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Scholasticism in Political Science

  • Lawrence M. Mead (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 17 June 2010

Criticism of trends in political science centers on specific methodologies—quantitative methods or rational choice. However, the more worrisome development is scholasticism—a tendency for research to become overspecialized and ingrown. I define that trend more closely and document its growth through increases in numbers of journals, organized sections in the American Political Science Association, and divisions within the APSA conference. I also code articles published in the American Political Science Review to show a growth in scholastic features in recent decades. The changes affect all fields in political science. Scholasticism serves values of rigor. To restrain it will require reemphasizing relevance to real-world issues and audiences. To do this should also help restore morale among political scientists.

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R. Douglas Arnold . 1982. “Overtilled and Undertilled Fields in American Politics.” Political Science Quarterly 97(1): 91103.

Samuel H. Beer 1977. “Political Overload and Federalism.” Polity 10(4): 617.

Gary King . 1991. “How Not to Lie With Statistics: Avoiding Common Mistakes in Quantitative Political Science.” American Journal of Political Science 35(3): 1047–53.

David D. Laitin , James A. Caporaso , David Collier , Ronald Rogowski , Sidney Tarrow , Gary King , Robert D. Keohane , and Sidney Verba . 1995. “Review Symposium: The Qualitative-Quantitative Disputation: Gary King, Robert O. Keohane, and Sidney Verba's Designing Social Inquiry: Scientific Inference in Qualitative Research.” American Political Science Review 89(2): 454–81.

Michael Parenti . 1983. “The State of the Discipline: One Interpretation of Everyone's Favorite Controversy.” PS: Political Science and Politics 16(2): 189–96.

Ian Shapiro . 2002. “Problems, Methods, and Theories in the Study of Politics, or What's Wrong with Political Science and What To Do About It.” Political Theory 30(4): 596619.

George Thomas . 2005. “The Qualitative Foundations of Political Science Methodology.” Perspectives on Politics 3(4): 855–66.

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Supplementary Materials

Mead supplementary material
Averages from APSR Coding for Figures 4 and 5

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Explanatory files

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APSR Articles by Methodological Orientation and Field

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APSA Member and Section Data for Figures 2 and 3

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Journal data for Figure 1

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