Posts tagged political science

foreignaffairsmagazine:

Why Robert Dahl was such an important political and social scientist: http://fam.ag/1mn6ir8

If you are at all interested in political science and political theory, but especially American democracy, you need to read at least one of his books.

foreignaffairsmagazine:

Why Robert Dahl was such an important political and social scientist: http://fam.ag/1mn6ir8

If you are at all interested in political science and political theory, but especially American democracy, you need to read at least one of his books.

Keep a Role for Theorists

Via kohenari:

A short, compelling paragraph that I wish more people would read and think seriously about (from Gary King’s essay, “Restructuring the Social Sciences: Reflections from Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science”):

Because most of the advances in the social sciences have been based on improvements in empirical data and methods of data analysis, some argue that the theorists (economic theorists, formal theorists, statistical theorists, philosophers, etc.) have no part in this type of center. This makes no sense. In every social science field, and most academic fields, a friendly division exists between theorists and empiricists. They compete with each other for faculty positions and on many research issues, but all know that both are essential. The empiricists in your center will need to interact with theorists at some point, and the theorists will benefit by conditioning their theories on better empirical evidence. The fact that the big data revolution has enabled more progress on the empirical front does not reduce what theorists can contribute.[1]


  1. Moreover, theorists don’t cost anything! They require some seminars, maybe a pencil and pad, and some computer assistance. There is no reason to exclude them, and every intellectual (and political) reason to include them.  ↩

Yes!

Ironically, I’m now grading graduate comprehensive exams in political theory at my new job (at a department with a terminal MA program). My previous position was at a flagship university with a political science PhD program that does not offer ANY theory courses (?!!)

theatlantic:

Why Today’s Inventors Need to Read More Science-Fiction

How will police use a gun that immobilizes its target but does not kill? What would people do with a device that could provide them with any mood they desire? What are the consequences of a massive, instant global communications network?
Such questions are relevant to many technologies on the market today, but their first iterations appeared not in lab prototypes but in the pages of science fiction.
This fall, MIT Media Lab researchers Dan Novy and Sophia Brueckner are teaching “Science Fiction to Science Fabrication,” aka “Pulp to Prototype,” a course that mines these “fantastic imaginings of the future” for analysis of our very real present. Over email, I asked Novy and Brueckner about the books they’ll be teaching, the inventions that found their antecedents in those pages, and why Novy and Brueckner believe it is so important for designers working in the very real world to study the imaginary. An edited transcript of our correspondence follows.
Read more. [Image: jonny2love/flickr]


I also think more social scientists should read more science fiction. Most science fiction isn’t just about new technology—it’s about how new technologies transform human societies (politically, economically, and culturally). These make for great ways to stretch one’s mind to think about world systems (à la Wallerstein) or how technological changes drive social change (à la Marx or its nemesis, modernization theory) or even how cultural changes might drive political changes (à la Tocqueville).

theatlantic:

Why Today’s Inventors Need to Read More Science-Fiction

How will police use a gun that immobilizes its target but does not kill? What would people do with a device that could provide them with any mood they desire? What are the consequences of a massive, instant global communications network?

Such questions are relevant to many technologies on the market today, but their first iterations appeared not in lab prototypes but in the pages of science fiction.

This fall, MIT Media Lab researchers Dan Novy and Sophia Brueckner are teaching “Science Fiction to Science Fabrication,” aka “Pulp to Prototype,” a course that mines these “fantastic imaginings of the future” for analysis of our very real present. Over email, I asked Novy and Brueckner about the books they’ll be teaching, the inventions that found their antecedents in those pages, and why Novy and Brueckner believe it is so important for designers working in the very real world to study the imaginary. An edited transcript of our correspondence follows.

Read more. [Image: jonny2love/flickr]

I also think more social scientists should read more science fiction. Most science fiction isn’t just about new technology—it’s about how new technologies transform human societies (politically, economically, and culturally). These make for great ways to stretch one’s mind to think about world systems (à la Wallerstein) or how technological changes drive social change (à la Marx or its nemesis, modernization theory) or even how cultural changes might drive political changes (à la Tocqueville).

Can political scientists measure “quality” of democracy?

Based on the recent article I co-authored with my friend, Mihaiela Ristei Gugiu, the short answer is: not really, no.

In a recent article in Political Analysis (.pdf available here), we analyze democracy scores produced by a range of different indexes (Freedom House, Polity, others). We find that the indexes are able to distinguish democracies and non-democracies. But they’re not able to distinguish very well between democracies.

This is more than just a simple intellectual exercise. It has very important consequences. It calls into question a lot of the research out there that uses democracy “scores” as a variable (whether as dependent or independent) in large-N statistical analysis. We suggest that the errors introduced into such models make their findings highly suspect. Why? Because we find that democracy—at least as measured by the existing indexes—simply is not a linear or continuous variable. The difference between democracies in Spain and Brazil and South Korea is not a product of “degree” (how close they each approximates some point on a democracy continuum), but a difference of “type” (provided all three are accepted as democracies).

Really, the result is rather humbling. And suggests we (political scientists) need to go back to the drawing board when it comes to empirical studies of democracy (and democratization). We (Mihaiela and I) have some ideas, but it mostly involves going back to mine Dahl’s classic Polyarchy.

But, in the meantime, if you’re simply looking for a way to clearly distinguish which countries are democracies and which are non-democracies. Well, have we got an index for you!

Interested in multicultural/plurinational electoral politics in Latin America? Come check out this talk on April 11 at the University of Mississippi. It’s part of this year’s Croft Institute for International Studies lecture series.
Very happy to have (finally!) gotten my friend Todd Eisenstadt to come to campus to talk about his research. The talk will focus on Mexico—particularly the recognition of traditional cultural practices in local politics (“usos y costumbres”)—but he’s also familiar with a number of other cases. Todd and I are on upcoming panels at LASA and APSA to discuss the Bolivian case, and I have a chapter in his recently published volume: Latin America’s Multicultural Movements (Oxford University Press).

Interested in multicultural/plurinational electoral politics in Latin America? Come check out this talk on April 11 at the University of Mississippi. It’s part of this year’s Croft Institute for International Studies lecture series.

Very happy to have (finally!) gotten my friend Todd Eisenstadt to come to campus to talk about his research. The talk will focus on Mexico—particularly the recognition of traditional cultural practices in local politics (“usos y costumbres”)—but he’s also familiar with a number of other cases. Todd and I are on upcoming panels at LASA and APSA to discuss the Bolivian case, and I have a chapter in his recently published volume: Latin America’s Multicultural Movements (Oxford University Press).

See, while it might surprise most of you out there reading this, very little political science actually talks about politics. This is particularly true in the subfield of “American” politics (the one that people like Coburn care about). That is, if you were to pick up a political science journal — especially but not exclusively the APSA’s American Political Science Review, the alleged leading journal in the field — it would be incomprehensible to you. You would see row after row of calculus equations arrayed in models that purport to analyze some political phenomenon or another. You wouldn’t think of it as analyzing politics at all.

Political science navel gazing | Politicalprof

In which Politicalprof succinctly explains why most outside observers don’t think we are worth funding. Read the whole post. It’s part of the angst many in my profession are currently feeling after the government decided to end public funding (or at least subject it to an “American interests” litmus test) of political science.

The problem is that we (political scientists) have clearly done a terrible job of convincing the public at large—and probably most of our own students—of the public utility and value of a political science education.

In fact, last year a colleague and I did a survey of all the 100-level political science courses (over 1,300 students that semester in intro American, Comparative, and IR courses). We measured student attitudes on a variety of indicators, and also asked them a battery of demographic questions. We found that individual student political efficacy actually dropped, even when controlling for race, gender, social class, age, etc. And even when controlling for median class GPA and teacher evaluation averages (we wanted to control for teacher effects). The findings were fairly robust. It was depressing: Taking a course in political science was likely to reduce a student’s internal and external political efficacy (that is, the belief that he/she can understand and effectively participate in, politics).

Oh, we also asked them about their interest in political science. Their interest dropped between the first and last weeks of the semester. Depressing. Which is why I haven’t yet pulled the paper back out and sent it to any journal. Though perhaps I should.

Bolivia Methods Field School

Interesting in learning social science research methods with a focus on their application in “fieldwork”? And/or interested in taking a course about politics and culture of the Andes in Bolivia? Then you should think about the summer field school program my wife (an anthropologist) and I (a political scientist) teach in Bolivia this summer. 

The methods part covers everything from ethnography to archival work to multivariate regression. Questions? Ask us! More information here.

PS. Our program is open to graduate students, too.

Qualitative v. quantitative

From Greg Weeks at Two Weeks Notice:

The qualitative vs. quantitative divide in political science annoys me. It annoys me even more when people use the cutesy “qual” and “quant” as pronouns (as in “quant” for “person who uses quantitative methodology”).

It annoys me because in my opinion it should be self-evident that either method can be used really well or very poorly. I’ve read reams of both, and found some interesting and some banal, some downright terrible. Why so many people want to self-segregate is beyond my comprehension.

This is why I felt compelled to comment on Andrew Gelman’s post at The Monkey Cage. He mocks David Brooks and then equates journalism with qualitative work:

Just to be clear: my point here is not to pick on Brooks, it’s more to demonstrate the gap betweenthe quals and the quants. Statisticians such as myself see sweeping statements and immediately think, “Yeah? Really? Why do you say that?”, while journalists such as David Brooks or Samantha Power seem to think deterministically and don’t seem to let data get in the way of their ideas.
Paradoxically, it is the quants who can be more accepting of uncertainty, while the quals are always ready to think that some simple formula can explain the world.
He makes fun of those who make sweeping statements, and then makes the sweeping statement that all qualitative analysis is inferior. The idea that qualitative research looks for “simple formulas” is absurd and has no empirical foundation.

I just don’t understand the sneering, combined with the need to proclaim superiority.

As someone who uses—and teaches—both “qualitative” and “quantitative” methods, I agree. The debate is silly. It’s like debating whether a Philips or flathead screwdriver is better. The answer is, it depends. What kind of screw is it?

The Myth of American Exceptionalism | FP

There’s a strong tendency among Americans—and my students are no exception—to simply take for granted as a core belief that America is “Number 1” in the world. That’s not always true, as they often discover (unless they refuse to, which they often do) when faced with evidence. But now more than ever, such blind belief in America’s invincibility is dangerous. The surest way for a great power to decline into irrelevance is to do nothing to correct its course. But that requires: (a) diagnosing the problem correctly, (b) critically evaluating the options, and (c) understanding how to implement new policies in effective ways. 

And that’s why comparative politics is more relevant than ever.

The Loathsome Life of a College Professor

kohenari:

From my good friend Michael Tofias:

John Hudson says, being a college professor isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. And that I am probably a depressed, childless, narcissistic jerk? Sounds about right (via Michael Zimmer).

Madness, I say.

But let me expand on this just a bit, especially since the new semester begins next week and I’ll be teaching my graduate seminar in political theory. I usually tell grad students that it’s the best class they can take … but that shouldn’t surprise anyone, as I always tell undergrads that my political theory courses are the best and most important classes available to them at the university.

Is my mouth writing checks that my syllabi can’t cash? Maybe a little. But only a little.

My classes are designed to appeal to people who like the sorts of things that I like. They’re the classes I loved taking when I was in college. We read a lot of books, we talk about timeless questions, we think about ways in which the answers to those questions impact the way we live today, we try out different ideas and see if they work, we debate and discuss … and, throughout, I pepper students with pop culture references and lessons in grammar.

What could be better? Honestly, what?

When students take my classes and then go off to law school, I wonder what went wrong. Law school — and lawyering, thereafter — isn’t anything like what we do in my classes. Grad school and teaching, that’s the model here.

Of course, grad school isn’t for everyone; it’s not even for some grad students. It’s not enough to enjoy reading and thinking, though that is a big part of my job. You also have to be able to write and to come up with ideas about which you must then write. So, really, a good portion of my day is given over to thinking and talking and writing about ideas that interest me.

I’m not sure if there’s any other job that I’m capable of doing. But I know there’s no other job that would make me as happy.

Thus, I’m always amazed by the Hollywood portrayal of college professors, some of which is directly referenced in the piece to which Tofias direct people above and with which Tofias seems to identify; if I’m remembering all the movies correctly, there isn’t a single professor character with whom I actually identify. They’re all completely self-involved; they have almost no common sense; they seem entirely disconnected from the world around them; they generally have some sort of substance abuse issue; they have terrible home lives and relationships; and — perhaps most strangely — they all seem to be failures at teaching or writing or both.

Last year, I watched “Tenure,” a film in which Luke Wilson’s hapless professor character attempts to get tenure and then realizes — after failing to get tenure, in part due to his inability to publish anything and in part because of his behavior and the behavior of his odd colleagues — that being a tenured professor really isn’t something that he’d want out of his life. Having just successfully navigated the tenure process myself, I thought I’d get a few laughs out of the film … but there was literally no part of the film that had anything at all to do with my experience. Not a single moment.

Since they can’t find a way to succeed in either their personal or their professional lives, these movie professors make for at least marginally interesting characters in the way, I suppose, that I do not; the general lack of anything to do during the day or night means that the screenwriter can imagine all sorts of wacky situations into which they can be tossed. And no one ever says, “I don’t believe that could ever happen. It’s 11am on a Wednesday. Doesn’t he [It’s almost always a “he” in these movies] have something to do?” These are professors, after all. 11am on a Wednesday is a meaningless distinction. And yet, with so little going on in their lives, it’s hard to believe that these schlubs so consistently fail to get anything accomplished, even as it’s not at all hard to imagine that they keep filling their days with bizarre shenanigans.

Happily, I suppose, my life is nothing like these fictional professors. You probably don’t want to watch a movie in which I read books, spend hours typing at my laptop, play with my kid, make dinner for my family, watch movies, go to meetings, await publication decisions, and talk with students in and out of the classroom. There are no shenanigans.

But I’m also not depressed, addicted, lonely, or excessively narcissistic. My colleagues at the University of Nebraska don’t seem to be either. I like working with them; I even enjoy spending time with them outside of the office. This might be the exception and so I might be selling people an unreal or unreasonable bill of goods. But I don’t really know how else to describe it. My experience as a college professor isn’t at all like the one described in the Atlantic Wire piece to which Tofias links.

In fact, I love my life, I love my job, and I love my shenanigan-free days of reading, writing, discussing, and thinking. Of course, I’m also incredibly lucky to be in this job; it’s a bad bet right now to go to grad school with the hope that you’ll wind up behind the desk in my office in 5-10 years and I attempt to explain this to students who express an interest. Most, though, don’t ever even express an interest and I’ll admit that it puzzles me.

In the end, I don’t need you to want my job; I’m just surprised that you don’t.

What he said! (Except I liked and identified with the film “Tenure”.)