ROUNDTABLE ON KEY POLITICAL SCIENCE CONCEPTS
IPSA CONGRESS, QUEBEC CITY, AUGUST 2000
AGENDA OF QUESTIONS TO BE DISCUSSED
PURPOSE: The roundtable on key concepts in Political Science has been authorized on the premise that it will contribute to the long-term goals of the project on developing Political Science sponsored by RC33 and directed by John Trent. He wrote to us that he would like us to provide an analysis of the COCTA experience and, more specifically, "an analysis of the use and abuse of terms and concepts in political science and what progress your RC or others have made in trying to straighten out our thinking -- and what can be done about it all."
As for the COCTA experience, the best answer is now available in a paper by Henry Teune that can be found on the INTERNET at: http://www2.hawaii.edu/~fredr/teune8.htm. We shall not try to cover that ground in this roundtable. However, we will attempt to clarify some problems involved in the use and abuse of terms and concepts, and the difficulties involved in trying to straighten out our thinking. We will do so under the following four headings, on the basis of suggestions discussed in the notes. The first two topics are related to the "use and abuse of terms" and the other two may help us "straighten out our thinking."
1. WHAT IS POLITICAL SCIENCE?
2. WHAT DO TERMS LIKE STATE, NATION AND PEOPLE MEAN?
3. ARE POLITICAL SCIENCE CONCEPTS UNIVERSAL OR ONLY LOCALLY RELEVANT?
4. WHAT ARE THE GOALS OF CONCEPTUAL AND TERMINOLOGICAL ANALYSIS
#1. POLITICAL SCIENCE. If we understand political science to be the term for a concept identifiable as the science of politics, may we then assume or seek general agreement among IPSA members about what we mean by science and by politics. Even if we also agree that political science is the science of politics, can we agree about the meanings of science and politics? Alternatively, should we think of Political Science (capitalized) as the name of a discipline whose content can shift over time and place, just as, for example, Green names a party whose aims have to be understood apart from whatever meanings we may assign the familiar word green? If so, we are free to assign many meanings to the name of our discipline and agree only on the use of this name. If we take the Research Committees of IPSA as an indicator of the various research themes political scientists investigate, some interesting answers to these questions may be found -- cf. <http://www2.hawaii.edu/~fredr/ipsacon.htm> (See Note 1 for some comments)
#2. STATE, NATION, PEOPLE, GOVERNANCE. To make the first question more concrete, can we identify some key words used by political scientists and inquire into their meanings across time and space? Enid Bloch in her deep study <http://www2.hawaii.edu/~fredr/bloch.htm> has pointed out how the state changed meanings as it moved from Germany to America. Chung-si Ahn pointed out how Japan and Korea had also imported this term with further semantic shifts related to the addition of nation. How important is it for us to track such transformations? In each case, differences in the political contexts of each country deeply affect the meanings assigned to these words. Should we, then, focus on some of the key words used in our discipline -- consider, for example, "people," "governance," "democracy," "republic," "liberalism" "justice," "human rights," "freedom," "equality." Although these words may have had unambiguous meanings in the countries where they were first used by political scientists, their meanings often changed as they were imported and re-used in other countries. Should we study these changes and reflect them in our vocabulary? (See Note 2)
#3. LOCALIZED CONCEPTS. The European Thematic Network for Political Science recently conducted a seminar on core concepts of European Political Science. Participants attempted to distinguish important political science concepts needed in Europe. They found that some of the key terms used by Americans in their writings failed to express clearly some of the central concepts needed by Europeans. How should we respond to this kind of regional or national focus in Political Science? Is it possible to develop a general language for universally relevant concepts that all Political Scientists (or all IPSA members) can use with clarity? Mattei Dogan in his perceptive contribution to our discourse explains how often, and with what effects, the terms of discourse have not only floated geographically but also among academic disciplines, most notably between Sociology and Political Science -- see <http://www2.hawaii.edu/~fredr/dogan.htm>. Do we need localized concepts and special (or indigenous) terms to deal with the ever-changing political realities found in different countries and regions around the world? Should the terminology of each discipline be easily distinguishable from that of others, or can they be harmonized? How, also, can we factor in the problem of translating the terms used in different languages (English, French, Spanish, German, Japanese, Arabic, etc.) for important political science concepts? (See Note 3)
#4. GOALS. Matti Malkia of Finland asks us to consider whether the goals of our discourse do not affect the choice of terms and their meanings. Perhaps the concepts we need also vary with the purposes of our inquiry. He proposes three key processes that need to be distinguished from each other: theory formation, scholarly communication and reflection (metatheoretical) or critical analysis.
Concerning the first, George Graham stresses methodological problems such as the distinction between large and small n research -- operationally defined concepts are needed in the former and more fuzzy concepts may be inescapable in the latter. He wrote: "Methodology is the set of standards for presenting formalized knowledge about relationships among political phenomena whereas political science techniques are tools for uncovering relevant facts." This distinction poses questions about the universality of metaconcepts and metatheories -- put differently, are the research methods and techniques developed in Western contexts equally relevant for application everywhere? Although political phenomena may vary significantly, the same may not be true for our methodologies and techniques. Is that true?
1. POLITICAL SCIENCE
2. STATE, NATION, PEOPLE
3. LOCALIZED CONCEPTS
#1: POLITICAL SCIENCE. Defining Political Science raises questions about the identity of politics as a phenomenon presupposing the existence of modern states, relationships between these states and the public/private distinction. Are these simply Modern Western constructs or do they have universal validity, especially in the contemporary context of globalization and the rise of world capitalism? Such questions challenge our goals as a discipline -- can we promote purely detached inquiries, or also encourage normative judgments and efforts to promote reform, democracy, justice, or development. Terms like "Political Studies," "Public Law" "Policy", and Government identify a focus of study but not a methodology. By putting science into our name, have we implicitly also moved from traditional kinds of normative and institutional analysis to behaviorism and now, postmodernism? There are those who think that as now construed, political scientists have moved too far from their earlier focus on politics and values. Consider the following note received recently from a distinguished political scientist who wrote:
* For some years now, I have not attended... IPSA on the simple grounds that political science -- now that it has taken the astonishing direction away from any demonstrable interest in the worlds of politics -- simply bores me. [He now teaches students outside Political Science who] have an avid interest in learning about the political and governmental processes of many countries... [and]could not care less about the empirical theoretical underpinnings of what some of us think we know about political systems and processes.
This note reveals a sense of disillusion with Political Science as a discipline that we ought to confront. What are its sources and how can they be corrected? Among the important reasons for the movements that have taken our discipline so far from its original focus on urgent political problems is the increasing ambiguity of our terminology. Quibbles about what a word means can distract attention from important substantive issues. As non-Western societies have confronted our world system with new phenomena and problems, our entrenched vocabulary no longer provides adequate tools for description and analysis yet it has been stretched to refer to them because of our reluctance to accept new terms. The basic COCTA goal has been to provide more relevant tools that enable us to cope efficiently with this problem and to restore the capacity of our language to help us focus on real world political problems. Whether our goals are proactively normative or scientifically neutral we need concepts and terms that will permit meaningful analysis and action in all of the world's political contexts.
Note 2: STATE, NATION, PEOPLE. Chiung-si Ahn wrote to say that Enid Bloch's analysis of the American importation of the State from Germany http://www2.hawaii.edu/~fredr/bloch.htm applies also to Korean political Science, though indirectly through Japan. Korean scholars educated in Japan were originally influenced by German scholarship. Later, US-educated Koreans came to stress nation-building and modernization. Chiung-si then asks how we can relate concepts of the nation to those of the state. He notes that the nation also had a European origin and was used to justify efforts to exterminate Jews and Gypsies under the banner of "national socialism." The Korean interpretation of the state became important to Koreans while they were seeking independence from Japan, but after they gained their freedom, they stressed nation-building in a divided country. They interpreted the state to refer to a "nation-state" and sought to make their nation into a unified state.
Chiung-si then asked Enid to explain how the German (Hegelian) theory of "der Staat" treated the 'nation.' She responded: "Interestingly, the term nation seems rarely to appear in German thought. I do not find it anywhere, for example, in Hegel's Philosophy of Right. English translations of Hegel sometimes use the word nation to translate his term, das Volk, but in so doing they are seriously distorting the German meaning. The concept of "das Volk" had long been vital to German thought, perhaps all the more so because for so long a time there had been no established national borders or unified governmental authority, just a "people" spread among any number of kingdoms, dukedoms, bishoprics, etc., sharing only culture and language and a sense of themselves as "German." For Hegel it would have made little sense to think in terms of specific nations, German or any other, for he was interested in identifying the "consciousness" of cultures or civilizations as a whole. The State itself was largely a matter of "consciousness." "It is interesting to note," Enid continued, "that the Reichstag building bears the words, dem deutschen Volk, not "the German nation." Of course, the adjective "national" did appear in such names as the "National Socialist Party," but I am not sure how or why that occurred... In the name of "das Volk" Hitler felt fully empowered to bring all German-speaking people into the "Reich," whatever the national status of the territories in which they were living, such as Austria or Czechoslovakia."
Many political scientists today use nation-state to refer only to an independent state without any intention to signify the German concept of "Der Staat. Let me (Riggs) add a question or two. Why has "folk" not entered the vocabulary of American Political Science? Perhaps we use "people" as a synonym. The Declaration of Independence was written "...in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies...." The Constitution opens with the line: "We, the people of the United States..." and the UN Charter begins with this claim, "We, the peoples of the United Nations." Do Americans mean by people what the Germans mean by Volk?
A related question points to two concepts of a nation that can be distinguished from those of a state. The term usually refers to any community that can be identified with a state or seeks to become a state. This definition identifies two sub-concepts that can be distinguished from each other by using the terms, state nation and ethnic nation. "Ethnic nation" stands for a wide-spread modern phenomenon in which stateless communities organize to claim the rights of self-government based on contemporary views about the sources of sovereignty. By contrast, "state nation" can be used to identify states that seek to assimilate minorities to a dominant cultural system or even to exterminate them.
As for state, the word admittedly has many meanings but most contemporary political scientists use it to mean what they also call a "nation-state," meaning an independent or sovereign polity in the contemporary world system. This concept is clearly different from the idealized notion of der Staat described by Enid Bloch. It can also be distinguished from concepts of a sub-state in a federal system, or the public vs. the private sphere. However, it is misleading to use nation in the sense of a national state, i.e. a state in which nation and state coincide. That is an ideal-type that probably has no real world counterpart -- perhaps Iceland comes closest to it. Even more confusingly, the word nation is often used to mean an independent state, as in the name of the United Nations.
A discussion of terms like these illustrates how key words used in political science not only have changed their meanings as they move from country to country, but their meanings also shifted within their original Western contexts. This is especially confusing in non-Western contexts where the same terms are often borrowed to mean just one of their overlapping Western meanings, or even to take on new meanings.
Note 3: LOCALIZED CONCEPTS. The European Thematic Network for Political Science recently conducted a seminar on core concepts of European Political Science. Participants attempted to identify important concepts needed in Europe. They found that some of the key terms used by American political scientists failed to express clearly some of the central concepts needed by Europeans. Had they been working in India, Japan, Egypt or Argentina, they could well have raised even more radical questions about the local relevance of borrowed terms. How should we respond to this kind of regional or national focus in Political Science? Is it possible to develop a general language that all Political Scientists (or all IPSA members) can use with clarity -- or to what degree are local terms and languages needed to deal with the ever-changing political realities found in different places around the world? The discussion of state, nation and people easily feeds into this agenda question because it illustrates how the same word has been used for different concepts in different countries. We could say the same about liberal, republic, democracy, government, and many other core terms used in our discipline. Some personal thoughts about the development of the American vocabulary for talking about politics can be found in: http://www2.hawaii.edu/~fredr/pscon.htm.
Further complications affecting the choice of terms for political science concepts arises from the fact that most of them are also used in everyday, ordinary language and political scientists seek to write in a way that lay readers can understand. Consequently, whenever a specialized and precise meaning is stipulated for technical writing in Political Science, it may well have a different meaning for readers outside the discipline. That is bound to cause confusion, and raises complex additional issues that we may decide to ignore in this roundtable.
#4. GOALS. Matti Malkia of Finland asks us to consider whether the goals of discourse do not affect the choice of terms and their meanings. Perhaps the concepts we need also vary with the purposes of our inquiry. He proposes three key processes that need to be distinguished from each other: theory formation, scholarly communication, and reflection (metatheoretical or critical analysis).
Here is a paragraph about each:
THEORY FORMATION. Conceptual and Terminological Analysis (CTA) can help us develop more theoretically relevant concepts and frameworks that encourage systematic thinking. This includes the identification of conceptual systems that overcome incomplete structures and help us relate our work to existing theories and frameworks already known in the discipline. In this context, CTA involves the recognition of relevant concepts and the formation and evaluation of theories that confront real world problems throughout the world. Concepts are not theories and they are neither true nor false, but they are necessary and useful as the building blocks of valid theories.
SCHOLARLY COMMUNICATION. Conceptual and Terminological Analysis can help us clarify our language and communicate with others in a more understandable way. This involves communication at different levels: in ordinary language explanations for the general public; among all Political Scientists as members of a discipline; and among specialists not only in Political Science but also in hybrid fields where communication with social scientists in other disciplines is involved. Such communication is not only important in the present day but has a long-term significance insofar as it helps us achieve cumulative and more integrated systematic knowledge. It also needs to take into account the variability of political realities, especially now that globalization has thrust our discipline into a planetary context where great variations among countries and peoples need to be taken into account.
REFLECTION. Whatever we do needs to be subjected to critical (metatheoretical) analysis. This includes the Conceptual, Terminological and Theoretical analysis of existing scholarly work, hypotheses and theories, as they are found in the books, articles, papers and INTERNET pages that now flood us. The critical methods of CTA can help us understand what has been written and how it relates to the relevant writings of others. The tools of critical analysis are themselves concepts (or metaconcepts) needed to understand and explain the methods and techniques used by political scientists.
Can we relate Malkia's concerns to those of George Graham who stresses such methodological problems such as the distinction between large and small n research. Operational concepts that establish sharp boundaries for defining a concept are needed in the former whereas for the latter, it may be necessary to rely on fuzzy concepts where essential criteria are specified even though sharp boundaries cannot be drawn. Graham also stresses the distinction between methodology and techniques. Are the concepts identified by these terms clear and universally relevant, or do they also need contextualization as do the political realities studied by political scientists. If so, the established metaconcepts used by political scientists may also need reassessment in a global context.
Are all of these propositions valid and useful or should we revise and correct them? The purpose of our roundtable is to raise such questions and, hopefully, provide some useful answers.
DISCOURSE. The participants in the Internet based discourse for this roundtable are listed below. Some of them are able to join the roundtable discussion in Quebec. Others are in Quebec but cannot attend because of prior commitments in other sessions -- and, of course, some are not able to come to Quebec. All, however, are invited to join in a continuing discourse on these questions with a view to reaching some conclusions that will be truly helpful for John Trent's project on the development of Political Science.
Chung-Si Ahn <firstname.lastname@example.org>,
Dirk Berg-schlosser <email@example.com>,
Enid Bloch <firstname.lastname@example.org>,
David Collier <dcollier@socrates.Berkeley.EDU>,
Mattei Dogan <email@example.com>,
Yvonne Galligan <firstname.lastname@example.org>,
Lise Garon <Lise.Garon@com.ulaval.ca>,
M. J. F. Goldsmith <M.J.F.Goldsmith@pch.salford.ac.uk>,
George Graham <email@example.com>,
Jean Laponce <firstname.lastname@example.org>,
Matti Mälkiä" <Matti.Malkia@pakk.poliisi.fi>,
George Prevelakis <email@example.com>,
John Siew Tien Quah <firstname.lastname@example.org>,
Rod Rhodes <R.A.W.Rhodes@newcastle.ac.uk>,
Fred Riggs <email@example.com>,
Julian Santamaria <firstname.lastname@example.org>,
Andreas Schedler <email@example.com>,
Rei Shiratori <firstname.lastname@example.org>,
Henry Teune <email@example.com>
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