Making Political Science Matter
By Beaudreault, Amy
Making Political Science Matter, edited by Sanford F. Schram and Brian Caterino, New York University Press, 2006. 304 pp. $24.00 (paper). ISBN: 978-0-8147-4033-0. If you read Bent Flyvbjerg’s 2001 book, Making Social Science Matter, Sanford F. Schram and Brian Caterino’s new book, Making Political Science Matter (2006), is the must-read companion; it’s a book that builds on an earlier debate started by Flyvbjerg, which makes reading Making Social Science Matter prior to Making Political Science Matter a logical choice for anyone interested in these topics.
In this wide-ranging and thought-provoking book, editors Schram and Caterino collaborate with fourteen prominent scholars from diverse backgrounds to discuss political science as a discipline today. Some of the topics include: the usefulness of rational choice theory; the ethical limits of pluralism; the use and misuse of empirical research in political science; the present-day divide between political theory and empirical science; the connection between political science scholarship and political struggles; and, the future of political science.
In Making Social Science Matter, Flyvbjerg attempted to persuade readers that the social sciences failed in research because the discipline has been unable to predict human interactions when compared to predictions made through utilizing methodology from the natural sciences. The construct is that social science data and theories belong in a different inquiry paradigm than the natural sciences. Instead of pursuing the natural sciences, Flyvbjerg proposed the Aristotelian idea of phronesis-practical understanding- as a path to direct the social sciences. Ultimately, as Schram and Caterino state in the introduction: “He (Flyvbjerg) did all this in a way that demonstrated how research could engage political decision making so as to enhance democracy” (p. 1). The overarching theme of Making Political Science Work is debating phronesis as a methodology.
Making Political Science Matter is divided into three sections- The Flyvbjerg Debate, Phronesis Reconsidered, and Making Political Science Matter. In the first section, David Laitin argues that formal modeling and statistics are the only methodology to conclude theoretical explanation in the social sciences. This argument is only naturally followed by Flyvbjerg’s rebuttal in Chapter Two-”A Perestroikan Straw Man Answers Back”-in which he explains why multiple methods in social science research are necessary. Turning to other facets of social science research, Patrick Jackson’s chapter, “A Statistician Strikes Out,” identifies statistics as useful in the prediction of factual outcomes, yet statistics are not helpful in the prediction of easily changeable behaviors of social interactions.The section closes with “Reflections on Doing Phronetic Social Science,” a case study written by Corey S. Shdaimah and Roland W. Stahl, which employs phronetic social science to understand a housing project in a Philadelphia low-income neighborhood.
The second section of the book focuses on underlying issues of phronetic social science, where the authors cite Nietzsche, Aristotle, and Machiavelli. A good read in this section is Leslie Paul Thiele’s “Making Intuition Matter,” in which the author agrees with Flyvbjerg in challenging rational analysis and scientific methodology but also advises researchers to not turn their backs on science. “Athletes improve with practice,” Thiele writes on p. 205. “But they also benefit greatly from the scientific investigation of optimal training methods.”
The final section of the book focuses on the implications of phronetic social science in political science. Issues discussed include agonsim vs. consensus, graduate education reform, and limited publication of alternative perspectives. The book closes with a chapter by Timothy Luke, who states that political science needs to focus on ethics, freedom, and politics and to focus on the larger picture rather than argue over methodology.
Overall, Making Political Science Matter is a useful book that exhibits many different perspectives on social science research. The chapters are clearly written and cohesive. As stated earlier, this book is a companion to Making Social Science Matter and should be used as such; without being familiar with Flyvbjerg’s work, readers will not fully receive the benefits of the arguments presented. Because of the language and prior knowledge necessary for complete understanding of the book’s contents, the book would be suitable for higher-level graduate course, if coupled with Making Social Science Matter. The content would be ideal for a seminar class where students could discuss among themselves the views portrayed and how those views affect their discipline. Most importantly, Making Political Science Matter is a book that challenges the reader to think and engage in lateral thought.
Fluvbjerg, B. 2001. Making Social Science Matter. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Reviewed by Amy Beaudreault
The Ohio State University
Copyright Rural Sociological Society Sep 2008
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