Message from the Chair


What is Political Science?

“Despite being professionally trained in a contradictorily named discipline called Political Science, I have resisted the temptation of attempting to resolve by fiat the problem of disciplinary coherence raised in the minds of my fellow ordinary language users by such a disciplinary label: how can a field of study deeply concerned with things that are so passionate, so value laden, so personal and so encompassing as ‘politics’ or ‘society’ be a science?”

These words appear on the very first page of a book, Rediscoveries and Reformulations by Hayward Rose Alker. Harold Lasswell, another political scientist once said that “politics is who gets what, when and how.” Others think politics is elections run on 2, 4 or 6 year cycles. Or perhaps if someone is feeling cynical, or disappointed, politics is people in ties telling lies so that they can get elected. Or perhaps you have read the bumper sticker “everything is political.”

For Aristotle, politics is about the arrangement of the political community so that its members can be virtuous and happy. Politics is the way we come to define and pursue our collective goals. It is a way to talk to each other so that problem solving is possible. Political deliberation occurs inside governments, but it also occurs in the public sphere. It is everywhere. It is a process for coming to decisions about the good life that we as a political community will pursue. It is the way we humans solve our collective problems.

What is it that we do in Political Science as a discipline and in this department? Quite simply we study politics. But what is politics? And is it amenable to scientific, that is, disciplined analysis?

At BU, like most political science departments, we teach and study political theory which helps us understand how the great thinkers on politics have understood political community, power, and forms of government. We teach and study American Politics, including historically, and its manifestations in local, state, and national government and social movements. We also study the politics of the rest of the world, in the field known as Comparative Politics. We also study International Relations and diplomacy, including how the world came to be structured as it is.

If you want to study politics, you want to ask why and how questions about the political world. Why and when do people vote? Which political systems are more democratic? How do race and gender affect political attitudes? What is justice and fairness in political community? Why is the world’s distribution of wealth the way it is? Why does war persist and how do institutions constrain war? What are leaders thinking when they use violence against nonviolent protesters? How do social movements change the world? Or do they?

We invite you to join us in exploring these and other questions of power, justice, fairness, and change.

Neta Crawford, Department Chair