and "underdeveloped" countries cannot be compared with each other. Moreover, area specialists on Latin America -- who know the most about different presidentialist regimes -- resist making systematic comparisons with the U.S. system. Other area specialists who study Asia, Africa, and post-communist regimes, tend to argue that cultural and geographic differences are so important that any comparative study of presidentialist regimes, on the basis of their institutional form, would be unrewarding within their zones of attention. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that the APSA preliminary program for the Atlanta conference includes a panel on Comparing Presidential Systems in the listing for "Comparative Politics."
The executive power in parliamentary systems should also be studied comparatively under the heading of Cabinet government. I believe there are important differences in the way such Cabinets work, and they need to be studied very seriously. However, any research group on "Cabinets" would confront two conceptual obstacles.
The most obvious arises from the fact that this word is used in presidentialist regimes to refer to the presidential entourage, the top political appointees of the president who head executive departments. Unlike Cabinets, they are not a committee of the legislature, but an institutionally separate part of the executive branch. Historically, in the pre-parliamentary context of British monarchic power, it was correct to see the cabinet as a council of ministers accountable to the chief executive. However, when Parliament eventually triumphed over the King, the British Cabinet -- and in due course all other Parliamentary Cabinets -- became committees of Parliament accountable to the assembly, not the King or President, for their offices.
This led to the emergence of a new concept of Cabinet government that has become the norm in all industrialized democracies (except the U.S.) It needs to be studied comparatively, but it should not be confused with the very different structure that preceded it in England, and was replicated in the U.S. No doubt there are some obvious analogies between the two basically different kinds of exeutive system, but their fundamental dynamics are so different that comparisons between Cabinet Government and Presidential cabinets can only make sense when seen in the broader context of how the executive power is exercised in different kinds of polities.
No doubt cabinet members do need to mobilize support in Congress for their programs to succeed, but the ultimate decision to discharge or retain them in office is the President's. Moreover, the success of a cabinet member depends significantly on how well she or he can manage and coordinate the various bureaus and other units clustered in a department. Since each department is, inherently, a rival of other departments with many conflicts of interest, cabinet meetings are more likely to become arenas for conflict rather than a consensus-building forum. There is no special incentive for cabinet members to coordinate with other departments, a function that has evolved in the American case, outside the cabinet, through an increasingly powerful executive Office of the President. By contrast, of course, since Parliaments can discharge their Cabinets by a no-confidence vote, there is every incentive for members to present a united front and coordinate their diverse activities in order to stay in power.
A second source of confusion arises from the fact that even the most authoritarian and despotic regimes also have ruling groups called a "cabinet" -- I shall use quotation marks to characterize these so-called cabinets. Even more than in presidentialist democracies, such groups advise the chief executive and administer government departments, but they do not constitute a "Government." Their power, as a group, is notably less than that of Presidential cabinets -- and far less than that of Cabinets. However, in military regimes dominated by a military junta, members of the junta may take cabinet posts, creating the illusion that a "cabinet" is governing, whereas in fact it is only a facade for the ruling junta. Of course, the same principle applies to one-party states where the party's Secretary General or the Politburo controls the "cabinet." This means, of course, that in some countries the Executive Power has virtually no links with polyarchic (representative) institutions, or if they exist on paper, they are purely nominal in status. Research on chief executives, therefore, needs to take into account the extent to which it is or is not responsible to organs of representative governance.
No doubt there are other reasons why the executive power has not become a focus of comparative studies in the IPSA context. However, when one considers that there are groups focusing on legislatures, judiciaries, and electoral systems it seems strange that the balanced study of executive power it is actually organized throughout the world has been understudied. Moreover, although the main instrument for executing public policy in every country is a bureacracy consisting of appointed officials (civil servants and military officers), there is no IPSA group dedicated to studying them. Admittedly there is an IPSA group on bureaucracy in developing countries, and another on armed forces in general. However, it seems unlikely that either of them can generate a holistic understanding of the bureaucratic institution, viewed both as an administrative agency of governance and as, itself, a potent source of political power.
Sovereignty. In a global perspective, the notions of country and polity also need to be reconsidered. Westphalian states have been created during the last few centuries on the basis of a model of sovereignty that draws sharp boundaries between domains, attributing a constructed identity to what happens within each of these bounded areas. The accelerated mobility of migration, information, trade, money and credit, religion and recreation, have blurred these boundaries, created diasporas of dispersed peoples staying in contact with and helping to re-shape the places they think of as their home" or "mother" lands." Thus every ethnic nation and every sovereign state in the world today has become globalized -- its members live in many places and interact with each other regardless of where they live. Every city, every province, every religious community, every university, and many other "centers" now locate themselves as nodes in their own global networks. In order to talk intelligibly about these transformations, we need new concepts and terms that can represent them unambiguously.
Consider, for example, the distinction we can make by comparing government and governance. The former looks at the formal structures of government at the state and inter-state levels. These include constitutions, legislatures, electoral systems, executives, bureaucracies, courts, federalism, and local government. By contrast, governance involves all the forces and considerations that affect what governments do and how they influence people, directly or indirectly.
Many IPSA groups cut across these categories, dealing both with states as formal institutions and with many non-state actors or forces that impinge on states. The accelerating pace of migration, the flow of information, money and goods -- as noted above -- has already led to radical re-structuring of states and their inter-relations. More and more governance involves supra-state and sub-state organizations that both limit what governments can and must do, and also impose new kinds of responsibilities on them.
Talk about the "withering" of the state falsifies a more complex reality -- states are losing their authority in some domains while increasing their responsibilities in others. We need, therefore, to be able, I think, to focus on complex transformations of the state. Moreover, globalization increasingly impinges on the scope and problems confronting every IPSA research group. Many panel sessions do take these forces into account, but we need to enrich our vocabulary in order to distinguish between many dimensions or aspects of globalization, and to re-think the established categories of Political Science in order to view them in a global context. (See some preliminary thoughts on concepts relating to globalization)
The Evolution of the Discipline. A series of different concepts have shaped and re-shaped our understanding of our discipline as it has evolved in relation to other fields of knowledge. Many writers have discussed politics and administration for thousands of years, but it is only within the last two centuries that Political Science has emerged as an academically institutionalized discipline. It might be useful to recognize some different stages. Roughly, until the 20th century, political science existed only in embryo. There were, of course, very perceptive writers about politics in ancient times, in China, India, Greece, Rome, and Medieval Europe. The American Federalists wrote illuminatingly about the constitutional problems of the new republic, and foreign observers, like de Toqueville, greatly illuminated our understanding of American politics.
However, it was not until late in the 19th century that one could find established programs and centers for studying governance in American universities. Meanwhile, there had been many efforts by reformers and progressives who sought to diagnose such problems as political corruption, administrative inefficiency, and violence and to propose remedies. They looked to other countries to find inspiration for policies that might be useful in the U.S. -- Woodrow Wilson's name comes to mind. At the secondary school level, courses designed to help individuals become useful citizens were established under the name of "civics."
It was only in our century, however, that organized departments of Political Science branched off from Philosophy, Law, History or Political Economy to gain recognition as a separate discipline. The emergence of other social science disciplines took place at about the same time and led to a fragmentation of knowledge based on the social structures that had become institutionalized in the West. Political regimes have existed for a very long time. However, it was the emergence of the post-Westphalian state -- accompanied by the Industrial Revolution, the rise of democratic governments and modern empires, plus the growth of nationalism as a state-building force -- that ultimately provided an institutional framework, plus motives and resources, for the creation of modern Political Science. Its development as a discipline is a 20th century pheonomeno.
The American Political Science Association was not founded until early in the twentieth century: the first issue of its Review appeared in November 1906. As for IPSA, it was founded in 1949, after World War II, when UNESCO provided the necessary support. Since then, national political science associations have constituted its core. Its founders were national associations in the U.S., Canada, France and India. At present, 41 associations are active collective members.
In today's world, the globalizing forces released by these transformations have created a world in which the established Westphalian categories and premises no longer work. Most of the world's peoples live in new states that are the products of imperialism and its collapse. They retain treasured social practices from the past while seeking to place themselves in the complex cross-pressures of the modern world. Political Science has to confront a host of new realities that do not fit the established categories of the post-Westphalian world.
Moreover, the West itself has become so different from what it used to be that the established concepts and disciplinary frameworks we know so well have become outmoded. Increasingly, indeed, the boundaries between Poliltical Science and other disciplines has become so amorphous that realistic research on any concrete real-world problem can only be fruitful when it is multi-disciplinary in character. Testimony to this fact can be found in the fact that among IPSA's 48 research committees and study groups, 19 (some 40%) are hybrids linking Political Science with other disciplines. I assume that the hybrid groups not only need to find common ground with the professional concepts and terms employed in other disciplinary contexts, but as they work together, they discover the need for new concepts shaped by evolving social, political, economic, and cultural realities. We have taken an old term from Economics for use in the hybrid field of Political-Economy while economists looking at the political factors affecting economic behavior can only speak of externalities.
Conclusion. In this context, we now have an opportunity, in view of IPSA's project on "The Development of Political Science," to create a revised nexus for understanding governance in our world. All IPSA research groups can, I hope, participate by providing a succinct statement about their own focal concepts and the terms they use to represent them.
To this end, we can ask each group to supplement the four papers they will be preparing by responding to a short COCTA questionnaire reviewing the statement about their goals and activities found on the IPSA Home Page, identifying any terms whose definition has puzzled them, and identifying the scholars who pioneered by planning their group: see the draft for such a questionnaire, with explanatory notes. Responses to such a questinnaire will be used by COCTA to provide a map of some troublesome concepts and their linkages as found in the work of IPSA's Research Committees and Study Groups. A cooperative analysis of this data should help provide an overview of global Political Science, and suggest some mmissing concepts that could usefully be added to our repertoire. The third COCTA session at the Quebec Congress will strive to offer a conceptual framework that all IPSA members could use to help all political scientists learn more about the current state of our discipline and how its future can evolve.
Undoubtedly, each group needs to have many technical supporting concepts for its in-house research -- there is no need to disseminate them more broadly. However, each group, as part of IPSA, also needs to use a general vocabulary shared by all Political Scientists. Such a vocabulary will help them reach and learn from colleagues in other groups who may want to use their findings. Our goal, surely, is not to encourage self-contained enclaves of knowledge whose members can only communicate solipsistically to each other. For the discipline to flourish, we we not need a common language that will enable all Political Scientists, everywhere in the world, to understand and learn from each other.
IPSA's Research Committee #33 on "The Study of Political Science as a Discipline" is planning to publish a volume on Genealogy and Concept Formation in Political Science. Perhaps we could join forces to link the history of key concepts now used by Political Scientists with inquiries into how new and increasingly necessary concepts that take the realities of a globalizing world into account can be developed.
The COCTA methodology which has evolved over the past 30 years may now be put to use in a way that will help all IPSA members -- through the RC33 project -- to develop our understandings of Political Science. As we enter a new millennium, this seems to be an auspicious opportunity for all of us.
These are not established sub-fields of Political Science. Rather, they are intuitively derived categories based on an impressionistic analysis of the titles of IPSA groups. No doubt some groups could be classed under more than one of these headings, but only one was arbitrarily selected for each group. Closer analysis by each group based on its own experience will surely generate different results, leading to revised categories and a new classification -- it would be useful if they would do this. Meanwhile, here is a preliminary analysis, merely an illustration of what can be done.
Area Focus: geographically defined regions and global perspecives - 5
Functions: political status and policy orientations - 4
Hybrids - linkages between Political Science and other Disciplines - 19
Levels - national, state, inter-state, and global - 5
Overview - concepts, contexts and methods for understanding governance - 5
Sectors of Government - institutional sub-systems - 6
Social categories - class, caste and gender as subjects and objects of policy - 3
See linked pages:  COCTA Sessions in the Congress Program || COCTA || Onomantics || IPSA groups || RC01 || RC33 
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