Monday, February 8, 2010

Political Science and Values--Making Social Science Meaningful

At the APSA conference in 2003, President of APSA, Robert Putnam, gave a rare speech calling political scientists to endorse public service, i.e to learn about what the people need. Politics is a mix of science and values, he claimed.

What an honest speech, I thought! But as others pointed out, social sciences since the '50s and '60s have been anything but scientific. Clearly, hidden are the discourses of liberal democracies, markets and individualism-- as something to be aspired. What is public choice theory without individuals and market-type efficiency? What is rational choice theory, for that matter?

Kenneth Prewitt (2005) expounds: American political science has been nothing more than a reflection of American values, policies and goals. But are these truly the foundations of human behavior, even in the US? Are people really motivated by only greed, profit and consumerism? What about the good of the community? Are we then living out the ideals of capitalism?

An APSA Task Force Report of 2004 states that income inequalities of Americans are on the rise. Between 1973-2000, the top quintile households saw a 61.6% rise in incomes, while the bottom quintile saw only a 10.3% rise. Statistics for the racial divide are alarming also. In 2000, the median White households income was 62% greater than that of Blacks, and wealth for median White households was 12 times that of Black households. More so, the pool of people with no net worth whatsoever was significant--1/4 of Whites, 1/2 of Hispanics and 2/3 Black households. At the same time, means of political participation for the poor have been minimal--unions have decimated, campaign contributions by blue-collar workers insignificant, and political representation by Capitol Hill minimal. The opposite is true for the top quintile.

Such a confluence of money and power! Should we then think that American social science today is nothing more than a reflection of power politics in DC?

Putnam's speech (2003) is priceless also because of what he thinks the great goal of political science should be-- that we must all come together to build global institutions to further America's foreign policy! I'm not surprised. One might ask, when was this project ever dead? Have we not witnessed this project of American imperialism before in the language of modernization theorists, in the discourses of liberal democracy or of religious fundamentalism?

In fact, it might be a good time to recognize the power politics in political science. As for public service, are we rising to that cause? I thought that what the world really wants is no longer to be dehumanized, treated like exotic subjects and children, and paid lip-service about inclusion into the various power houses of globalization.

At the end of the day, let's talk about public service, but let's also talk about making an honest day's wages. I don't want to make my living dehumanizing separatist movements in any part of the world. We have states doing that for us, anyway. In fact, if that is the bread and butter of social science, to be yesmen to the global elite, count me out. I know science from nonsense.