Seeking Relevance: Toward a Strategic Plan for Political Science
19 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 25 Aug 2015
Date Written: 2010
Surveys suggest that in the 1970s most political scientists wished they had chosen a different profession, a true tragedy, as Ricci (1984) writes. We discuss the causes of alienation, but also offer data suggesting that the situation had improved markedly by 1999. We speculate that this has much to do with a better job market and more realistic expectations about that job market. Nonetheless, all is not well. Both conservative senators and prominent political scientists continue to question the importance of Political Science (e.g., Cohen 1999). The APSA has attempted to increase its relevance by returning to its Progressive roots, attempting to shape public policy in a statist direction. We argue that such attempts will lack empirical power and political legitimacy, and thus will have little impact. Instead, using lenses borrowed from strategic planning and from the public personnel management literature, we argue that our field should build stronger links with the applied world. Second, APSA needs to study and systematize public personnel issues of the field, much as we have already (quite properly) done regarding race and gender issues. Third, we should encourage political debate within the field. This would require valuing political diversity and intellectual flexibility. Finally, to a considerable degree the Political Science niche is that of a prep school for lawyers. This is not the right market for us. Rather, given American voters' remarkable ignorance of the political system, we should take over new markets: undergraduate civic education and the training of secondary social studies teachers. In this way we can, over time, assure both a more rational electorate and our own relevance.
Keywords: political science, academia, civic education, graduate study
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