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Political Enquiry Thesis



The purpose of this paper is to determine whether political enquiry should be viewed as a science rather than a concept. To better understand the term political enquiry, a definition of politics is necessary. Politics is defined as a concept that has its roots in law, history, philosophy, economics, psychology, economics and sociology which are all social science fields.

Some scholars have defined politics as the concept of acquiring and developing knowledge to understand the functions of the government and the society at large.

Politics is also the interaction of people and their ideas so as to provide a focus that will be used to understand how values and resources are allocated on the different state levels of a country. It also relates to the philosophical, theoretical and institutional issues that are related to governance.

There are different scholarly views on whether politics and political enquiry are a scientific concept or not. Several theories have shown that these two concepts lack a crucial pillar that would enable them to be viewed as a scientific concept. This crucial pillar has been identified to be the appropriate meaning and definition of political enquiry and politics which many scholars in the field have failed to develop.

There have been difficulties in coming up with the correct analysis for the explanation and understanding of politics and how its affects value judgements.

The failure to understand that value judgement is important in political enquiry has made the concept to be deemed non scientific. Science is viewed by most scholars to be value free as it is made of impartial, neutral and autonomous aspects which lack in politics and political enquiry. The lack of these aspects makes it difficult to view politics as a science.

Interpretivism is correct to say that political enquiry is NOT a science

The idea of impartiality, neutrality and autonomy has made it difficult for political enquiry to be viewed as a science. Impartiality makes it difficult for political enquiry to be viewed as a science because it does not have any provisions for morality and socialism which are fundamental aspects of political enquiry (Lacey 2005, p.24).

Politics, political science and theory are mostly based on societal and moral conventions that make up the human cognitive process. Requiring politics to abandon these aspects will mean that politics will loose its influential aspect.

For politics to be viewed as a science it has to be neutral in nature and not incorporate the views of others in explaining its components. Since politics incorporates socialism and moralistic dimensions, it is impossible for the research information to remain neutral (Leftwich 2004, p.2).

Concepts such as the influence of power and authority in politics are mostly dependent on each other thereby making it difficult to remain neutral on the subject. The interpretation and perception of power in politics has mostly depended on the personal views, definitions and opinions of political contributors, theorists and scientists. These views and opinions have mostly been described as neutral and impartial (Douglas 2009, p.17).

The requirement for science to be value free requires some degree of autonomy where the methodologies used are meant to be focused on a political and religious context.

Autonomy is closely related to such terms as independence and unconnectedness and since scientific work and political science is conducted by human beings, it would be difficult to expect a degree of autonomy because these two aspects are dependent and connected to each other (Leftwich 2004, p.2).

Positivism and Critical Rationalists think Politics IS a Science

Research problems such as the one which is under this study are usually approached from different theoretical and methodological perspectives by incorporating the use of research paradigms. Each research paradigm is usually guided by a variety of assumptions, research questions and strategies that are used in determining the research outcome of the problem.

The most commonly used research paradigms are the classical paradigms that were formulated in the early 19th century by social theorists and researchers. The classical research paradigms incorporate the use of positivism and critical realism or rationalism when it comes to assessing the scientific nature of certain concepts (Blaikie 2010, p.97).

Other methods of classical research paradigms include the hermeneutics and interpretivism social research methods. All these methods have their own particular answers to the question of whether political enquiry should be viewed as a science (Blaikie 2007, p.109). To better understand this statement, a definition of political enquiry is necessary.

Political inquiry is defined as the critical or systematic reflection of politics in the private and public context as well as the legitimacy of the government’s authority or power in a federal state. It is also the reflection of what value and position politics has in the society at large. The purpose of political enquiry is to understand the meaning and value that politics and political actors add to the society (Hay et al. 2006, p.108).

Political inquiry as a concept emerged as a result of misunderstandings and arguments between political scientists and actors in understanding the functions of the political world and how it could be changed.

Theorists and actors have struggled to explain political phenomena and how this concept interacts with the functions of the political actors and scientists. Political inquiry therefore provides an understanding of political functions and the functions of the political actors (Gibbons 2006, p.563).

Criticisms of interpretivism are flawed/limited

Political inquiry has been viewed to be a component of political science which is concerned with the theory and practice of politics and political behaviour in the modern world (Topper 2005, p.8). Political science is viewed as a social science that incorporates fields such as economics, psychology, comparative politics, history, law, sociology, public policy, national politics and political theory.

Political science is made up of three disciplines which include political theory, international relations and comparative politics. These three disciplines cover the interactions and behaviours that encompass politics and the political science.

International relations deals with the interactions that exist between different international governments while comparative politics deals with the scientific comparison of the various aspects that make up politics such as politicians, legislature and constitutions (Hay 2002, p.64).

Political theory which is also referred to as political philosophy refers to the logical reasoning that is used to explain political structures and laws. Some scholars such as Burnham et al (2004, p.8) have described political science to be the junction of all social sciences as it provides a bridge to the gap created between the different social science fields.

Politics has six different approaches that are used to identify the discipline and these approaches are the formal operation of politics in the government, the behavioralism of politics, the rational choice theory and institutional analysis, the social process of politics, the interpretative nature of politics and Marxism views on politics (Marsh and Stoker 2010, p.3).

Political science incorporates the social science research methods that include positivism, critical rationalism, interpretivism and structuralism. Positivism in classical science is viewed as a concept that presents a more general view of the problem understudy. It deals with the reality of the situation by considering the discrete events that can be observed by human senses.

The knowledge that is acceptable from this reality is that which has been derived from experience (McNabb 2010, p.16). In answering the question of whether political inquiry should be accorded a scientific status, positivism usually provides a straightforward answer which is yes, political inquiry should be viewed as a science. Positivism therefore provides a positive answer to the problem that is understudy.

The three positivism varieties that have mostly been used by social science researchers include the observational positivism research paradigm where all scientific knowledge is based on laws that have been derived from observation, the logical positivism, and the standard view (Blaikie 2007, p.111).

This observational positivist paradigm states that all sciences are unified in a hierarchy of related levels where mathematics is at the lowest level followed by astrology, physics, chemistry, biology and sociology. However, the developer of this research paradigm, Comte, believed that a social reality existed that was independent of the realities found in the lower levels of the hierarchy.

This reality was mostly governed by laws that could not be related to the laws of the other sciences (Blaikie 2007, p.111).Therefore in using the positivism principle of observationism in addressing the question of whether political enquiry should be classified as a science; the answer would be that political inquiry should be accorded a scientific status.

The logical positivism paradigm was founded on the basis that any concept or proposition that did not correspond to the current state of affairs and could not be verified was regarded as a meaningless or phenomenalism concept. In this case political inquiry would not be viewed as a science given the varied opinions and information on the subject.

The third type of positivism referred to as the standard view saw all scientific fields as being concerned with the development of explanations that would be used in generalizations of concepts.

Any phenomenon such as the one under study could be explained by demonstrating that is was a specific component or case of a general rule of law (Blaikie 2007, p.112). This principle would therefore explain that political enquiry is a science being that it is a component of political science.

Critical realism or rationalism addresses concerns such as the interplay that power and knowledge has on politics. Critical rationalism looks at the contextualised and non- relativist commitments that exist between truth and rationality. It involves the search for truth by looking at the weak spots that exist in theory or logical arguments so as to derive both a positive and negative answer to the problem statement.

Logical arguments and deductive reasoning play an important part in critical rationalism as they allow the researcher to infer the available theories to be applied to the statements under study. The main requirement of critical rationalism is that the stated hypothesis should be compared with the statement under observation so as to eliminate the hypothesis statements that do not coincide with the reality (Blaikie 2007, p.186).

Some researchers such as Popper have argued that critical rationalism requires for the thesis statement that is under observation to be based on scientific theory. Popper advocated for the natural and social view of critical rationalism in social science research.

Since scientific information is aimed at getting towards the truth; critical rationalism is used to test scientific theories against the descriptions of observed states of affairs. These theories can therefore be accepted or rejected based on critical reasoning (Blaikie 2007, p.115).

The thesis statement understudy can be termed to be removed from reality when looked at in a scientific context and it can also be realistic when assessed under a political context or setting. In answering the question as to whether political inquiry should be classified as a science, critical rationalism would give a yes and no answer as it argues for the use of similar logical methods for advancing scientific knowledge.

Critical rationalism rejects the scientific ideology used in positivism by favouring the use of a different ideology. Under critical rationalism, political inquiry would be viewed as a science because of the various theories and research work that have been used to explain politics and derive definitions for political science (Schrafe et al. 2006, p.360).


The various concepts that have been analysed in the thesis above to determine whether politics and political inquiry should be categorised as a science have revealed varying opinions and views on the research. The major consensus from the positivist and critical rationalist circles have shown that political inquiry should be termed as a science based on the theoretical groundwork that has been conducted on political science.

Based on the above aspects of value free science, politics and political inquiry does not qualify to be a viewed as a science because it is too concerned with complex human processes such as perception and interpretation.


Blaikie, N.W., (2007) Approaches to Social Enquiry: advancing knowledge. 2nd Edition Cambridge, UK: Polity press

Blaikie, N.W., (2010) Designing social research, Cambridge, UK: Polity Press Burnham, P., Grant, W., and Henry, Z. L., (2004) Research Methods in Politics.

Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Publishers Douglas, H.E., (2009) Science, policy, and the value-free ideal, Pittsburg,

Pennsylvania: University of Pittsburgh Press Gibbons, M.T., (2006) Hermeneutics, Political Inquiry, and Practical Reason: An Evolving Challenge to the Science of Politics. American Political Science Review, Vol. 100, No.4, pp 563- 571

Hay, C. (2002) Political Analysis: a critical introduction. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Publishers Limited

Hay, C., Lister, M. and Marsh, D. (eds.) (2006) The State: Theories and Issues. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Publishers Limited

Lacey, H., (2005) Values and objectivity in science: the current controversy about transgenic crops, Oxford, UK: Lexington Books

Leftwich, A. (ed.), (2004), What is Politics? Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers Limited Marsh, D. and Stoker, G. (eds.) (2010) Theory and Methods in Political Science. 3rd Edition, Basingstoke: Palgrave Publishers Limited

McNabb, D.E., (2010) Research methods for political science: quantitative and qualitative approaches, New York: M.E. Sharpe Incorporated

Schrafe, H., Hitzler, P., and Ohrstrom, P., (2006) Conceptual structures: inspiration and application. Berlin, Germany: Springer Verlag

Topper, K.L., (2005) The disorder of political inquiry, United States: Harvard College

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