Skip to main content
×
Home
    • Aa
    • Aa

Technique Trumps Relevance: The Professionalization of Political Science and the Marginalization of Security Studies

Abstract

I explain here the disconnect between our discipline's self-image as balancing rigor with relevance with the reality of how we actually conduct our scholarship most of the time. To do so, I account for variation in social scientists' willingness to engage in policy-relevant scholarship over time. My theory is that social science, at least as it has been practiced in the United States since the early twentieth century, has tried to balance two impulses: To be a rigorous science and a relevant social enterprise. The problem is that there are sometimes tensions between these two objectives. First, historically the most useful policy-relevant social science work in the area of national security affairs has been interdisciplinary in nature, and this cuts against the increasingly rigid disciplinary siloes in the modern academy. Second, as sociologist Thomas Gieryn puts it, there is “in science, an unyielding tension between basic and applied research, and between the empirical and theoretical aspects of inquiry.” During wartime, the tensions between these two impulses have been generally muted, especially among those disciplines of direct relevance to the war effort; in peacetime, they reemerge and there are a variety of powerful institutional incentives within academe to resolve them in favor of a narrow definition of rigor that excludes relevance. My objective is to document how these trends in political science are marginalizing the sub-field of security studies, which has historically sought both scholarly rigor and real-world relevance. — Michael Desch.

This essay is followed by responses from Ido Oren, Laura Sjobreg, Helen Louise Turton, Erik Voeten, and Stephen M. Walt. Michael Desch then offers a response to commentators.

Copyright
Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Robert Art . 1973. “Bureaucratic Politics and American Foreign Policy: A Critique.” Policy Sciences 4(4): 467–90.

Paul C. Avey , and Michael C. Desch . 2014. “What Do Policymakers Want from Us? Results of a Survey of Current and Former Senior National Security Decision-makers.” International Studies Quarterly 58(4): 227–46.

Richard K Betts . 2002. “Fixing Intelligence.” Foreign Affairs 81(1): 4359.

Stephen Biddle , Jeffrey Friedman , and Jacob N. Shapiro . 2012. “Testing the Surge: Why Did Violence Decline in Iraq in 2007?International Security 37(1): 740.

Miguel Angel Centeno . 1993. “The New Leviathan: The Dynamics and Limits of Technocracy.” Theory and Society 22(3): 307–35.

Carol Cohn . 1987. “Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals.” Signs 12(4): 687718.

David Easton . 1969. “The New Revolution in Political Science.” American Political Science Review 63(4): 1051–61.

David Ekbladh . 2011/12. “Present at the Creation: Edward Meade Earle and the Depression Era Origins of Security Studies.” International Security 36(3): 107–41.

William T. R Fox . 1962. “Frederick Sherwood Dunn and the American Study of International Relations.” World Politics 15(1): 1219.

Jeffrey Frieden , and David Lake . 2005. “International Relations as a Social Science: Rigor and Relevance.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 600: 137–38.

Matthew Furman , and Sarah Kreps . 2010. “Targeting Nuclear Programs in War and Peace: A Quantitative Empirical Analysis, 1941–2000.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 54(6): 831–59.

Thomas F Gieryn . 1983. “Boundary Work and the Demarcation of Science from Non-Science: Strains and Interests in Professional Ideologies of Scientists.” American Sociological Review 48(6): 781–95.

Alexander Hamilton , James Madison , and John Jay . 1961. The Federalist Papers. New York: Mentor.

Jeffrey Herbst . 1940. “War and the State in Africa.” International Security 14(4): 117–39.

Samuel P Huntington . 1998. “One Soul at a Time: Political Science and Political Reform.” American Political Science Review 82(1): 310.

Patrick Thaddeaus Jackson , and Stuart J. Kaufman . 2007. “Security Scholars for a Sensible Foreign Policy: A Study in Weberian Activism.” Perspectives on Politics 5(1): 95103.

Bruce Jentleson . 2002. “The Need for Praxis: Bringing Policy Relevance Back In.” International Security 26(4): 169–83.

Bruce Jentleson , and Ely Ratner . 2011. “Bridging the Beltway-Ivory Tower Gap.” International Studies Review 13(11): 611.

Barry M Katz . 1989. Foreign Intelligence: Research and Analysis in the Office of Strategic Services, 1942–1945. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Joseph Kruzel . 1994. “Review: More of a Chasm Than a Gap, but Do Scholars Want to Bridge It?Mershon International Studies Review 38(1): 179–81.

Joseph Lepgold . 1998. “Is Anyone Listening? International Relations Theory and the Problem of Policy Relevance.” Political Science Quarterly 113(1): 4362.

Kenneth Lieberthal . 2006. “Initiatives to Bridge the Gap,” Asia Policy 1(1): 715.

Thomas Mahnken . 2010. “Bridging the Gap between the Worlds of Ideas and Action.” Orbis 54(1): 413.

Daniel Maliniak , Amy Oakes , Susan Peterson , and Michael J. Tierney . 2011. “International Relations in the Academy.” International Studies Quarterly 55(2): 437–64.

Edward D. Mansfield , and Jack Snyder . 1995. “Democratization and War.” Foreign Affairs 74(3): 7997.

Lisa L Martin . 1999. “The Contributions of Rational Choice: A Defense of Pluralism.” International Security 24(2): 7483.

John Mearsheimer , and Stephen Walt . 2013. “Leaving Theory Behind: Why Simplistic Hypothesis Testing Is Bad for International Relations.” European Journal of International Relations 19(3): 427–57.

Robert K Merton . 1945. “Role of the Intellectual in Public Bureaucracy.” Social Forces 23(4): 405–15.

Robert Multhauf . 1959. “The Scientist and the ‘Improver’ of Technology.” Technology and Culture 1(1): 634–45.

Anne Norton . 2004. “Political Science as a Vocation.” In Problems and Methods in the Study of Politics, ed. Ian Shapiro , Rogers M. Smith , and Tarek E. Masoud . New York: Cambridge University Press.

Barry R Posen . 1993. “Nationalism, the Mass Army, and Military Power.” International Security 18(2): 80124.

Robert D Putnam . 2003. “APSA Presidential Address: The Public Role of Political Science.” Perspectives on Politics 1(2): 240–55.

Dorothy Ross . 1991. The Origins of American Social Science. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Dorothy Ross . 2003. “Changing Contours of Social Science Disciplines.” In The Cambridge History of Science, vol. 7 of The Modern Social Sciences, ed. Theodore M. Porter and Dorothy Ross . New York: Cambridge University Press.

Chalmers W. Sherwin , and Raymond Isenson . 1967. “Project Hindsight.” Science [new series] 156(3782): 1571–77.

Edward Shils . 1949. “Social Science and Social Policy.” Philosophy of Science 16: 219–42.

Lee Sigelman . 2006. “The Coevolution of American Political Science and the American Political Science Review.” American Political Science Review 100(4): 463–78.

Theda Skocpol . 2003. “Doubly Engaged Social Science: The Promise of Comparative Historical Analysis.” In Comparative Historical Analysis in the Social Sciences, ed. James Mahoney and Dietrich Rueschemeyer . New York: Cambridge University Press.

Ezra F Vogel . 2006. “Some Reflections on Policy and Academics.” Asia Policy 1: 3134.

Stephen M Walt . 1991. “The Renaissance of Security Studies.” International Studies Quarterly 35(2): 211–39.

Stephen M Walt . 1999. “Rigor or Rigor Mortis? Rational Choice and Security Studies.” International Security 23(4): 548.

Stephen M Walt . 2005. “The Relationship between Theory and Policy in International Relations.” Annual Review of Political Science 8: 2348.

Leslie A White . “Sociology, Physics and Mathematics.” American Sociological Review 8(4): 373–79.

Aaron Wildavsky . 1972. “The Self-Evaluating Organization.” Public Administration Review 32(5): 509–20.

Harold L Wilensky . 1964. “The Professionalization of Everyone?” American Journal of Sociology 70(2): 137–58.

Phillip Zelikow . 1984. “Foreign Policy Engineering: From Theory to Practice and Back Again.” International Security 18(4): 143–71.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Perspectives on Politics
  • ISSN: 1537-5927
  • EISSN: 1541-0986
  • URL: /core/journals/perspectives-on-politics
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 23
Total number of PDF views: 103 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 699 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 28th June 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.