Political science question

One can hold a lot against political science, but certainly not that it is boring. It's about terms such as power, interests, legitimacy - those basic elements of politics that can turn an election night into a thriller and a legislative process into a drama. Political science helps to understand why right-wing populists are so popular, why a troublemaker like Donald Trump could become American President and why Brexit is likely to become a problem for Great Britain. In a time that is more political than it has been in a long time, the importance of political science extends far beyond the lecture halls of the republic.

However, if you believe those professors who are currently going tough with their own subject, then the opposite is the case and the discipline loses its relevance massively. In the academic world, the competition also revolves around who can explain the major political questions most conclusively - and who can thus be heard by the general public apart from the specialist audience. Political scientists compete with lawyers, historians, economists and philosophers. And many a political scientist now fear that his subject will not cut a good figure.

In many cases, measuring and calculating have taken the place of arguing and evaluating

The discussion began a good year ago. The right-wing populists had already poisoned quite a few debates, but the great disasters called Brexit and Trump were still vague. The party researcher Frank Decker and the extremism researcher Eckhard Jesse criticized under the heading "Subject without radiation" in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung their guild. Political science has "marginalized socially and politically," it lags behind the sciences of economics, law and history in terms of public effectiveness. Political science has largely given up its role as normative democracy science and has developed into a specialized social science that is no longer so much concerned with values ​​and ideals, but above all with numbers and statistics.

That cannot be dismissed entirely from the hand. A number of chairs in the state now prefer quantitative methods to qualitative methods - in the place of pure argumentation and evaluation, measurement and arithmetic have often taken the place. Fundamental questions such as the ideal form of government, which built a bridge between ancient state theory and modern political science, have become rare. Instead, students and researchers are increasingly devoting themselves to highly specific questions within individual policy fields, which they then often address with statistical programs.

It is now controversial whether this trend is as bad as claimed. Decker and Jesse find it ominous, and Carlo Masala, chairman of the German Society for Political Science, recently joined the time Even more pointed: Everything is political, "only not German political science," he wrote. Since the specialty has become more important than the attempt to answer politically relevant questions, the subject threatens to degenerate into a fringe discipline.

The view that specialization may not lead to academic ruin, but to the social self-dwelling of political science, has provoked some fierce opposition within the academic community. And especially when you have studied this subject to the end, you have to be able to say with an inevitable residue of subjectivity: This contradiction is entirely justified.

Sebastian Huhnholz from Munich's Ludwig Maximilians University was one of the first to oppose his colleagues Decker and Jesse. He accused them of drawing a caricature: They only apply "the visibility of a certain type of scholar as evidence of effectiveness", while highly specialized political scientists have long been welcome talk show guests and run successful science blogs. Politics professors Marc Debus, Thorsten Faas and Armin Schäfer hit the same line: "Insights are not gained by the fact that great minds deal with weighty questions and then communicate them to the astonished public". Although political science likes to fall back on classical thinkers, it is itself a young academic generation. In Germany it did not emerge until after the Second World War - apart from precursors such as the German University of Politics, which was founded in Berlin in 1920. So it is not surprising that the first professors mostly came from other subjects. It is common for freshmen students to first explore the contours of their discipline, but in political science this demarcation from its neighboring subjects has always been used excessively. Above all, this has to do with its interdisciplinary character - there has never been a "pure" political science.

Considering its small size, the compartment casts an astonishingly large shadow

In the fifties, a change then set in: the "behavioralist turn" for the first time did not focus on the big picture, but on the individual. From then on, the political behavior of individuals was increasingly researched and thus all kinds of quantitative approaches flowed into the method box of political scientists. Over time, this trend reversal undoubtedly led further and further away from normative questions, but can also be interpreted positively: As an expression of critical self-reflection, for example, as a result of the insight that the big questions in life would not be big questions if they could be answered comprehensively - especially in a world that is becoming more and more intertwined and complex. Political science has concentrated on what it is particularly good at: to go as deeply as possible. In the age of industrialization, the division of tasks and specialization in factories set new standards, now the same thing is happening in the information society. Political science moves with the times. The accusation that it is marginalizing itself can be corrected: it is only modernizing itself.

Concern about the influence of discipline therefore seems to be exaggerated. Before and after important elections, well-known party researchers regularly provide information on the background in news programs and round tables. Political science cannot complain about a lack of interest among young people either. In the 2015/16 winter semester, more than 30,000 students were enrolled in the subject nationwide - 21 percent more than at the end of the 1990s. Meanwhile, economics grew by 17 percent, economics by twelve percent, and law by just two percent. Only historians are more popular than political scientists: up 28 percent.

In all of this, one thing should not be overlooked: Political science is a comparatively small research discipline. Only 1,540 full-time political scientists work at German universities. Twice as many scientists work for historians, more than three times as many for lawyers, and economics is ten times as large. Seen in this way, political science is something like the little man in the group of comparable subjects. But it casts an astonishingly large shadow.