What are the different approaches for Studying Politics ?



There is no unanimity about the way politics should be studied. Over the years opinions on this have varied. For a long time politics was considered as coming within the scope of Philosophy, History or Law. However, in the late 19th century, there took place a shift in this view.

An attempt was initiated to make the study of politics scientific. The philosophical tradition of politics gradually yielded to the scientific tradition of politics. Emphasis was shifted from political norms and values to political behaviour. Since late 19th century, behaviouralism has dominated the study of politics.

However, of late, emphasis on values in the study of politics has been revived. It is now realized that while scientific method is useful for studying politics, the study of politics would be directionless and meaningless if it does not aim at realizing some values. This renewed emphasis on norms and values in studying politics has given birth to 'post-behaviouralism'.

There are a number of approaches to studying politics. The three important among them have been discussed here.

1. The Philosophical Approach:

The philosophical approach concentrates on the values which a political system should set for itself. It emphasises that a political system should be based upon certain ideals and that it should strive to give shape to them.

Plato, the Greek philosopher, represented best this philosophical tradition of politics. He said that it was the duty of the philosopher-king to establish the ideal society based on justice. In the medieval period, this tradition was continued by Augustine and Aquinas.

The philosophical approach is also known as the traditional approach. It involves an analytical study of ideas and doctrines which have long formed the core part of political thought. However, this approach has been criticized on the ground that it cannot be scientific as it ignores objective reality.

2. The Empirical Approach:

The empirical approach stresses on 'experience' or ground reality in the study of politics. Though this approach took a systematic theoretical shape in the 17th century as a result of the influence of John Locke and David Hume, this approach is almost as old as the philosophical approach.

The first practitioner of this approach was Aristotle who studied a large number of constitutions in order to prepare a classification of constitutions. Machiavelli's 'Prince' which is an objective account of statecraft and Montesquieu sociological theory of government and law belong to this empirical tradition.

Behaviouralism in politics has been a product of the empirical tradition. It focuses on the study of political behaviour.

The philosophical approach is normative; it is based on values and norms. On the contrary, the empirical approach is based on ground reality. Further, the philosophical approach is prescriptive, because it makes judgments and makes recommendations. But the empirical approach is descriptive because it tries to objectively study politics without any bias and prejudice.

3. The Scientific Approach:

Karl Marx has been hailed as the first to have described politics in scientific terms. Through his 'materialistic interpretation of history,' he developed some 'Laws' which helped him predict the future. Those who sought to make the study of politics scientific argued that hypotheses could be verified on the basis of objective quantifiable data.

In 1950s and 1960s the study of politics assumed a new form called "behaviouralism" or "behavioural persuasion in politics". This doctrine, marking the theoretical development of the scientific tradition of the study of politics, made a big impact. But before long it faced criticism and challenge.

In 1970 a group of scholars argued that "behaviouralism narrowed down the scope of Political Science and undermined its quality by ignoring the value or values and norms in the study of politics. They stood for going back to political values and norms without discarding the scientific method of collecting and processing data. This new phase in the study of politics has been known as post-behaviouralism. The writings of John Rawls and Robert Nozick reflect this trend.