What Political Science Needs to Learn from Science Studies
17 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 21 Aug 2009
Date Written: 2009
Both political science and science studies are studies of the common, of efforts to come together, to discuss, deliberate, and decide. The most exciting work in the human sciences in the last thirty years is in the sociology of science and in closely allied fields, yet this work has been ignored by practicing political scientists. I explore three lessons that we political scientists need to learn from the sociology of science. First, that there are no data, only facts: the truth is not out there, we have to make it. Second, facts are made somewhere: policy is locally produced, that is to say, it is produced in places located within a network of people and things. Third, to understand how and where policy is produced we need to follow the actors into the sites where they produce it. This third lesson has been followed in political science, almost uniquely, by Richard Fenno, in his masterful studies of American congressional representatives and senators. Yet by reading Latour, we can learn to take Fenno's approach into every area of political research. In particular, we need to follow the actors in international relations, since the study of international institutions succeeds only inasmuch as it produces microstudies of how and where particular international norms and institutions are constructed. Certainly, we political scientists do not need to read science studies in order to become more scientific: we need primarily to learn from the methods that are practiced in science studies, not from the science that is the object of those practices. One thing we can learn from recent sociology of science is that we need to become less "scientific," that is, less wedded to the goal of general theory, and thus better able understand how particular political choices are made, executed, and revisited.
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