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David W. Congdon @dwcongdon
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1. THREAD. I've been an editor in political science at the University Press of Kansas (@Kansas_Press) for over a year now, and ever since I started I've been struck by something: the highly conservative character of the political science field.
2. As someone who spent the last 5 years editing books for an evangelical Christian academic publisher, I can say that working with university press-caliber authors in political science has felt like a lateral move in terms of political culture. It's truly *that* conservative.
3. Indeed in many ways, based on my experience, the political science field is significantly MORE conservative than the field of Christian theologians I worked with previously. This thread documents my quest to understand this phenomenon.
4. First, some political data. The much-discussed recent study by Mitchell Langbert analyzes the political party affiliation of tenure track, PhD-holding faculty from the top 51 liberal arts colleges.…
5. Langbert's study shows a fascinating contrast: religion has one of the highest Dem to Rep ratios at 70:1, while political science is much lower at 8.2:1. This corresponds exactly to my experience. But why is this the case?
6. In what follows I want to highlight a constellation of factors that seem to have contributed to this situation. I am no expert in this subject—and polisci insiders will know much of this already—so I welcome feedback and insight from those who know more.
7. Perhaps we should begin at the beginning, with the founding of the field of American political science in 1880 by John Burgess. While initially modeled after German Staatswissenschaft, the field quickly became Americanized as the science of US politics.
8. According to Dwight Waldo and John Dreijmanis, American political science (APS) saw itself as "uniquely important for the world" based on the notion that the US is a "new type of society whose manifest destiny 'is or will become the *human* experience.'"
9. Many scholars of APS, including Bernard Crick, John Gunnell, Richard Adcock et al., have argued that APS is "tightly identified with [classical] liberalism" (Jessica Blatt). APS has been an attempt to define, explain, and justify Western liberal democracy.
10. At the same time, as Blatt argues in her excellent new book on "Race and the Making of American Political Science," APS has also been deeply illiberal and authoritarian, underwriting white supremacy and American settler colonialism.
11. And as any critical theorist would tell you, liberalism has always been illiberal. The Enlightenment developed racism (just ask @jkameroncarter & @jbouie), & Adam Dahl's @Kansas_Press book shows that democratic theory is rooted in settler colonialism.…
12. APS's long dismissal of African American experience is not news—according to Rogers Smith it "became dominant from perhaps 1920 on"—but Blatt shows that political science's racism goes back to the very origins of the discipline.
13. Blatt points out that John Burgess's politics combined strong nationalism with "deep suspicion of active, centralized government." He believed in the necessity of a "homogeneous population" held in check by respectable "upper-class authority."
14. Burgess saw APS as an effort to "rationalize politics" and train an elite force of "enlightened public servants" who could reform civil service. Blatt points out how APS was bound up with class politics and racial ideology as white elites reacted to Reconstruction.
15. APS was thus designed from the start to keep government control in the "right hands," namely, the hands of wealthy white men who had the proper grasp of reason and science, who understood the American way and would sustain it in the face of change.
16. Burgess and others in the founding generation saw US political institutions as "the highest form to date of the development of the Anglo-Saxon 'genius for liberty.'" Woodrow Wilson and Henry Jones Ford (both presidents of APSA) continued this vision.
17. In the early years of APSA scholars connected political community to racial unity. APS scholars developed models of governance based on "racial difference" and social Darwinian progress that supported white male supremacy at home and US colonialism abroad.
18. These early "race mysticism" models were challenged in the 1920s and beyond by the rise of empiricism and social science, led by Charles Merriam. As John Gunnell points out, Merriam wanted a "psychological treatment of politics" focused on quantified surveys.
19. The point was to make politics truly scientific, to develop "the observation, measurement and comparison of political relations" (Merriam). But for Merriam and many others, this meant embracing the latest scientific trends, including eugenics.
20. APS scholars were infatuated with new methods for social ranking and control, including IQ tests that some said showed the intellectual superiority of whites. The group around Merriam laid the groundwork for the "science-oriented turn" in the postwar years.
21. Anyone who has spent much time around political scientists knows that the past half-century has seen the rise of quantitative over qualitative methods in political science. Polisci is characterized today more by math than by history or theory.
22. Scholars point out that the field changed dramatically in the postwar period. John Gunnell recounts a revolution in the field beginning in the 1950s as behaviorialist scholars rejected history, philosophy, and theory in favor of "modern empirical science."
23. In his 1966 APSA presidential address, Gabriel Almond observes "in the last decade or so the elements of a new, more surely scientific paradigm seem to be manifesting themselves rapidly."…
24. The Cold War was a decisive factor. According to Gunnell, "there was the growing sense of danger in the Cold War era, and during the McCarthy period, of becoming involved with normative issues"—issues taken up in theory and philosophy.
25. The prominent theorists at the time—Arendt, Voegelin, Strauss, etc.—were often émigrés who produced work that in different ways challenged the western, liberal order. Theory increasingly moved to the margins, or left (i.e., were pushed out of) the field of APS altogether.
26. When APS did engage in normative issues, especially in the 1970s and later, it was to analyze and advise governmental policymaking. It tinkered with the system in a strongly empirical way and did not challenge the system itself.
27. While APS was examining policy, critical theory was on the rise examining gender, sexuality, race, and class dynamics—subjects that APS avoided. By working within the Lockean liberal order, APS did not recognize systemic, structural issues as real or important.
28. Blatt recounts how Mack Jones & Alex Willingham found in 1970 "that political scientists excluded both the African American experience and systems of racial oppressions from 'fundamental political questions about the nature of society.'"
29. In 1985 Ernest Wilson III published an article titled, "Why Political Scientists Don't Study Black Politics, But Historians and Sociologists Do." One reason for this is that, during the Jim Crow era, race was generally considered apolitical or prepolitical.
30. To illustrate this, Rogers Smith notes how the nation's first IR journal was called The Journal of Race Development (1910-1919). Then it was called The Journal of International Relations (1919-1922), and finally Foreign Affairs, the title it holds today.
31. It's not as if the racist, colonialist assumptions underlying the journal's origins disappeared with the name change. Rather it became possible to develop racist programs and colonialist policies without ever talking about race explicitly.
32. As late as 2008 Debra Thompson, in an article titled "Is Race Political?," has to make the case for seeing race as fundamentally political. She points out that politics is generally understood as concerning "the relationship between the state and society."
33. Thompson points out that "feminist, Marxist, and critical race theorists have long argued that the superstructures of patriarchy, capitalism, and white supremacy infiltrate and exist beyond the state arena . . . and as such, everything is political."
34. Unfortunately, this is precisely what APS has historically denied, and the division between political science and political theory since the mid-20th century was constructed precisely to avoid the axiomatic truth that "everything is political."
35. Thompson also highlights the discipline's "elite-focused and colour-blind approaches to the study of politics." She connects this to the assumed classical liberalism: "The focus on the state suggests a particular colour-blindness inherent in the liberal idea of equality."
36. Thompson is touching on a key issue in the American political order: the liberal Lockean system written into our Constitution basically only recognizes two actors: the state and the individual. Structures that don't fit these categories are essentially invisible.
37. It is this colorblind racism, this underlying inability to see individuals as belonging to socially constructed identities and systems—those analyzed by critical theorists—that has made constitutional law incapable of addressing matters like institutional racism.
38. Sidebar: I am also the editor in law and legal history at Kansas, and some of the same issues I see in political science are replicated in this field as well. But the big difference is that legal *historians* are much more attuned to structural matters like race.
39. Here's the point: if you want to study gender, sexuality, race, class, and other systemic issues in the American political order, you will likely not enter a political science program but rather a field like American studies, African studies, English, sociology, or history.
40. APS is structurally and historically designed to explain the white liberal capitalist order, and to do so by using quantitative methods involving survey and statistics. APS largely examines "what is," not "what should be"—and only what is mathematically visible.
41. It is probably no surprise that, according to the Langbert survey, the more math-heavy fields are more conservative. Political science, computers, physics, mathematics, economics, and engineering all have Dem to GOP ratios under 10:1.
42. It will also surprise no one to hear that the political gap corresponds largely to a gender gap, given the way men and women are socialized to tend toward quantitative and qualitative fields, respectively. The bias against women in the sciences remains strong.
43. A 2017 study of US earned doctorates from 2003-2014 shows gender segregation by field, with engineering, computer science, mathematics, physics, and economics having some of the highest overrepresentation of men.…
44. Sidebar: Religion is also very high, which isn't surprising given the gender bias in the major world religions. But religion is a case in which the gender bias doesn't map onto the political affiliation bias, for reasons that are beyond the scope of this thread.
45. The 2017 study shows that political science is about even (leaning slightly towards men), but it's worth pointing out that this study focuses on *students* while the Langbert study examines *professors*. Perhaps this indicates some hope for the future.
46. Signs of hope are weakened by APS's structural exclusion of purportedly "apolitical" topics, the heavily white male constitution of polisci faculty, and the bias among journals, publishers, and scholarly institutions in favor of research on elite politics.
47. All of this (and more) contributes to a situation in which APS remains deeply conservative. By contrast, we can briefly point out the differences in the field of religion and theology, which has its own problems but tends in a very different direction.
48. Whereas APS analyzes national texts like the Constitution and legislative statutes, religion/theology analyzes ancient texts like the Hebrew Bible, Qur'an, and the New Testament, much of which comes from subaltern groups seeking counterimperial politics & justice.
49. Whereas APS analyzes and justifies a national politics and order, religion/theology is inherently transnational. Whereas APS assumes the norms of the nation-state, religion/theology works with norms both transcendent & immanent that are often inassimilable to the state.
50. By virtue of having a much longer and more diverse history, religion/theology can draw upon rich traditions of social justice that are difficult to find in APS, if not simply nonexistent because they found a home in other disciplines entirely.
51. In sharp contrast to APS, religion/theology—as a discipline concerned with invisible, socially constructed structures of belief and practice—is intrinsically concerned with the kinds of systemic, institutional, and cultural dynamics that APS has historically avoided.
52. This is not to say that religion/theology is free of the problems that plague APS. On the contrary! But there are structural differences between the two fields that lead them in very different directions, as reflected in these surveys and my personal experience. END THREAD
Bibliographic addendum: I cited a lot of works here (I can give a full list for those who want it), but I especially want to recommend Jessica Blatt's @PennPress book.…
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