Problems and Methods in the Study of Politics, Ian Shapiro,
Rogers M. Smith and Tarek E. Masoud, eds., Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 2004, pp. xi., 419.
This important volume recounts a meeting of some the best minds in
political science, but, in the end, it is a meeting in the physical sense
(as the volume comes out of a conference held at Yale in 2002) and not
really in any intellectual sense. The ostensible goal of the volume is to
proffer answers to what the editors call “a fundamental question
about the proper place of problems and methods in the study of
politics…. Which should political scientists chose first, a problem
or a method?” (1). Unfortunately, a good many of the contributors to
the volume ask whether this is a question at all. Perhaps unsurprisingly,
most of those who reject the question do not have objections to the
increased technical and mathematical nature of modern political science.
And, equally unsurprising, those who suggest that method has too often
come before problem are those who have earlier, and often eloquently,
bemoaned the rise of rational choice theory and econometric applications.
As an intellectual rapprochement, the work fails. It rather resembles a
dinner of extended family, where long-held differences and grievances are
kept just under the breath, but as a collection of essays by leading
scholars which consider the methodologies and epistemologies of political
science, the volume is a smashing success.