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About this book

This original account of the role of philosophy and methodology in political science gets back to the basics of studying politics. Cutting through long-standing controversies across different theoretical camps within the discipline, Dowding provides an innovative and pluralistic argument for the benefits and drawbacks of different approaches. He offers an analysis of, and a counterbalance to, debates over causal explanation, defending a scientific realist perspective that is open to entirely different methods.

Following an introduction to the major 'isms' of modern political science and international relations, the book takes an incisive look at the nature of explanations and generalizations, theory testing, mechanisms, causation, process tracing, interpretation and conceptual analysis. It enables students of political science methodologies and related disciplines to apply sharp analysis and in-depth philosophical understanding to their study of political events and structures. Concluding with chapters on normative political philosophy and the vocation of the political scientist, this is a thought-provoking and wide-ranging text that will make essential reading and will undoubtedly shape the field.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction

Abstract
This is a book on the philosophy of political science. It could have been a book on the philosophy of social science, but to cover the broader remit of this discipline in the way I have tried to do for political science would have involved my learning a lot more about what goes on in other social sciences, such as economics, sociology, history (yes, history is a social science) and particularly psychology and social psychology, of which I know less. Nevertheless, I hope it might be of some interest to social scientists in disciplines beyond political science. It is not a methods book as such. It does not try to teach any political science methods, although I discuss various methods and what one might achieve with them, and make some recommendations as to how to go about studying some issues. The principal aim of the book is to examine some philosophical issues through the lens of political science methodology. In order to do that, I need to cover a little ground on relevant methods and discuss their justification; for a full grounding in methods, the reader will need to consult the texts referred to in this book.
Keith Dowding

Chapter 2. Isms

Abstract
I do not like isms; I would much prefer not to have this chapter in the book at all. However, my students have insisted that it is necessary, since they feel they need some guidance in their reading of what others write. And in truth I often mention isms myself in this book. Isms can be useful shorthand; and even with the best of intentions it is hard to break out of the discourse of our community. One reason I am hesitant to discuss isms is that I have no confidence that philosophers or social scientists will agree with the way in which I demarcate them in this chapter — if only because I do not fully agree with the way anyone I have read has defined them. And I do not want, nor do I want readers, to get involved in a debate over the ‘true nature’ of the isms and what they ‘really’ entail. Just keep in mind that isms exist only in the sense in which we construct them and so, given that different people construct them very differently, we have a discursive problem.
Keith Dowding

Chapter 3. What Is an Explanation?

Abstract
The place to begin thinking about methods of enquiry is with consideration of the nature of explanation. Research is designed to explain things; that means it is designed to answer questions. We cannot think about what constitutes explanations without thinking about the sorts of questions we ask. Some questions are about causal processes, some about which conjectures or theories are correct and which false, some about what best characterizes an object or event. Sometimes one can answer a question by giving a description. Description is an important part of political science, just as important as theory. Too many undergraduate textbooks in political science are short on description and long on theory. Writing and reading theory is much more fun than carefully describing and understanding institutions and political processes. But without close description, without precise understanding of institutions and processes, we cannot come to clear judgements about grand theories of politics.
Keith Dowding

Chapter 4. What Is a Theory?

Abstract
Students are often taught that in order to have an explanation you have to have a theory. A standard critique of PhD students’ initial proposals is: ‘What is the theory you are testing?’ In some ways, this is a rather old-fashioned question. At least one theory in the social sciences, ‘complexity theory’, suggests that we should not try to test theories, but rather let the data talk. One aspect of the movement towards ‘big data’ is developing description from which inductive inferences can be made, rather than theory testing. There is still much controversy about whether and how much big data affects our methods (something I look at in Chapters 5 and 7), and how far it is inconsistent with the other major movement in political science, the experimental turn (Grimmer 2015; Monroe et al. 2015).
Keith Dowding

Chapter 5. Hypotheses and Theory Testing

Abstract
In Chapter 4 I distinguished many different ways in which the term ‘theory’ is used, dividing them into two main forms: ‘perspectival’ and ‘explanatory’. Explanatory theory, if it is at all useful, must produce predictions in the sense in which I defined them. My definition of a prediction is broad, but when we have formal models we have more precise predictions as deduced explicitly from a model. Non-formal models are suggestive of such hypotheses. In this chapter, when I use the term ‘theory’ I mean model: for strict hypothesis testing, a formal model; for ‘suggestive hypothesis testing’, non-formal models. Where it matters whether we have a formal model I will use the term ‘formal model’.
Keith Dowding

Chapter 6. Narratives, Mechanisms and Causation

Abstract
Some believe that the role of science is to find causes. Many political scientists also believe that the ‘gold standard’ of their discipline is to discover causes. Whilst not disavowing this general aim — after all, identifying what causes one event is a fundamental route to predicting others — it is not the only way to make predictions. Discovering constraints, or structures, enables prediction, and we can make many predictions without precisely pinning down causation. Indeed it can be difficult to define exactly what causation is. My previous sentence suggests that constraints and structures are not causes. We often make distinctions between background conditions and causes, but does full causal analysis have to include everything? Some think so, often in the name of ‘causal particularism’.
Keith Dowding

Chapter 7. Methods and Methodologies

Abstract
Within the frame of organizing perspectives one might have many different methods at one’s command. In fact, whilst some ways of looking at the world suggest specific questions that require particular methods to address them, the results from any method might be utilized within any organizing perspective. In this chapter I will briefly describe some of the major methodologies of political science and the sorts of questions they can address.
Keith Dowding

Chapter 8. Concepts and Conceptual Analysis

Abstract
The degree of controversy over any concept is dependent upon a complex interplay of three aspects of conceptual analysis. First, how close the defined concept comes to a natural kind; second, how close that concept is to our ‘folk understanding’ of some surface phenomenon; and third, how easy it is to measure the concept once defined. You might note that none of these three explicitly brings in normative dispute. That is obviously an issue of concern with conceptual analysis in political science, but I believe it intersects with all three of these aspects. I will return to specifically normative concepts within political theory in Chapter 9. Here I will simply say that the easier it is to define a term across logically or naturally possible worlds, the less controversial that definition will be. The greater the utility of a concept in prediction, the deeper it is conceptually; the more technical its definition, the closer it comes to a natural kind.
Keith Dowding

Chapter 9. Analytic Political Philosophy

Abstract
Most of the chapters in this book are about empirical political science. Theory, or political theory, has mostly been concerned with what is sometimes called (oxymoronically) ‘empirical theory’. In this chapter I want to consider some methods for normative political theory, or what I will refer to as political philosophy.
Keith Dowding

Chapter 10. Political Science as a Vocation

Abstract
I drafted this chapter before coming across Anne Norton’s (2004) and Robert Keohane’s (2009) similarly named essays, also taking their titles from Weber’s (1918, 1919) two famous lectures. As should be apparent from the chapter, Weber’s essays provided the inspiration, but Norton and especially Keohane also influenced the final version.
Keith Dowding
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